For a city of nearly one million people, Edmonton has a surprising diversity of plant and wildlife species. Situated in the transition zone between grasslands and boreal forest, Edmonton provides a mixture of climactic and ecological conditions that can support diverse plants and animals from neighbouring regions. The North Saskatchewan River Valley, a collection of well-connected natural areas that runs through the city, forms the backbone of the city’s natural area system as the riparian habitat supports high levels of biodiversity and connects the region’s forests and wetlands. The wildlife throughout these natural areas includes vegetation such as aspen poplars and prickly wild roses, and mammals including beavers, mallards, and deer. These natural systems provide services that support human activity, such as the regulation of air and water quality, and research and educational benefits, to name a few.

Today, while biodiversity in the river valley remains under pressure, the primary threat to Edmonton’s natural areas is on the tablelands. Over the past century, Edmonton’s tablelands have been converted primarily for resource extraction, agriculture and urban development. In the last several years, the Edmonton Metropolitan Area’s Population has grown dramatically, resulting in the rapid development of previously natural and agricultural landscapes. With this increasing urbanisation there are five main threats to biodiversity in Edmonton: habitat destruction, habitat degradation, invasive species, climate change, and extirpation.

The “Ecological Network” Solution: The City of Edmonton has committed to an “Ecological Network” approach to biodiversity protection. This approach envisions a network of core natural areas that are ecologically connected by natural and semi-natural linkages and – to the extent possible –surrounded by compatible land uses. Using this approach, the city is striving to secure its rich valley and tableland natural areas of private, city, and provincial lands as a single protected natural system.

The basic components of the ecological network include: core areas, linkages, and a matrix. Core areas are habitat patches of a suitable size and quality to provide environmental conditions that support entire populations of animals and plants and associated functions. Linkages are arrangements of vegetated patches that enhance structural and/or functional connectivity between core areas. Linkages may be natural areas or semi natural areas. The matrix, then, is all of the land not considered to be part of the core areas or linkages. In Edmonton, the “Ecological Network” is based around the River Valley. Preservation and protection of this key natural landmark will facilitate an expansive network of linkages throughout the city boundaries. These linkages will connect the nearby surrounding core areas, such as the Whitemud/Blackmud Creeks and the Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park, hopefully fostering a flourishing environment for the city’s endangered biodiversity.

Edmonton was one of the pioneer cities of our LAB programme.

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