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Eastern Slopes Land-Use Management: Emails to the Government of Alberta from AWA

March 16, 2016

March 16, 2016: Eastern Slopes Land-Use Management

Dear Premier Notley:

I am pleased to send you recent news items (attached) regarding rural concerns about the off-highway vehicle damage in the new Castle Parks and in many areas throughout the Eastern Slopes:

  1. Livingstone Landowners Guild Calls for Restrictions on Off-Highway Vehicles to Protect Southwestern Alberta’s Land and Water
  2. Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition – Why is taxpayer money being spent repairing OHV trails which will now have to be removed?
  3. James Tweedie, president of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition – Parks need protecting – Calgary Herald Letter Re: “Protecting Alberta’s headwaters,” Shannon Phillips, Opinion, Feb. 27.
  4. Peter Lee – If it was a park, it would be protected – Re: “Protecting Alberta’s headwaters,” Shannon Phillips, Opinion, Feb. 27.
  5. Stop Ghost Clearcut “The state of the Ghost Watershed is described by some residents as nothing short of land abuse”
  6. Conservation Community Calls for Swift Action to Protect Alberta’s Headwaters as well as an attached copy of the communiqué for your reference

I hope you will find these articles helpful as you consider land-use management on our Eastern Slopes. In the coming days, I will forward additional information.

With regards,
Alberta Wilderness Association

 

March 21, 2016: Eastern Slopes Land-Use Management News

Dear Premier Notley:

I am pleased to send you additional recent news items (attached and linked below) regarding rural concerns about the off-highway vehicle damage in the new Castle Parks and in many areas throughout the Eastern Slopes:

Landowners concerned with OHVs (March 21 2016)
http://lethbridgeherald.com/news/local-news/2016/03/21/landowners-concerned-with-ohvs/

  •  “A group of landowners is calling on the province to ban the use of off-highway vehicles (OHV) in critical areas along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in southern Alberta.”
  • “The group would like to see OHV use restricted to areas not deemed parks or classified as critical wildlife or prime protection areas under the Eastern Slopes Policy. It should be prohibited in areas critical to the survival of threatened species such as the Westslope Cutthroat trout.”
  • “In the places where OHV use can be permitted, motorized vehicles should be restricted to a few properly designed trails that minimize surface runoff and erosion. They are also looking for more enforcement so these rules will be strictly enforced.”

Damage must stop to Eastern Slopes (March 16 2016)
http://www.reddeeradvocate.com/opinion/columns/Damage_must_stop_to_Eastern_Slopes_372513352.html

  • “There’s a “perfect storm” brewing along of our precious Eastern Slopes at the hands of off-highway vehicle drivers recklessly opening up deep wounds in the environmentally fragile landscapes.”
  •  “A conservation group has sounded the alarm, and warned that unless the provincial government puts the brakes on unregulated access to these forests, pristine rivers and vulnerable watersheds “immediately,” we are courting a tsunami of devastation beyond recovery. And that’s not over-stating the dilemma.”
  • “OHVs of all types are wreaking havoc in many local areas of land bordering the mountains of Jasper National Park and the Willmore Wilderness Park, all the way to Grande Cache, …. This kind of abuse makes it impossible for other user groups to enjoy the same landscapes.”
  • “Further, habitat fragmentation from industrial and uncontrolled motorized recreation access is imposing a death sentence on Alberta’s native trout species.”
  • “Our province cannot afford to remain obtuse and inactive when addressing the public’s concern over the health of our Eastern Slopes.”

What happens upstream is felt downstream (March 12 2016)
http://lethbridgeherald.com/news/local-news/2016/03/12/what-happens-upstream-is-felt-downstream/

  • “Spencer said many landowners are voicing concerns over the use of public lands, and are concerned with the degradation and abuse they say is happening.”
  • “Specifically the farmers and ranchers whose land borders the public land,” he said. “They see the effects of people who ride their quads onto public land, and then tear into their fields and rip that up as well.”
    “That’s a big issue for everybody because it shows a lack of respect for the land and everyone else.”
  • “What happens further upstream from Lethbridge directly affects how our city operates,” he said. “Promoting stewardship of the land, in turn, increases water quality which benefits everybody. We’re all downstream.”

I hope you will find these articles helpful as you consider land-use management on our Eastern Slopes. In the coming days, I will forward additional information.

With regards,
Alberta Wilderness Association

 

March 31, 2016 – Eastern Slopes Land-Use: Public Opinion

Dear Premier Notley:

I am pleased to send you further information regarding the Castle area.

A good example of the feedback AWA is receiving can best be summarized in the comments from local landowners and ranchers in the Livingstone range, who support eliminating OHVs from the Castle:

“Although motorized recreation is enjoyed by less than 5% of Alberta’s population, it has vastly disproportionate effects on the quality of our native vegetation, community watersheds, fisheries, wildlife and recreational opportunities for the much larger number of Albertans who enjoy public lands on foot and horseback. More than thirty years of virtually no effective management of this activity has resulted in deeply-rutted landscapes, badly silted streams, spreading infestations of noxious weeds that thrive on disturbance, and conflict with other users and neighbouring landholders. A culture of vandalism and entitlement has developed among a significant minority of motorized users that makes enforcement of existing rules difficult and causes stress and safety fears for many other land users.”

“OHV recreation should be limited to those parts of Alberta’s public lands not reserved as parks or classified as Critical Wildlife or Prime Protection areas under the Eastern Slopes Policy, and should be prohibited in areas critical to the survival of threatened species like the Westslope Cutthroat trout. In the places where OHV use can be permitted, motorized vehicles should be restricted to a few properly designed trails that minimize surface runoff and erosion.” (2016. Livingstone Landowners Guild (http://www.pinchercreekvoice.com/2016/03/livingstone-landowners-guild-calls-for.html)

The following public opinion studies related to recreation (including OHV) use of the Castle area and Eastern Slopes in general demonstrate a large majority of Albertans give overwhelming support for the designation and legal protection of wilderness and wild spaces.

Albertans’ Values and Attitudes toward Recreation and Wilderness, 2015. Praxis Group

  • The majority of Albertans (94%) agree that wilderness is important because it helps to preserve plant and animal species. There is also overwhelming support (92%) for wilderness areas, which contribute to better air and water quality.
  • There is also strong support for the intrinsic value of just having wilderness even if not used (83%).
  • http://cpaws-southernalberta.org/upload/CPAWS_FINAL_REPORT_2015.pdf

Survey of Albertans’ Priorities for Provincial Parks, 2008. Praxis Group

  • “Albertans’ feel the top priority for Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation should be to set aside more land and leaving it in an undisturbed state” (page 5).
  • “The area of lowest priority is infrastructure and land to support off-highway vehicle use” (page 6).
  • “Over 70% of survey respondents indicated increased investment should be made in setting aside land to protect natural areas in an undisturbed state.” (page 19).
  • http://www.albertaparks.ca/media/3239/Praxis%20Report%20Final.pdf

Public Opinion Study; Municipal District of Pincher Creek, Village of Cowley, Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, Town of Pincher Creek, Piikani First Nation’s reservation and Fort Macleod, Spring 2011. Praxis Group

  • “The majority (82%) reported that protecting the watershed is either “much more important” or “somewhat more important” within the Castle Special Management Area when compared to recreational opportunities.” “Regardless of political party supported, the preference for watershed protection over recreational opportunities is very high; PC 83%, Wildrose 83%, Liberal 90%, and New Democrat 87%.” (page 9)
  • “The majority (84%) reported that wildlife habitat is either “much more important” or “somewhat more important” within the Castle Special Management Area when compared to recreational opportunities.” Regardless of political party the majority support wildlife habitat protection over recreational opportunities, although Wildrose (74%) and PC (80%) supporters were lower than Liberal (91%) and NDP (100%): (page 10)
  • http://www.sasci.ca/community-values-assessment/

Lethbridge Public Opinion Study, Spring 2011. Citizen Society Research Lab

  • “An overwhelming majority of residents who expressed an opinion (94.2%) support protecting the Castle watershed over providing recreational opportunities in the area. Only 5.8% are more inclined to support recreational opportunities.” (page 7)
  • “An overwhelming majority of residents who expressed an opinion (94.3%) support protecting the Castle wildlife habitat over providing recreational opportunities in the area. Only 5.7% are more inclined to support recreational opportunities.” (page8)
  • https://www.lethbridgecollege.ca/sites/default/files/imce/about-us/applied-research/csrl/Castle_Winter_2011.pdf

I hope you will find this information helpful as you consider management decisions on the Castle Wildland and Provincial Parks. In the coming days, I will continue to forward additional information.

With regards,
Alberta Wilderness Association

 

April 8, 2016: Castle Wilderness – A history of protection

Dear Premier Notley:

I am pleased to send you further information regarding the Castle area, this time a brief protection history of the Castle area.

The importance of the Castle Wilderness has long been recognized, dating back to more than 100 years  ago when expansion of Waterton Lakes National Park included much of the Castle Wilderness (unfortunately, this protection was later removed).

Since 1968, local people and numerous credible reports, agencies and commissions have recommended that the Castle Wilderness has already experienced significant land use impacts and requires protection now. The Castle’s incredible diversity, role as a wildlife corridor, vital watersheds and spiritual and wilderness recreational values must be secured.

This history of protection efforts has now culminated in your governments election promise to ensure the Province will fully protect the Castle area. It is clear that there has been a longstanding  local and international interest in seeing the area protected. Decisions that are made now will have long lasting implications for generations to come. We hope you share in the vision that generations of Albertans share in protecting this precious space as a piece of irreplaceable wilderness in a way that remains free from off highway vehicles (OHVs) and industrial activities for future generations.

Here is a short history:

  • 1914 Enlargement of Waterton Lakes National Park, which included much of the Castle Wilderness.
  • 1921 With another boundary adjustment resulting from difficulties at the federal level, the Castle was removed from Waterton Lakes National Park and reverted back to the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve.
  • 1968: Local residents and the Pincher Creek Fish and Game Association request legislated protection for the Castle.
  • 1977: The provincial Policy for Resource Management of the Eastern Slopes notes that the Castle “has been identified as having considerable park potential.”
  • 1993: Alberta’s Natural Resource Conservation Board finds the area has deteriorated and stipulates protection is needed.
  • 1998: Parks Canada study finds ecological health of Waterton Lakes National Park threatened and cites activities on adjacent lands, including the Castle, as cause for concern and an important reason for protecting adjacent lands.
  • 1998: the Castle was a candidate site under the Alberta government’s Special Places 2000 program in the late 1990s. Only a very small ecological reserve resulted, the West Castle Wetlands Ecological Reserve. The larger area of the Castle was designated as a “Special Management Zone,” but that zoning has shown little effect in protecting natural values.
  • 1999: Proposal for protection of the Castle Wilderness area submitted to Minister of the Environment by Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition.
  • 2000: The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, set up under the free trade agreement identifies the Castle as one of fourteen of North America’s most biologically significant and threatened areas.
  • 2005: An independent report commissioned by CPAWS, World Wildlife Fund and Shell Canada as a synopsis of current scientific knowledge for the Castle finds its ecosystem health and sustainability has been diminished.
  • 2008/2009: A citizen-based group was formed to discuss potential options for legislated protection of the Castle. After working together for sixteen months, the citizen-based working group submitted a consensus-based conceptual proposal to the government of Alberta recommending that the Castle Special Place be legislated as a combination Wildland and Provincial Park.
  • 2010-present: OHV use exponentially expands throughout the Castle Wilderness.
  • 2012 and 2014: Government designates almost 1,000 km of trails for OHV use, despite science based evidence of OHV-caused destruction of endangered species habitat (grizzly bear and Westslope Cutthroat Trout habitat).
  • 2015: NDP government platform: “5.15 – And we will protect the Castle Wilderness Area.”
  • 2015 (September): New NDP government announces: “Province to fully protect Castle area” (September 4, 2015 media release).
  • 2015/2016 (fall and winter): New NDP government builds bridges and trails for OHVs and tells local communities that the Castle Parks will be Alberta’s first parks with OHVs as a priority use.

The Castle Wilderness needs protection now, just as it needed protection in 1914, 1968, 1977, 1993, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2015, 2016. The Castle’s incredible diversity, role as a wildlife corridor, and spiritual and recreational values must be preserved. If destruction from off highway vehicle use is allowed to continue, we may lose this irreplaceable part of Alberta’s wilderness forever.

I hope you will find this information helpful as you consider management decisions on the Castle Wildland and Provincial Parks. In the coming days, I will continue to forward additional information.

With regards,
Alberta Wilderness Association

 

April 22, 2016: Eastern Slopes – Lawlessness in the Ghost

Dear Premier Notley:

I would like to share additional items surrounding public land issues, this time recent communications from the Ghost Valley Community regarding unchecked activities in the Ghost Watershed.

This is only one snapshot of many areas experiencing similar problems throughout the Eastern Slopes’ headwaters, resulting from uncontrolled Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) use and abuse, illegal firearms and weapons discharge, and lack of enforcement:

There are OHV users that treat the Ghost Watershed as a ‘free for all’ zone where all activities are permitted in all areas. In the winter, OHVs and vehicles of every description drive on the frozen Ghost Reservoir and up the Ghost River. In the summer, trucks and other OHVs travel the river’s gravel bed, while nearby streams and wetlands become playgrounds for the worst offenders.

The Ghost Valley’s Public Lands have clearly become a dangerous place. Gunfire frequently fills the air and explosive devices shake the ground. Hiking, biking and camping in the area are increasingly risky activities.

While explosives have become commonplace in the Ghost, RCMP and Fish and Wildlife officers seem to be a rare sight. When residents phone for help, 911 dispatchers have been known to demonstrate unfamiliarity with the Ghost’s main roadways, further eroding public confidence that help is available when emergencies occur.

And emergencies occur with predictable regularity. In the past few weeks, at least three fires were started by exploding targets, a popular product legally sold in Calgary stores. Last summer’s Harold Creek forest fire was started by an incendiary device.

Other dangers abound. Hikers have found unexploded grenades. Stolen vehicles, vandalized by bullets, explosives and fire, litter TransAlta Road. Residents of the Ghost Valley endure trespassing, vandalism, theft, even assault, and have experienced reprisals from trespassers for reporting these crimes.

Recent news coverage can be found at these links:

  Ghost 3

Years ago, 28 full-time personnel kept order in the Ghost Valley, monitoring appropriate use and ensuring visitor safety. In 1992, government downsizing cut these positions and closed the ranger station. Today, few visitors know that the area was once well managed with active enforcement, allowing residents and visitors to enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities.

In 2005, in response to mounting concerns related to unmanaged recreation, the Ghost-Waiparous Access Management Plan (GAMP) was crafted. The plan called for trail upgrades, toilet facilities, and active enforcement, but the plan was never funded by government. Without enforcement, a culture of lawlessness came to pervade the Ghost Public Lands and other areas throughout the Eastern Slopes.

These days, reporting concerns to the Cochrane RCMP detachment or to Fish & Wildlife seems to make little difference. Visible enforcement actions are rarely seen. Residents have yet to hear of charges being laid.

What will bring change, residents ask? An out-of-control forest fire? A tragic injury? Who knows? In the meantime, lawless behaviour continues and fire crews labour on the taxpayer dollar to fully extinguish fires started by exploding targets.

Ghost 4

Ghost 5

Premier Notley, we ask that your Government begin to reign in the OHV vandals and other public land and water vandals. We ask that you ensure public safety. Our Eastern Slopes headwaters are a heritage we must protect for future generations to enjoy outdoor pursuits and secure headwaters and wildlife habitat that is vital to our own health. The Ghost watershed, the Castle Parks, and the Porcupine Hills would be good places to start.

Thank you Premier.

With regards,

Alberta Wilderness Association

P.S. A news release by the Ghost Valley Community was sent on February 12, 2016.
http://hosted-p0.vresp.com/456864/45e3ef8c8e/ARCHIVE
To our knowledge, no satisfactory response or meaningful action has been taken to tackle this pervading culture of lawlessness on our public lands.

 

January 23, 2017: Castle Wilderness Announcement

Dear Premier Notley:

Thank you for increasing protection of the Castle Wilderness. Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) cut its teeth defending wilderness in the Castle area as a fledgling organization over 50 years ago. It was truly a special day on Friday when we listened to your announcement that recognizes the value of this incredible area.

We are proud of Alberta’s pristine wilderness, and now there is no doubt that the Castle Parks will be loved and cherished by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world for many generations to come. The decisions announced on Friday, including co-management of the Provincial Park with the Piikani Nation, are progress towards restoration of this wilderness and will mean that visitors will receive the best experience possible and are encouraged to return.

No doubt you know that protecting this area is the right decision for the more than 200 rare or at risk species in the Castle. Federally protected westslope cutthroat trout and threatened grizzly bears will finally have a chance to recover their populations. The Global Forest Watch Canada reports released last year underline deforestation and damage in the Castle Parks. In order for restoration of this vital landscape to occur, the steps you have taken and will take makes yours the best decision for this vital ecosystem. Expanding the Wildland Provincial Parks boundaries, closing motorized use south of highway 774, and targeting ongoing closures to eliminate motorized recreational use in a manner that minimizes damage to critical wildlife areas are all significant conservation measures.

We all know that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but we can all celebrate that the government recognized the value of planting one today. I look forward to carefully reviewing the Castle management plan and fully engaging further in the consultation process.

Thank you to all those who have worked so hard to create progress and make solid, well reasoned decisions to create a wilderness legacy we can all be proud of for generations to come.

Sincerely,
Alberta Wilderness Association
Joanna Skrajny
AWA Conservation Specialist

There is an urgent need to engage people with nature. All aspects of it. Not just the pretty bears and cute snakes. Also the realities of it, the death, struggles, and pain. Not only are people losing touch with nature, they are losing touch with the realities of nature.
- Clayton Lamb, January 2018
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