Bighill Creek is a Critical Wildlife Corridor

Submission to Bylaw C-8051-2020, PL 20200031, Application by Mt. Ash LP to redesignate agricultural land to industrial for purposes of gravel mining.

This submission is designed to show the importance of maintaining Bighill Creek, its critical springs and the provincial park that depend on the valley and the springs, as significant and rare intact habitat for the free-flow of biological organisms within Rocky View County.

Biological corridors are critical for the maintenance of ecological processes including allowing for the movement of organisms and the continuation of viable populations. By providing landscape connections between larger areas of habitat, corridors enable migration, colonisation and interbreeding of plants and animals.

The map below is taken from RVC’s 2011 Parks and Open Space Master Plan, which was based on earlier work done by the provincial Environmentally Significant Areas program. It indicates the presence of a significant inter-connected environmentally sensitive corridor connecting the Bow River, up through Bighill Springs Valley and on to Nose Hill and Dog Pound drainages and interspersed natural sites amongst agricultural land.

Click for full image.

The “Grand Valley Foothills” stand out amongst RVC’s five geographic regions as the only region with an opportunity for interconnecting wildlife and all local biological organisms with important natural landscapes. Nowhere else in RVC is there a similar critical corridor – this one is unique and precious and not the place for industrial developments.RVC in the Global Biodiversity Context According to the 2019 Global Risks Report, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are amongst the greatest risks facing society. Biodiversity underpins human life and is responsible for ecosystem services that we fully depend upon, including food production, crop pollination, clean water, nutrient and waste recycling and regulating climate change. Humans depend on ecosystems for our economic sustainability as well as sustaining our physical and mental health. The United Nations is calling on all countries to protect 30% of their natural landscapes by 2030 and Canada has committed to protecting 25% by 2025. Such protection has to include responsibilities at the municipalities level or it will fail. Failure means disaster for ALL life on this planet. RVC needs to develop policy addressing biodiversity health.

RVC Wildlife ObligationsCorridors for biodiversity serve a number of purposes including protecting wildlife and helping animal populations thrive. They function as means to decrease human-animal conflict in the form of vehicle-animal collisions and help combat the negative effects of habitat fragmentation.

There are possibilities for identifying and establishing key interconnecting corridors linking the two biologically active valleys of the Bow River and Bighill Creek. Highway 1A between Calgary and Cochrane is recognized as the most notorious large animal killing route in Alberta, because it is such an important connector between these two valleys. It is incumbent upon RVC to stop this highway slaughter and conserve wildlife through identifying, establishing and maintaining movement corridors between the two valleys and across the highway. These north-south corridors go on to connect with those identified as significant, through the length of Bighill Creek and beyond.Threats to Bighill Creek Key Biodiversity Corridor .

Today 4 gravel mines are proposed on lands immediately NW of the nationally significant springs that are the crux of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. These springs contribute 50% of the water that flows through the creek that enriches the steep-sided coulee with its rich habitats on either side, all the way to Cochrane and the Bow River. Industrialization of an important component of the Bighill Creek Biodiversity Corridor not only threatens the viability of the unique springs and the provincial park that depends upon them, but of critical habitat for the endangered Bull Trout, the enjoyment of thousands of park visitors and a key connection route for many wildlife and plant species that depend on the area to move through. Rocky View County has to date neglected both its remaining natural landscapes and its residents who move to the county looking for natural spaces, interconnecting nature trails and park provisions. Four new gravel mines covering 2 square miles located on the aquifer of the springs that feed the park, could not be in a more environmentally sensitive place in all of RVC.

Conclusion There is no doubt in my mind and likely the minds of most RVC residents that gravel mines on rare aquifers and on the most environmentally sensitive biodiversity corridor in all of RVC, are truly inappropriate. RVC is underlain by a great deal of gravel. There have to be less sensitive sites for the mining of gravel, certainly sites that are not atop ancient aquifers or within critical wildlife corridors.

Submitted by Vivian Pharis

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AB Law & Impacts of Gravel Extraction on the Ecosystem of Big Hill Springs.

Saturday October 14, 2023

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