Wildlife Corridors in the
Southern Canmore Region

Assessing the Design and Functionality of Wildlife Movement Corridors in the Southern Canmore Region
Executive Summary

For much of the last decade, the design and viability of wildlife corridors in the Bow Valley have been topics of much discussion and concern for local and regional non-profit organizations, scientists, conservation-minded individuals and government agencies. Much of that concern has been focussed on the Southern Canmore Region.

The Southern Canmore Region is a strip of predominantly forested land 10 km long and approximately 1.5 km wide. It stretches from the Wind Valley Natural Area to Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, along the south side of the Bow Valley. It is bounded on the south by steep mountain slopes and on the north by the TransCanada Highway. It is part of one of the most important wildlife movement corridors in the region.

Although approximately 90 per cent of the region is currently undeveloped, it will experience considerable pressure in the next 15 years as proposed developments come on stream. The build-out population (residential and overnight visitors) in the Southern Canmore Region is projected to be approximately 16,500 people, which will be reached, according to Canmore's Municipal Development Plan (1998) and the Three Sisters Resorts Master Plan (1999), in about 15 years. Growing numbers of day visitors would add to this total, resulting in approximately 20,000 people in the Southern Canmore Region on a daily basis. This is analogous to adding a "Banff-and-a-half" to an area with significant ecological value.

The Southern Canmore Region provides important habitat for a variety of wildlife species. At least two at risk species, grizzly bears and wolverines (AEP 1996), have been recorded in and around the area, as have several other carnivore species of regional management concern, including lynx, cougar and wolves. Important elk and bighorn sheep habitat also is located within the Southern Canmore Region (BCEAG 1999).

Because the TransCanada Highway acts as a barrier to wildlife movement, the Southern Canmore Region is a critical wildlife linkage in the Bow Valley for species moving between the Kananaskis Valley and Banff National Park and beyond. All other Bow Valley wildlife movement routes between these two locations force animals to cross the TransCanada Highway, the CPR mainline, the 1A Highway and the Bow River. The Southern Canmore Region is also a critical part of a larger system of movement corridors that provide connectivity for wildlife populations through the Yellowstone to Yukon Ecoregion. But future plans for this area have the potential to severely and permanently compromise the function of this critical wildlife movement corridor.

In this assessment, the science-based guidelines and standards developed by the Bow Corridor Ecosystem Advisory Group (BCEAG) are used to evaluate the design and functionality (i.e. viability) of the designated wildlife corridors and habitat patches in the Southern Canmore Region. The BCEAG guidelines and standards are analogous to a "building code" for achieving functional, viable wildlife corridors and habitat patches.

BCEAG is a partnership involving the Government of Alberta, the Town of Canmore, Banff National Park and the Municipal District of Bighorn. BCEAG’s overarching goal is to facilitate the coordination of responses to environmental and resource issues (BCEAG 1999). In 1998, as part of an effort to ensure the viability of a system of wildlife corridors in the Bow Valley (BCEAG 1998), BCEAG developed and issued a set of science-based guidelines for the design and assessment of wildlife corridors and habitat patches. In 1999 the BCEAG wildlife corridor and habitat patch design guidelines received a Premier’s Award of Excellence. They were acknowledged by the Government of Alberta for providing "clear and consistent standards for wildlife corridor design, and for the acceptable development activities in and near these corridors" (www.gov.ab.ca/PAO).

Despite the existence of these award-winning guidelines, their approval by all of the agencies participating in BCEAG, and their inclusion in Canmore’s Municipal Development Plan (1998), they have not yet been applied to any wildlife corridor. This report is intended to rectify this situation. The BCEAG guidelines set out minimum acceptable design standards regarding corridor width, slope, hiding cover and other critical design specifications for achieving functional wildlife corridors. Therefore, the BCEAG guidelines and standards represent the de facto means for determining whether the design of a corridor is functional, including those currently designated in the Southern Canmore Region.

Most of the designated corridors in the Southern Canmore Region were designed in the early 1990s by Three Sisters Resorts. They were based on hiding cover (vegetation used by animals to provide security) and non-winter, thermal cover (vegetation used by animals to ameliorate the effects of weather) specifications for deer and elk in Washington and Oregon. These specifications were intended to be applied in the non-winter months in a remote forestry setting with minimal human activity. They are inappropriate for an urban area like Canmore with abundant human activity, the critical winter period, and the many other wildlife species, besides deer and elk, that use the area.

By contrast, the BCEAG framework adopts a multi-species approach to wildlife corridor design that is based largely on studies carried out in the Bow Valley, including long-term field studies of wildlife movements in and around the Town of Banff, particularly in the winter. It takes into account the requirements of wary wildlife species (e.g. wolves) that are less able to adapt to human development and activity than are deer and elk. BCEAG's approach also addresses the concern for human safety that arises when wildlife movement routes are blocked by settlement. As the guidelines state, "having functional corridors would also allow individual animals to safely negotiate their way around highly developed areas thereby reducing the likelihood of human/wildlife conflict" (BCEAG 1998:1). (Near Rundleview in Canmore, a wildlife corridor is blocked by a nearby reservoir (the Rundle Forebay) and wildlife are forced to move through the neighborhood. This is potentially dangerous for both people and wildlife.)

Primary Multi-Species Corridor Results: When evaluated with the BCEAG scientific and methodological framework, the existing Primary Multi-Species Corridor in the Southern Canmore Region fails to meet minimum standards regarding width, length and slope, and is predicted not to function as intended (Maps 1 and 2). Hiding cover values were generally adequate (Map 4), with the exception of the extensive fairway development at the Stewart Creek Golf Course – much of which has been constructed within the Primary Multi-Species Corridor itself. Aside from the high levels of human use associated with the golf course, the inadequate hiding cover, combined with the steep slopes (Map 3) to the south, essentially truncates the corridor at the golf course. At Wind Ridge and above the Peaks of Grassi subdivision, steep slopes seriously compromise the functionality of the Primary Multi-Species Corridor (Map 3). Also, the high human use associated with the Peaks of Grassi subdivision – which is functionally a part of the Primary Multi-Species Corridor – runs contrary to the BCEAG guidelines for human use and further jeopardizes the corridor’s viability at that point. Because much of Canmore's future growth will occur parallel to the Primary Multi-Species Corridor’s length, pressures on the corridor will increase dramatically in the future. This corridor requires substantial mitigations (Map 1 and 2).

Stewart Primary Wildlife Corridor Results: The Stewart Primary Wildlife Corridor has two main deficiencies: lack of hiding cover and insufficient width. Unlike the Primary Multi-Species Corridor, steep slopes are not a concern. However, 51 per cent of the existing Stewart Primary Corridor is non-functional due to extensive golf course fairways and other developments that lack acceptable vegetative hiding cover (Map 4). A recent Alberta Environment map shows this corridor gradually narrowing to 19 meters at the TransCanada Highway underpass. We suspect this funnel shape, which is not shown on other maps, is a drafting error, but it nonetheless represents a serious deficiency and needs to be corrected. The BCEAG minimum width is 350 meters – the minimum required to "buffer" wary wildlife species (e.g. lynx) from human activities.

Wind Valley Primary Wildlife Corridor Results: Providing that the current corridor location is optimal, and providing that the width of the Primary Multi-Species Corridor is increased as per BCEAG minimum standards (Map 2), the Wind Valley Primary Wildlife Corridor requires only minor BCEAG prescribed mitigations to reach the BCEAG minimum standards. Hiding cover is generally sufficient and slope is moderate. To meet BCEAG minimum standards for hiding cover, however, the power line right-of-way within the corridor will require special management (Map 4).

Grassi Secondary Wildlife Corridor Results: The Grassi Secondary Wildlife Corridor fails to meet any BCEAG minimum standards for a secondary wildlife corridor and hence is not presently viable (Map 1). The corridor is particularly deficient in width and hiding cover: 47 per cent of the corridor is currently non-functional because of cleared openings (e.g. mine scar, roads, power line right-of-way, etc.— see Photo 1). The addition of the fairways that Three Sisters Resorts proposes on their 1998 and 1999 maps (UMA 1998 and 1999) would compound the corridor’s current shortcomings by increasing the cleared, non-functional area of the corridor to 68 per cent.

Three Sisters Secondary Wildlife Corridor Results: Both the east and west portions of the Three Sisters Secondary Wildlife Corridor fail to meet BCEAG minimum standards for adequate hiding cover. Currently, about 40 per cent of both the west and east routes lack adequate hiding cover (see Photos 2 and 3), rendering both corridors non-functional (Maps 1 and 4). The addition of proposed golf course fairways would further compromise their functionality.

Grassi Lakes Local Habitat Patch Results: The Grassi Lakes Local Habitat Patch is 1.43 km2. According to BCEAG standards, a local habitat patch needs to be a minimum of 4.5 km2 to function as intended. Additionally, the effectiveness of the patch is compromised – as with the secondary corridors – by open clearings that reduce hiding cover (Map 4). As the Grassi Lakes Local Habitat Patch is a popular recreational area, hiding cover for wildlife is crucial.

The results of this assessment are clear. The wildlife corridors in the Southern Canmore Region consistently fail to meet the minimum standards for functional, viable corridors set by BCEAG. This failure has the potential to severely impair the movement of wildlife in the Bow Valley between the Kananaskis Valley, Banff National Park and beyond, and could have adverse effects on the regional populations of wide-ranging, wary species such as wolf, grizzly bear, wolverine and lynx. Failure to provide a network of viable corridors through the Southern Canmore Region is predicted to significantly contribute to further impairment of the Bow Valley ecosystem.

Most of the designated corridors in the Southern Canmore Region require substantial mitigations to meet the BCEAG minimum standards (Map 1). Adoption of BCEAG-prescribed mitigations will significantly improve the corridors’ chance of success. Furthermore, given that the total potential human population (residential, visitor overnight, and day use) in the Southern Canmore Region alone could reach an estimated 20,000 people per day by the year 2015, it would be necessary not only to meet the minimum standards set out by BCEAG, but to exceed them if viable wildlife movement corridors are to be achieved.

This assessment, using the BCEAG scientific framework, identified major deficiencies in the wildlife corridors in the Southern Canmore Region. The next step is to refine this assessment and develop solutions based on the BCEAG guidelines and standards to address these deficiencies, a process that will require the involvement and commitment of various stakeholders.


Prepared for

BowCORD Bow Valley Naturalists
Canadians for Corridors
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
UTSB Research

Prepared by

Jacob Herrero Environmental Consulting
Scott Jevons/GeoWORKS Environmental Consulting & GIS
KH Communications

September 2000

to read full report, click on the Lynx    


Maps and Photos
click thumbnail images to view large maps

Map 1

Map 2

Map 3


Map 4


MAP - Sept. 28, 2004 - This map was developed for a municipal hearing regarding proposed development at Site 2A of the Three Sisters Mountain Village, Canmore, on Sept. 28, 2004.

DOWNLOAD MAP (approx. 750 Kb)

MAP - August 16, 2004 - This map was developed for a municipal hearing regarding proposed development at Three Sisters Mountain Village, Canmore, on August 17, 2004

DOWNLOAD MAP (approx. 2 MB)

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