2012-07-27 Bighorn Wildland Recreation Monitoring Project: 2012 Report
This 2012 update to the 8-year project and supplement to the 2004-2008 report highlights observations and measurements taken during the 2012 monitoring trips.
Since the 1970s, when the Bighorn Backcountry was first identified as a provincially significant wilderness area, management priorities have focused on watershed protection, wildlife habitat conservation, and dispersed non-motorized recreational activities. Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) has actively supported these priorities and, for more than 30 years, has sought protected area designation for the Bighorn Wildland. In 2002, through the Bighorn Backcountry Access Management Plan (AMP), the Alberta Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development (now the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development) formally permitted motorized recreation of Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) in areas where these activities were formerly not permitted.
Research has shown that unregulated, unenforced use of an area by OHVs over the long-term negatively affects water quality, vegetation, historical trails, and wildlife. These activities may also dissuade many non-motorized recreationists from using the same trails. Experience has revealed this to be true for the Bighorn Backcountry, as emphasized by extreme trail erosion and widespread environmental degradation throughout the area.
In the document Is the Access Management Plan Working? Monitoring Recreational Use in the Bighorn Backcountry (2004-2008), AWA evaluated management success in the Bighorn Backcountry five years after the implementation of the AMP. To understand what effect new recreational guidelines are having in the Bighorn Backcountry, we monitored OHV and other recreational activities between 2004 and 2008. This study focused on the 76-km network of trails designated for motorized and non-motorized use in the Upper Clearwater-Ram Public Land Use Zone, and evaluated three criteria as indicators of management success:
- Illegal use of trails,
- Recreational impacts on and around trails, and
- Trends in motorized vehicle activity.
Since the time of the 2009 report, AWA has continued to monitor trends in motorized recreation, and document the extensive damage that continues to occur as a result of increased motorized use throughout the Bighorn Backcountry. This current document represents the data and observations gathered by AWA staff and volunteers throughout the 2012 field season.
- Illegal use of trails is occurring.
- Trail damage is increasing.
- The total footprint of non-designated backcountry camping is significant.
- Water bodies are not adequately protected.
- Motorized traffic on trails continues to increase.
- The particular topography, soil type, and vegetative communities found in the Bighorn are unable to support motorized recreation.
- Protection of ecological values in the Bighorn is the top management priority of Albertans.
AWA is grateful for the support we received from ASPRWF for our 2012 on-the-ground monitoring work in the Bighorn.
AWA also appreciates the support received from Google for the mapping software used in the production of this report.