6 December, 1996
Dear WVEA Members:
As you have requested, I have assessed the potential of Winchell Coulee as a natural area and a potential environmental reserve. In my professional opinion, Winchell Coulee is an important regional feature which is likely to become increasingly important as development proceeds in the County of Mountain View. The coulee is a highly diverse and productive area which should be retained in it's natural state for the benefit of wildlife, the people who reside there and others who use the area for recreation.
Following are my impressions of Winchell Coulee based on a field inspection on 9 November 1996 and additional information provided by Calgary and Canmore offices of the Alberta Natural Resources Service and the County of Mountain View in Didsbury.
Winchell Coulee is a deeply incised valley oriented roughly southeast to northwest. It is a tributary valley of Stony Creek in the Red Deer River system. The far eastern portion of the coulee, beyond the area in question, drains eastward into Little Dogpound Creek. Winchell Lake and several smaller beaver ponds dominate the central portion of the valley. Springs are common and supply much of the water to Winchell Lake and Winchell Creek.
Vegetation in the coulee is strongly influenced by topography. Aspen and aspen-shrub communities dominate the south-facing slopes along the north side of the coulee. The aspen trees there range from from small saplings of about 2 cm. in diameter to large mature trees of more than 35 cm. in diameter at breast height. The range of trees ages and the lack of conifer seedlings in the understudy indicate that this is the climax community on the slopes, and that the stands are self-generating.
The valley bottom is level and poorly drained, supporting a dwarf-birch/sedge/grass wetland community. In some places the wetland supports a "quaking bog", with a floating mat of vegetation. Tall willows grow in the margins of the bottom land.
Dense climax stands of white spruce with scattered lodge pole pine dominate the north facing slopes along the south side of the coulee.
Winchell Coulee affords excellent wildlife habitat as a result of a high diversity of habitat types and the close proximity of those habitats to one another. The shrub/sedge/grass communities in the valley bottom provide grasses and aquatic plants that are important to deer and moose in spring and shrubs that are important as woody browse in fall and winter. The aspen stands on the adjacent south-facing slopes produce forbs (herbaceous plants) that form a large part of the summer diets of those animals. Together, the valley bottom and adjacent slopes provide suitable year round forage for deer and moose.
The dense conifer stands on the north-facing slopes provide hiding cover, thermal cover during cold and hot weather, and areas of relatively low snow depths (due to interception of snowfall by the tree canopy) that can be critical for deer during winter. The interspersion of hiding cover (trees and tall shrubs) is excellent. Most deer activity in open areas occurs within 180 m of cover, a condition that is met throughout the coulee.
In summary, Winchell Coulee provides for the year-round needs of both forage and cover of deer and moose. Higher than average densities of mule deer and white-tailed deer were observed in the area in 1994 during the most recent aerial surveys of the region by Alberta Natural Resources Service.
The coulee forms a natural movement corridor between the Stony Creek and the Little Dogpound Creek drainages. Corridors are critical habitat components for wildlife, linking areas of suitable habitat. If these linkages are lost, habitat becomes fragmented, leading to overall declines in the ability of the land to support many types of wildlife. During my field inspection, when snow cover was complete, numerous tracks of deer indicated movements of animals in both directions along the coulee bottom. Other large mammals known from the area include black bears, grizzly bears, cougars, and elk. All of these species are likely to use the coulee as a travel corridor.
In addition to its attractiveness to ungulates, the coulee supports a large number of bird species due to its diversity of plants, vegetation communities, and topography. Several sensitive species nest or forage in the area, including Common Loon, Sandhill Crane, Great Blue Heron, Great Grey Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, and Townsend's Solitaire. The Great Grey Owl has been documented to nest in the area. Winchell Lake and the active beaver ponds support nesting Canada Geese and a significant breeding population of Ring-necked Duck, a species that is locally distributed in the province.
The wetlands associated with Winchell Lake and the beaver ponds also appear to provide excellent habitat for amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small mammals. Alberta Natural Resources Service stocks Winchell Lake each year with 6,000 rainbow trout of cacheable size of 15 cm. or more in length. As a result, the lake supports a sizeable sport fishery. Water quality is high, and annual stocking is required only because, in winter when ice cover prevents re-oxygenization of the water, oxygen levels fall too low to support large numbers of fish.
Winchell Coulee forms a complete system, affording highly diverse habitats in a relatively small area. it is a natural link between two drainages. The system currently is relatively intact, with the eastern portion already having been designated as an environmental reserve. Existing roads, including the Winchell Estates access road along the north slopes of the coulee and the coulee access road at the eastern end, have compromised habitat quality somewhat. The cumulative effects of any further development that may occur in the valley itself could lead to substantial degradation of the value of the area to the resident and migratory wildlife.
Other concerns include slope instability and windthrow of trees. Slope instability already has led to a landslide into the coulee bottom in the area below the subdivision proposed by Robin Stewart. On the coulee's north-facing slopes, large conifer trees have been up-rooted by high winds, and any further clearing would increase the potential for blow-down. Protection as an environmental reserve of as much as possible of the coulee slopes would help to reduce the potential for further slumping and windthrow.
Winchell Coulee represents a significant natural resource in the County of Mountain View. It provides excellent wildlife habitat and serves as a movement corridor for a range of wildlife species. Ad an area becomes increasingly developed, the importance of the coulee as a travel corridor likely will increase.
Winchell Coulee was considered of Regional Significance in a study of environmentally significant areas conducted by Sweetgrass Consultants in 1991. The coulee represents "one of the few diverse areas of upland and valley habitats in the County of Mountain View".
In my professional opinion, the bottom lands of Winchell Coulee and as much of the adjacent slopes as possible should be maintained in their natural state to ensure the area's ecological integrity and wildlife values.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide you with this information. If you have any further questions, please contact me at any time.