HEATHER MACFADYEN relates her horror upon returning to her weekend home in Canmore, Alberta, after a six-week hiatus. “I was driving along the road that leads to our place when I realized that something was missing. What had been a mature lodgepole pine forest a few short weeks ago was now an open field.”
It was 1998, and a developer had razed the trees to make way for yet another housing development in the burgeoning town that has more than tripled in size in 20 years. Located at the eastern entrance to Banff National Park and a 90-minute drive from Calgary, Canmore is a hot commodity for Albertans interested in a mountain getaway.
MacFadyen, who holds a PhD and specializes in school and community psychology, knew nothing about environmental laws or wildlife corridors at the time, but she loved the Rockies. “The mountains have been our family’s place of retreat and renewal forever,” she explains.
Then, in 2000, MacFadyen and her husband moved permanently to Canmore, and realized they were living smack-dab in the middle of the Bow Valley: a swath of nature that joins Banff National Park to the extraordinary Wind Valley. Providing habitat for grizzly bears, elk, cougars and other magnificent mammals, the corridor was certain to become a battleground where conflicts would arise between the needs of wildlife and the pleasures of Canmore’s changing demographic.
For years, Canmore was a down-parka kind of town largely populated by folks more interested in slipping skins onto their backcountry skis than snapping into high-tech downhill gear. Then, in the early 1990s, Alberta’s Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) allowed construction of the massive residential and recreational Three Sisters Resort project near Canmore, as long as the developer allowed for a wildlife corridor.
MacFadyen became involved in 2000 when she realized that the province intended to approve the corridor even though it would contain fairways and other golf facilities that experts deemed to be incompatible with wildlife movement. She hooked up with the Bow Corridor Organization for Responsible Development (BowCORD), and drew upon her academic training to understand the tangled web of scientific, political, economic and social considerations. MacFadyen and her colleagues worked tirelessly to achieve the vision of a functioning wildlife corridor. Along the way, she doggedly reminded authorities of their obligations. It wasn’t always glamorous work and not everyone in Canmore appreciated her remarkable persistence. But the majority of Canmore folk valued wildlife over golf, and BowCORD triumphed.
The World Wildlife Fund’s Robert Powell, who knows the inner workings of the Alberta government well, says, “It is appalling that the successful fulfillment of the NRCB’s wise decision will only come about because of the persistence of a private citizen.”
Despite her success in protecting a corridor that will allow large mammals to travel safely between Banff National Park and the Wind Valley, her battle is not yet won. A three-kilometre stretch remains in limbo. But MacFadyen is confident that this final challenge will be won. She is inspired by the view from her Canmore home. “The whole panorama I can see from the edge of my deck is protected land brought about by our team, as well as caring Albertans who listened,” she explains. “If we work together, we can accomplish a lot.”
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