Bunchberry Meadows (Photo by Carys Richards / NCC staff)

Bunchberry Meadows (Photo by Carys Richards / NCC staff)

Giving Bunchberry Meadows its quiet time this spring

Closure will protect sensitive habitats and wildlife
Bunchberry flower (Photo by NCC)

Bunchberry flower (Photo by NCC)

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is announcing a temporary spring closure of Bunchberry Meadows to protect its species and habitats when they are most sensitive.

Bunchberry Meadows is located just 30 minutes from downtown Edmonton and features spectacular natural features to enjoy. As such, it is one of NCC’s most visited conservation sites in Alberta and can at times get busy: in the summer of 2020, weekend visitation was over 100 visitors per day.

So many people getting outside and enjoying nature is something to celebrate, but it also has its impacts, such as trail erosion. To lessen the impact of its popularity, NCC has performed seasonal closures at Bunchberry Meadows, including in the spring, to prevent trail damage when the ground is wet.

From April 1 to May 23, Bunchberry Meadows will be closed to the public. “Controlled access” will be in effect, meaning the main gate, parking lot and bathroom facilities will be closed.

This closure will give the conservation site some time to rest and will help protect its most sensitive natural features, explains Eagle Willier, NCC’s natural area manager for the Upper North Saskatchewan River region.

“It’s not only for the property itself, but also so the wildlife there have a break from human activity,” says Eagle. “They need a safe haven, especially when they are most vulnerable.”

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Disrupting disturbance

One of the reasons for the closure is because the ground at Bunchberry Meadows becomes very wet in the spring, as the snow and ice melts.

This is particularly true for the sensitive habitats found at the property, including its larch forests with their wet, organic soils that are particularly susceptible to damage in the spring. While some of these areas have been protected by boardwalks, others are still lacking them.

“When people travel through these parts, it gets super muddy,” says Eagle. “You can see people start to go off trail, just to avoid a puddle. The trail gets wider and wider, at the cost of the habitats we are trying to conserve.”

Many interesting plants are found at Bunchberry Meadows, including northern hound’s-tongue, a rare plant found by volunteer botanists from the Edmonton Native Plant Society. With the closure in effect, this plant is less likely to be trampled by accident.

Want to help protect habitat for rare plants? Consider donating to NCC!

Quiet time

The temporary closure at Bunchberry Meadows will also benefit the area’s wildlife.

A similar closure was put in place last fall, which appeared to make a difference for wildlife, says Eagle.

“We’ve noticed wildlife seemed more abundant after the closures — there just seem to be more moose and more deer,” says Eagle. “I think that’s because the human disturbance was so low that wildlife started to feel more comfortable to come into that space more.”

During the spring, ungulates, such as deer and moose, are calving, so the closure will offer these species an opportunity to give birth in peace.

It also coincides with the migration and nesting period for many birds, which is important because Bunchberry Meadows contains important breeding and stopover habitat for many bird species, including species at risk.

Far from empty

Bunchberry Meadows will not be totally devoid of humans during the closure.

During the closure, the property will be monitored by volunteer stewards and NCC staff. Parkland County will monitor parking on nearby county roads.

There may also be group events, including programs with Inside Education, an organization offering place-based learning opportunities.

Other options

Fortunately, there will be other NCC conservation sites for nature lovers to explore and enjoy. Eagle recommends Wagner Natural Area or Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary as nearby alternatives.

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Funding provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada