A working group of landowners in the area of the Lower Silvertip wildlife corridor will be created to develop an approach moving forward in managing the corridor.
Canmore council rescinded a 2017 motion to develop a wildlife management plan for the corridor and directed staff to first form the working group and establish principles for a possible next step.
The funding for the work would cost about $100,000 and come from the surplus in the affordable housing land and policies capital project.
“This has been such a complex issue for so many years and it sort of keeps lurking in the background,” Mayor John Borrowman said. “The community and the Town of Canmore and landowners put so much time and thought and consideration into the functionality of the corridors on the south side of the valley and there seems at times this corridor on the north side doesn’t exist.
“It’s important as a community we come to terms and grapple with the functionality of both the upper and lower Silvertip corridors and I think, ultimately, the community has to stand up and say it is important to them.”
The corridor on the north side of the valley has been a discussion point for several years, with multiple stakeholders owning parts of the land. The Town of Canmore, the province, Canmore Community Housing and Stone Creek among the landowners.
Several councillors added how the wildlife corridors in the south side of the valley often get attention over the north ones. But as Coun. Joanna McCallum noted, the lands are also vital for the Town’s longterm housing sustainability.
“We seem to place all of our attention on one side of the valley and the functionality of the corridors over the other,” she said. “I remind the public these lands are key to trying to move forward with some of our affordable housing and affordability plans …. We really need to align that work with how we can respect those corridors as they are intended to be respected.”
Coun. Esmé Comfort also highlighted how the Town has “been at an impasse for a number of years,” on the corridor.
Council previously had Town staff develop a wildlife management plan in the region in 2017, but Whitney Smithers, the Town’s general manager of municipal infrastructure, noted several difficulties.
She highlighted how there were major landowners, but also several smaller property owners as well as it having no provincial designation and being outside the Town’s authority.
“It’s recognizing this is not something the Town can design and implement on its own because we’re only one player in that area,” Smithers said.
“If the landowners don’t agree on the extent to which they see management is something they want to act on, having other stakeholders at the table for that discussion really isn’t going to further it.”
An environmental impact statement that was also third-party reviewed suggested more investigation was needed to “best protect the functionality of the corridor,” a staff report stated.
The Lower Silvertip wildlife corridor study was presented to council last November, which shows the corridor has value in helping with the movement of ungulates.
The corridor was first identified in 1992 as park of The Preservation of Wildlife Populations in the Bow Valley, Alberta: A Banff National Park Proposal to Neighbouring Municipalities, which would run from the Harvie Heights habitat patch to the eastern edge of Silvertip property near Cougar Creek.
The Alberta Conservation Association accepted 30.2 hectares (74.7 acres) of land between the Silvertip and Eagle Terrace subdivisions in 1998.
The staff report noted in the past 30 years there has been residential and recreational development adjacent to the corridor and there is more human use.
However, the report emphasized the 2017 council motion has merit due to helping the movement of ungulates.
“That intent is likely better achieved by working with the landowners within the identified corridor to establish a path forward that all landowners can support,” the report stated.
Smithers said there are also sanctioned and unsanctioned trails in the region, while a continuous issue has been residents using the area to walk their dogs, many without leashes.
“It’s a little frustrating for council to be doing this work and respond to the very real need to manage long-term success on the corridors and having residents essentially ignoring the rules in the corridors,” Borrowman said.
Lisa de Soto, the Town’s CAO, highlighted the uniqueness of the wildlife corridors in not only the region, but the province.
“There are no other wildlife corridors in other communities in the province I’m aware of,” she said. “We’ve identified this corridor through various studies and it lives in our land mapping and our land use bylaw and municipal development plan, but it doesn’t exist on any other provincial maps.”
Coun. Vi Sandford said anything that comes from the work will need to involve educating people on the purpose of wildlife corridors and be a “big community conversation.”