LETHBRIDGE: A new study says plant and animal species are thinning as development rises in southern Alberta. The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute studied 85 bird, plant and insect species in grassland areas from Calgary south to the U.S. border and found 69 of them were of "special concern," "threatened," "endangered" or no longer existent in the wild. A spokesperson for the organization says they're gathering this science-based research to help decision-makers craft more informed choices.
"What we wanted to do is set the reference condition or benchmark for where we're at today for the health of biodiversity in southern Alberta," says Jim Herbers, the information director for the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute at the University of Alberta. Of the 85 species studied, they were found to be on average 54 per cent intact. These stats are paired with the finding that these same grassland areas in southern Alberta have seen an average 50 per cent rate of development for industry, transportation and agriculture.
"As you move farther north, there's less human development and the intactness for biodiversity is higher, there's no doubt about it," says Herbers. "But I would expect in areas like this where we've seen pretty aggressive policies around settlement for the last well over a century, you can expect intactness will be in this range."
The institute maintains it's an independent, science-based research body, so they don't comment on whether the facts they find are good or bad. Herbers says those judgments should be left up to the public. "We've made a lot of decisions in the past and we're going to make a lot more decisions in the future about development of our landscapes. This is part of that discussion. It rounds out the picture of where we're at today, and what kind of future do we want our children to inherit from this generation."
The institute will release a more detailed study of the area in the next few years, with plans to widen its research to include mammals, wetlands, lichens and mosses.