Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) has completed a habitat evaluation study in the northeastern part of Saskatoon, which will support the Saskatoon Freeway’s functional planning study in reducing environmental impacts in the area.
The study, funded by the Ministry of Highways, was called for by members of the functional planning study’s Environmental and Heritage Technical Working Group – which at the time included Wanuskewin Heritage Park, Northeast Swale Watchers, City of Saskatoon, and MVA.
In having MVA oversee this study, the freeway’s designers wanted details on habitat and wildlife movement corridors in areas where the roadway will pass through the Northeast Swale, Small Swale and South Saskatchewan River. The study also provides known locations of species at risk and rare species.
Key recommendations from the MVA study to help protect the swales include:
- Using a causeway to reduce impact on wetlands and allow wildlife to cross underneath. A causeway would also allow for ongoing expansion of the Meewasin Trail.
- Shifting the existing freeway route 200-300 metres to the north in the Small Swale to reduce impact on wetlands and native prairie.
- Preserving habitat and wildlife movement corridors where a freeway bridge will be built on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. The riverbank’s Green Ash Forest was noted as providing a unique habitat for migrating forest songbirds like warblers.
- Using roadway design concepts to minimize vehicle noise and light pollution in adjacent natural areas.
MVA made it a priority to use local volunteer experts to help with field work and to share any existing data. Four public events were held in the swales between August and December 2019 where volunteer citizen scientists documented animal sightings and tracks.
“Although the study is complete, Meewasin has recommended more research and ongoing monitoring to ensure sound decisions are made that minimize the freeway’s impact on this unique area,” said Renny W. Grilz, P. Ag, from Meewasin Valley Authority.
Grilz noted that some of this additional work – which includes measuring sound levels and surveys to identify locations of breeding birds, northern leopard frogs and other amphibians, rare plants, and sharp-tailed grouse leks – has already begun. Meewasin will continue to provide research and be involved in future studies in planning for the Saskatoon Freeway.
MVA’s research complements a broader study into the environmental impacts of the freeway that was completed by the functional planning study team; details on that work will be provided in a future blog post.
The full Meewasin habitat evaluation study can be found here.
Coverage of the MVA’s report recently appeared in the Clarke’s Crossing Gazette. Click here to read the article.