Southwestern Alberta gets wildlife corridor

COLEMAN, Alta. — Bloody smears on Highway 3 between Lundbreck and the British Columbia border are commonplace. They are evidence of vehicle collisions with wildlife on that ever-busier stretch of road.

Deer, elk, cougars, wolverines and bears are struck, killing the animals and causing damage and injury to the travelling public.

Oct. 26 brought signs of progress to mitigate wildlife loss and collision in the region. The Nature Conservancy of Canada, in co-operation with the Alberta government, announced official formation of the Jim Prentice Wildlife Corridor.

It is a five-kilometre area between Coleman and Crowsnest Lake, now under NCC stewardship, which connects crown forest reserve land north of Highway 3 to the Castle parks network, Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park to the south.

The campaign has been named after the late Jim Prentice, former premier and federal environment minister, who grew up in the Crowsnest Pass.

“While Jim had a special connection to this area, he viewed conservation from a local, provincial, national, international, and global perspective,” said Prentice’s widow, Karen.

“This project creates a conservation success here in the Crowsnest Pass and Alberta. But its impacts will also be felt across our international border to the south and further north across this country.

“It is for all of these reasons that our family supports this project.”

NCC regional vice-president Bob Demulder said the conservancy has already invested about $10 million in the area and plans to raise another $5 million to conserve the remaining private lands in the corridor.

Once that is complete, it will set the stage to build wildlife crossing infrastructure to keep animals off the highway. The province has been planning to twin and reroute parts of the highway and could incorporate wildlife crossings at that time.

The Oct. 26 announcement recognized purchase of a 137-acre property and a provincial commitment to ensure seven sections of crown land will remain undeveloped. The province also committed $1 million to NCC to leverage further fundraising.

“The Highway 3 access corridor is a barrier to wildlife going south into the United States from the Kananaskis and Banff areas. This area has been identified by lots of environmental scientists … as being an area that’s of importance and that somehow we need to build the linkage so that that wildlife can continue to cross, therefore improving their ability to survive in these lower areas,” Demulder said.

He said the NCC also plans to buy several former industrial sites in the area once occupied by a gas plant and a lumber mill.

“Jim Prentice was a huge fan of the environment, balancing that with the economy,” said Demulder. “He would have been proud, I think, and that’s what the family said.”

Crowsnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter agreed.

“I believe Jim would be proud to have this corridor preserved in his name. It’s a great project, preserving part of our community for our wildlife to be able to move, hopefully safely, north and south, into the Castle Park and north towards Banff. They’ve been doing that forever and it’s nice to see that we’re able to preserve an area of our community for them.”

Rob Schaufele, who runs an outreach program called Road Watch in the Pass, said wildlife collision data collected in the region over the past number of years has calculated the high cost of animal deaths and vehicle collisions.

He is hopeful that several wildlife crossings can be incorporated as a result of this project and future highway work.

“These things all go in steps and this is a major big step. The procurement of land along the highway has always been difficult,” he said.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they put (wildlife crossings) wherever there is a critical wildlife corridor. We’ll have to see. There are lots in this area.”

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