With its stunning views, charismatic wildlife, and clean air and water, the Bow Valley is one of Canada’s most popular places to live and recreate. But the Valley has not always been as busy as it is today. In the 1970s, for example, Canmore was a quiet coal mining town with fewer than 2,000 residents. When the last mine closed in 1979, the municipality began to explore tourism as an alternative economic model. The 1988 Winter Olympics, hosted in Calgary, Kananaskis Country and Canmore, put the Bow Valley on the map as a regional, national and international outdoor recreation destination.
Today, Canmore is home to nearly 15,000 permanent residents and an additional 4,000 part-time residents. Another four to five million visitors come to the area each year, reflected in statistics like the number of Canmore’s hotel rooms, which has increased by more than 1,200% since 1979, and daily summer traffic on the Trans Canada Highway, which has nearly quadrupled in the same time. Meanwhile annual visitation to Banff National Park is now well over four million people and grew by an average of 6% each year between 2013 and 2018.
As the Bow Valley’s population and recreation footprint have increased, so too has pressure on wildlife and other natural resources. By the 1990s, the challenge of balancing growth and conservation was already clear to community leaders. In 1997, these leaders established a small resource centre called the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley, whose mandate was to make ecosystem information available to decision makers and the public.
two decades of COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
From these beginnings, the Biosphere Institute has grown into a registered non-profit charitable society leading multi-partner, award-winning education, research, and community engagement programs. We continue to serve as a community resource centre, maintaining thousands of records on local ecology and planning in our public library. We also lead research on trends in environmental sustainability, and we engage thousands of residents, businesses and visitors in education programs and community projects each year.
Some of our highlights include:
In 2004, the Biosphere Institute brought the internationally recognized Natural Step training program to Canmore, catalyzing diverse private and public sector organizations to put more environmentally sustainable operations into practice. These organizations shared what they learned with the community at a one-day forum attended by over 1,000 people, capped off by Dr. Karl-Henrik Robért (founder of the Natural Step) and Dr. David Suzuki speaking to a packed house.
In 2005, we began working closely with local managers and concerned citizens to develop the WildSmart Community Program, which became a formal program of the Biosphere Institute in 2009. Since then, WildSmart has reached over 120,000 Bow Valley residents and visitors with its message of how to live and recreate safely and respectfully in landscapes shared with grizzly bears and other large wildlife species.
Following The Natural Step, the Biosphere has directly engaged over 18,000 Bow Valley residents and visitors to conserve water, reduce their waste generation and energy use, and switch to alternative transportation. These individuals’ actions have resulted in reductions of at least 20,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas reductions.
In collaboration with our partners, the Biosphere Institute has engaged hundreds of dedicated community volunteers, who have contributed thousands of hours to educating and learning from fellow community members, on topics ranging from protected area regulations to aquatic invasive species. Nearly 800 volunteers have engaged in aquatic restoration projects alone, removing over eight tonnes of invasive weeds and garbage from Bow Valley waterways.
The Biosphere Institute is guided by the understanding that as a community, we have the capability and responsibility to create enduring change for our world.
The Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley empowers local residents, businesses and visitors to be active environmental stewards. We do so through targeted environmental education, research, and community engagement.