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Posted: August 15, 2017

This is more than a matter of checking boxes

Letter to the Editor

The recent re-zoning of rural land adjacent to Lizard Creek to allow for a small lot subdivision is very disappointing, especially considering that over 400 local residents voiced their opposition during the public comment period.

Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Electoral Area A Director Mike Sosnowski and City of Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano argued that the entire area between the City of Fernie and Fernie Alpine Resort is going to be developed eventually.

According to our current Official Community Plans (OCPs), this is not the case. If there are plans for extensive development throughout the entire area between the City of Fernie and Fernie Alpine Resort, they should share those with our communities through an extensive OCP review process.

In a passionate presentation in support of the proposal, Director Sosnowski raised a lot of very serious concerns about wildlife in the Lizard Creek corridor. Unfortunately Sosnowski has all but written off the Lizard Creek corridor, claiming wildlife is “scarce” and it is “too late to think of this watershed as a Mecca for wildlife.”

Wildsight, scientists and the people of the Elk Valley haven’t given up on wildlife in our home. Our region is full of important habitat and critical connectivity corridors, like Lizard Creek. On a larger scale, the whole Elk Valley is an important connectivity link between the Glacier and Waterton national parks to the south and the Banff Park complex to the north. With proper long-term planning at a regional level, these corridors can be retained and our communities can grow alongside healthy wildlife populations.

Sosnowski claims that Wildsight hasn’t scrutinized other subdivisions, but Wildsight has engaged extensively in all OCP planning processes in the area, which cover all other subdivisions in and around Fernie. The Cedars, Montane, Alpine Trails, Mt. Fernie Estates and others are all in areas zoned for this kind of development. Fernie Alpine Resort, Island Lake Lodge and RDEK Area A all have their own OCPs, which Wildsight participated in the development of.  These OCPs all have provisions for environmental values, including wildlife corridors.

This subdivision, unlike the others, wasn’t planned for in the RDEK Area A OCP and isn’t consistent with it, which is why this revision process and public comment opportunity took place. That the proponent has gone through the process and “checked all the boxes” should be the basis for approval according to Sosnowski. Revising our Official Community Plans should be a moment for serious reflection, sound science and public input, not a matter of checking boxes.

Leapfrog development, like this proposal, isn’t smart community growth or planning and will inhibit sound planning for the future growth of the City of Fernie (think of the next West Fernie mess that future generations will have to deal with!)

Continued development in the Lizard Creek connectivity corridor will have dire consequences for grizzlies and other wildlife. If we continue with piecemeal approval of developments in the area, we’ll wake up one day to find the entire area developed and grizzlies having no choice but to travel through our subdivisions.

We need serious community discussions to make sure all future development allows wildlife to move around and through our communities. Elk Valley municipalities, the RDEK and the provincial government need to listen to locals and work together to make sure wildlife connectivity is maintained throughout the valley we call home.

For the Wild,

Ryland Nelson

Southern Rockies Program Manager, Wildsight

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