Greenbelts are also for animals
The Yukon government is taking comments about proposed developments in the McIntyre Creek area until March 15.
McIntyre Creek is one of Whitehorse’s only two remaining large east-west wildlife corridors, with coyotes, wolves and even the occasional bear moving through.
It is also a salmon spawning stream, and has rainbow trout and grayling. It is good to see that to some extent the environmental importance of the area is acknowledged by the proposed zoning of part of the area as protected park.
However, the proposal for residential development in the greenbelt does not consider the cumulative impacts of existing and proposed new developments on the McIntyre Creek watershed.
The wildlife corridor is already interrupted by the Alaska Highway on the west and Mountain View drive on the east — these are major blockages to animal movement.
There are also two existing micro-hydro plants, power lines, and a pump house with a waterline to Porter Creek. And there is considerable vehicular and non-vehicular recreational use.
The 350 to 400 units proposed in the current greenbelt could mean as many as 1,200 or more new residents, bringing not only increased numbers of hikers, mountain bikers, skiers and dogs, but more off-road vehicle traffic.
ATVs are already having serious environmental impacts on the area.
The proposed 100-metre buffer along each side of the creek is the bare minimum that could keep a wildlife corridor functioning if there were not numerous other existing blockages to movement.
Since there are so many existing cumulative impacts, and it is not possible to determine what level of new impacts will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, planners should err on the side of caution.
Furthermore, this is not only a corridor, it is varied habitat that includes south-facing slopes, the Stinky Lake wetland complex, beaver dams, mature spruce stands, and the creek itself.
Hawks and eagles, beaver, otter, coyotes, and other wildlife live in the area as well as moving through it.
One of the worst impacts would be access. The only access for traffic and water and sewer that is likely to result in the lots being economically feasible is a new road starting across the Alaska Highway from the Kopper King.
This road would require a creek crossing, so the 100-metre buffer would not exist at that point. In fact, the entire access road, combined with proposed housing, would create a third major barrier to wildlife movement.
Whitehorse residents should not be offered a misleading choice between housing sprawling outside of the city or eating away at greenbelts.
The proposed residential development is not infill — it is urban sprawl into one of the most important ecological linkages in the city.
If the residential development goes forward it is questionable how viable the wildlife corridor will remain.
It doesn’t make sense to threaten a fish-bearing stream, block a wildlife corridor and destroy habitat, for what will be extremely expensive lots once a bridge, roads, water and sewer are installed.
If this kind of development goes ahead Whitehorse’s “Wilderness City” title will soon be meaningless.
It may make sense to designate some of the land near Yukon College as endowment lands that could provide for expansion of the college.
However, great care needs to be taken with endowment land.
In the future, the college could apply for rezoning to develop or sell off part or all of the land to raise funds.
If the government agrees to the college’s request for endowment lands there needs to be a contract clearly stating the land will be maintained as a long-term legacy for ecological and educational purposes, and cannot be sold or developed.
Karen Baltgailis, Yukon Conservation Society