New protected areas between Banff and Glacier national parks could help maintain wildlife populations
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Species vulnerable to climate change impacts in the Canadian Rockies will need room to roam, according to a new report from the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.
The report outlines a safe haven strategy designed around an assessment of six iconic species: Bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, grizzly bears, wolverines, mountain goats and bighorn sheep — five of which were ranked as highly vulnerable to projected changes.
The area in question is located between Glacier National Park in Montana and Banff National Park in Canada, supporting one of the most diverse communities of carnivores and hoofed mammals in North America.
WCS conservation scientist John Weaver said the climate-related challenges are complicated by a network of major highways and an expansive network of forest roads that have fragmented the landscape.
“Providing ‘safe havens’ of secure and diverse habitats and ‘safe passages’ across the highways are climate-smart strategies,” Weaver said.
To that end, he assessed 16,978 square kilometres (6,632 square miles) for conservation value based upon the needs of the vulnerable species and the myriad challenges facing each.
For example, warmer winter temperatures resulting from climate change will reduce mountain snow cover and suitable habitat for the rare wolverine, a species highly adapted to persistent snow pack. Reduced stream flow and warmer stream temperatures will diminish habitat for westslope cutthroat trout, a native fish adapted well to cold waters, while favouring introduced rainbow trout and hybrids of the two species.
Weaver recommended a portfolio of conservation lands including a Southern Canadian Rockies Wildlife Management Area that would conserve 66 percent of key habitats on 54 percent of its land base. The designation would emphasize fish and wildlife values while allowing other responsible land uses.
The trans-border Flathead River basin adjacent to Waterton Lakes-Glacier National International Peace Parks also merits very strong conservation consideration due to its remarkable biological diversity, he said, endorsing a new national or provincial park on the B.C. side and wilderness areas on the Montana side.
Weavers said safe havens are not only important to wildlife today but that also provide a range of elevations and diverse topography for animals to relocate to in the future. To facilitate movement options for wildlife, the report maps nine suitable crossing locations along busy Highway 3 in British Columbia and 16 mountain passes that provide important wildlife connectivity across the Continental Divide between Alberta and British Columbia.
“This report will help inform discussions and decisions about land and resource management in the Southern Canadian Rockies of British Columbia and Montana,” he said. “These spectacular landscapes provide some of the best remaining strongholds for a suite of vulnerable fish and wildlife. Protecting designated lands for conservation will help ensure that this rich diversity of fish and wildlife will be enjoyed by generations yet to follow.”