The City of Lethbridge has an extensive suite of parks that run through the entire length of its deeply incised river valley system. There are 1600 Hectares of parks with 177 km of paved trails and 57 km of gravel trails. This, along with multiple green spaces and strips within the city, is considered to represent the 3rd largest city park system in Canada.
A number of these parks support substantial components of the native, natural, coulee ecosystem of Southern Alberta. Currently, there are many and varied physical obstacles to wildlife movement, including roads, bridges, gravel pits, urban infrastructure, gaps between parks, as well as habitat interruptions and degradation between and within these parks. In addition, much of the wildlife that use the parks, also use a variety of other green spaces within and about the city. These include green strips/boulevards, inner city parks and golf courses. It is known that all of these serve to provide movement corridors and habitat for a variety of species. The wildlife in question includes a number of species at risk. In addition, wildlife movement in and around the city can and does create safety conflicts between wildlife and citizens.
With this in mind, Lethbridge College and The City of Lethbridge Parks Department have developed a long term partnership. Lethbridge College will endeavour to use a combination of research projects and citizen science in a number of ways. In general, researchers (both faculty and students) will develop and use a precision, three dimensional landscape model (aerial photography and lidar based) and ground truthing plan. They will then identify and classify the physical obstacles and habitat interruptions throughout the system. They will also track selected indicator species via radio/gps tracking and other methods, in order to help determine how wildlife use the parks and the urban interface (including road crossings), as well as which features are truly obstacles to wildlife movement.
The Wild Lethbridge citizen science app and web site for smart phones will be an integral part of the wildlife observation and movement data that will help us to achieve the most comprehensive knowledge possible. We will be relying upon what we perceive to be a strong interest on the part of our citizens to help us to understand and hopefully, successfully manage at least some of the issues unique to a city with a substantial wildlife presence.
We would ultimately use all of this information to develop recommendations and methods for improved physical and habitat connectivity between and within the parks and the urban environment. These recommendations might include anything from the re-establishment of missing/damaged habitat to construction of physical structures to improve connectivity and/or avoid traffic conflicts. In addition to all of this, the research projects are designed to provide real world, practical opportunities for the education and development of our students at Lethbridge College.