BANFF – A local conservation group is voicing opposition to a proposed off-leash dog park in a forested area between the Middle Springs residential neighbourhood and Cascade Gardens.
In a letter to Banff town council, Bow Valley Naturalists (BVN) say they want the area left undeveloped, noting the importance of green spaces within town boundaries, especially if the goal is to encourage human use within the town and to keep people out of adjacent wildlife corridors.
Reg Bunyan, BVN’s vice-president, said there’s a tendency to view undeveloped natural spaces as under-utilized, and to equate playgrounds, outdoor recreation facilities and dog parks as “green space accounting equivalencies.”
“Manicured, fenced or artificial green spaces are ecologically poor, while natural green spaces within the boundary are ecologically rich, providing easy opportunities for nature connections, unstructured play opportunities for children and even a safe haven or exit point, where larger wildlife can be gently hazed to and moved out of town,” said Bunyan.
“Dog parks are especially ecologically barren, as these fenced parks ultimately result in the exclusion of all forms of wildlife, either via noise, fencing or the denudation of the understory from the impact of so many dogs running and playing in a confined space.”
BNV says this is very important given that birds and mammals require cover and food, noting there is a family of kestrels and barred owls that have nested within that green strip for more than a decade.
“Within this area, thinning for fire safety and the removal of female buffalo berry plants to reduce bear conflicts – both initiatives of which we support – have already incrementally impacted this area,” said Bunyan.
“The further loss of habitat from a dog park may be the tipping point.”
A smaller dedicated dog area, about 4,440 square metres, near Jasper Way and the Cascade Gardens at Parks Canada’s administration grounds was also proposed at a council meeting mid-July, 2019.
The site was selected due to the close proximity of dog ownership in the surrounding neighbourhoods, parking availability and a nearby playground.
Other proposed sites for a dog park on the south side of the Bow River included the Banff recreation grounds, Jasper Way, Glen Avenue and Nahanni Drive.
Town of Banff officials say the proposed dog park for the south side is still in its preliminary stages.
“Administration is still seeking confirmation from council on a preferred location, which would then need to be followed by an environmental assessment process with Parks Canada,” Amanda Arbuckle, the Town of Banff’s recreation manager.
Administration is expected to go back to council with an updated report on the options available for a dog park at the Nov. 25 council meeting.
After that, Arbuckle said administration would follow Parks Canada processes and submit the required environmental assessment documentation for the dog park project chosen by council.
“None of these parks are proposed to replace the existing dog park, but rather to compliment through a second amenity in the Town,” said Arbuckle.
The Town of Banff brought the proposed dog park forward for council’s consideration to provide more places for Banff residents with dogs to gather in a safe and controlled environment to recreate and socialize with other dogs and owners, as well as is in response to the Bow Valley human-wildlife coexistence report.
Arbuckle said the report noted that off-leash dogs can contribute to negative human-wildlife interaction and that fenced dog parks could act as a passive management tool.
“The Town’s goal is to make sure no one allows their dogs to be off-leash because that can result in a deadly situation for pets and wildlife – and we believe easy-to-access off-leash dog parks will help avoid dangerous situations,” she said.
BVN is, in principle, cautiously supportive of creating a dog park at the other proposed location – the Banff recreation grounds – noting it’s preference is to locate these types of facilities in previously disturbed areas.
That said, Bunyan said that the group doesn’t have enough information on the size, location and alternatives to provide an informed opinion, noting the ever-evolving recreation grounds master plan is compounding the issue of the dog park.
He said BVN suggests convening a stakeholder group give the number of issues at play at or near this area, including a dog park, overall fencing, enhanced wetlands, skating pond, birding, horse trail and manure management concerns.
“Because of the potential for both positive and negative wildlife impacts, we hope that Parks Canada would be part of this group,” said Bunyan.