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The Castle Wilderness is a region of outstanding wilderness values.

As the essential piece of an ecological puzzle, the Castle connects those Canadian and US National Parks to the south and the Flathead Basin to the west with those habitats and populations in the mountains and foothills to the north. The Castle Wilderness needs protection now, and protection efforts must focus on restoring this disturbed landscape. The Castle’s incredible diversity, role as a wildlife corridor, and spiritual and recreational values must be preserved. If destruction from motorized recreation and other ecologically unsustainable activities is allowed to continue, we may lose this irreplaceable part of Alberta’s wilderness forever.

    • Introduction
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    The Castle Wilderness is a region of outstanding wilderness values. As the essential piece of an ecological puzzle, the Castle connects those Canadian and US National Parks to the south and the Flathead Basin to the west with those habitats and populations in the mountains and foothills to the north. With numerous overlapping ecosystems in one relatively small area, the Castle Wilderness contains one of the highest animal and plant species diversities in Alberta. Although some portions of the region are highly disturbed by industrial and recreational use, the conservation value of the Castle Wilderness remains high.

    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.

    The cumulative impact of decades of petroleum development, logging, indiscriminate off-road vehicle use, commercial development and government mismanagement have been significant in the Castle Wilderness. Secure grizzly bear habitat has been reduced by at least 75% and the population has been cut in half. The annual death rate of black bears, largely the result of human encounters and habitat loss, is well in excess of a sustainable rate. There is evidence that since 1950, the elk population has plunged from 3,000 animals to 1,000. There has also been a 10-20% reduction in mountain goat distribution, and near-extirpation of the wolf and fisher.

    View from Loaf Mountain. (N. Douglas)

    View from Loaf Mountain. (N. Douglas)

    The Castle is an area of restoration wilderness rather than the original pristine wilderness it once was. Restoration of this keystone area must be a primary goal for the management of the Castle Wilderness.

    Status

    Two new parks were declared in the Castle on September 4, 2015: one a Provincial Park and the other a Wildland Provincial Park. Together these two parks will encompass nearly 1,050 km² of sensitive wilderness area. AWA has been advocating for the protection of this area since our founding in 1965, and we are greatly encouraged to now see what is potentially the best chance in 50 years to see that protection come to fruition.

    The provincial government is to be congratulated for ending commercial forestry, coal and mineral extraction, and new surface access to oil and gas developments in the parks. At the same time, their list of planned land designations in the parks contains some activities, such as motorized recreation, grazing and hunting. When some of these activities are allowed to continue, the restoration that this fragile land needs cannot occur, and the already-damaged ecosystem will continue to degrade.

    Meaningful protection of the Castle parks means restoration to truly achieve the wilderness values of headwaters security and prime wildlife habitat. This area has endured extensive damage from the cumulative impacts of a variety of overlapping land uses. Only a decision to prohibit environmentally destructive activities will restore the Castle parks.

    On Friday January 20 2017, the Premier announced increased protections for the Castle Provincial Park and Wildland Provincial Park. Expanding the previously announced Castle Wildland Provincial Park boundaries to increase protection of headwaters and species at risk, as well as a decision to eliminate recreational off-highway vehicle (OHV) use from both parks are part of the increased protection for this area. The decision and protection recognizes the overwhelming body of science that shows recreational OHV use at current or substantially reduced levels is incompatible with conservation goals for our headwaters and of the park.

    The Global Forest Watch Canada reports released last year underline deforestation and damage in the Castle Parks. 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.

    The phaseout of off-highway vehicles has been proposed in order to allow time for the Government of Alberta to identify more suitable areas and to determine appropriate sites to allow OHV use on other public lands. This work by the government could be completed in less than the currently proposed 3-5 year window. AWA supports either an immediate elimination of motorized recreation or an expedited phase-out so that protection and restoration of this special area can begin.

    Management

    The Castle is currently managed under the following plans:

    • 1985 Castle River Sub-Regional Integrated Resource Plan
      (2001 draft Castle River Sub-Regional Integrated Resource Plan still not approved)
    • 1992 Castle River Access Management Plan (implemented 1998)
    • 1998 Castle Special Management Area Forest Land Use Zone

    The 1985 Castle River Sub-Regional Integrated Resource Plan maps the following zones within the Castle:
    FLUZ map: JPG | PDF
    IRP map:  JPG | PDF

    According to the IRP definitions, off-road vehicle (ORV) use is “not permitted” in the Prime Protection or Critical Wildlife zones:

    Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition has prepared Management Principles for the 1,040 km2 Castle Wildland and Provincial Parks as announced by the Government of Alberta. You can read them here.

     

    Restoration Wilderness

    Restoration of this keystone area must be a primary goal of this wilderness area.

    AWA has long held that the Castle is an area of restoration wilderness rather than the original pristine wilderness it once was. Restoring natural function and ecosystem processes means making some difficult decisions about allowed activities and initiating natural plant driven recovery processes that support the natural forces of nature.

    AWA believes wilderness exists where large areas are characterized by the dominance of natural processes, the presence of the full complement of plant and animal communities characteristic of the region, and the absence of human constraints on nature. Alberta’s wild lands provide habitat for the wildlife that call them home and provide a setting for healthy headwaters, wetlands, and aquatic ecosystems. They regulate the climate, filter the air, and absorb, purify, and slowly release water to benefit all living things. The Castle wilderness is worthy of protection, restoration and firmly and unambiguously establishing long-term management principles that are consistently enforced.

    Headwaters Security

    Headwater protection within the Castle is a crucial component of securing clean and clear water for downstream communities.

    The Castle contains important watershed areas, and comprises a significant source of the water in the Oldman river system. These headwaters form vital habitat for many wild species and provide the clean water that many Albertans and other Canadians living downstream depend on. To play this vital role these headwaters need meaningful protection from excessive linear access and from motorized recreation. Government policy papers have stated, time and again, that protection is the primary intent for land management policies in the Castle. For example, the 1977 Eastern Slopes Policy stated: “The highest priority in the overall management of the Eastern Slopes is placed on watershed management” (emphasis added). Even earlier, the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve was established in 1964 for “the maintenance of conditions favourable to optimal water supply.”

    Today the importance of these objectives is, if anything, more important than it was then. It is imperative that these foresighted management principles not be forgotten, and that the security of a sustainable clean fresh water supply be enshrined in the management plans for the Provincial and Wildland Provincial Parks.

    Roadless Areas

    Roadless areas are an intrinsic requirement for wilderness areas and are vital for the protection of native ecosystems. Linear disturbance in the Castle must be reduced and recovered.

    Linear disturbance in both the Castle Wildland and Castle Provincial Park is well documented and exceeds targets for the successful functioning of this ecosystem. Stephen Trombulak and Christopher Frissell in Review of Ecological Effects of Roads on Terrestrial and Aquatic Communities, their comprehensive scientific literature review, identified seven general “negative effects [of roads and trails] on biotic integrity in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems:”

    • Mortality from road construction;
    • Mortality from collision with vehicles;
    • Modification of animal behaviour;
    • Alteration of the physical environment;
    • Alteration of the chemical environment;
    • Spread of exotics; and
    • Increased use of areas by humans.

    In the case of the Castle our concern is that since remote areas are made more accessible by roads and trails they reduce the wilderness value of the area. As roads and linear disturbance necessarily accompany human development, road density is appropriately viewed as a proxy for development density. Thus a Castle that contains high incidence of roads and trails cannot be considered wilderness.

    Each one of these above effects are at play in the Castle and at odds with restoring wilderness values. Current designated trail networks within the two proposed Castle parks total more than 500 km. In 2011, overall linear disturbance in the Castle Special Management Area Forest Land Use Zone totalled 1,283 km, for an average density of 1.3 km/km². This is more than double the scientifically-established thresholds of 0.6 km/km² as recommended in the grizzly bear and westslope cutthroat trout recovery strategies for the survival of those species. The Castle has a history of being over-roaded and over-developed. This has led to the landscape damage we see today which is in dire need of restoration. This restoration must be a primary focus of management planning.

    Linear Disturbance in the Castle

    Linear Disturbance in the proposed Castle Parks. Credit: P. Lee

    Random camping

    Random camping can be an appropriate and a supportive recreational use of a wilderness landscape, however it must be managed carefully with enforcement to prevent abuse of this provision.

    AWA generally approves of random camping. However, random camping is a privilege often abused. Consistent management and enforcement must be in place. Fourteen day limits on random camping are appropriate and offer ample opportunity to hikers and campers to explore and enjoy the surrounding wilderness areas. In the Castle and elsewhere on the Eastern Slopes these limits are being ignored; some campers are simply squatters, setting up semi-permanent camps that last over the course of the season and often over several years. Random camping, if unchecked, often places particular pressure on riparian habitat which is by far the most important for most forms of wildlife. This must be dealt with through consistent enforcement.

    Abuses of random camping opportunities include:

    • garbage dumping,
    • damage being done to campsites (for example, vegetation cutting and streambank damage),
    • squatters asserting “ownership” or tenancy over campsite areas,
    • severe soil compaction,
    • noise,
    • heavier fishing pressure.

    These abuses must be dealt with.

    Hunting

    Hunting should not be allowed in the Castle Provincial Park.

    There is no good reason for hunting to be allowed in the proposed Provincial Park. The only hunting currently allowed in an Alberta Provincial Park is the Elk management hunt in Cypress Hills Provincial Park. This is an exception that exists for a specific documented reason; no analogous situation exists in the Castle. AWA is concerned about the reasoning for allowing this hunt, to say nothing of the precedent it may set for future parks.

    Livestock Grazing

    Livestock grazing needs to be curtailed throughout the Castle, and eliminated from the upland sub-alpine and alpine areas. Reduced stocking rates may be required and should be disallowed in the Provincial Park.

    Wherever intensive livestock grazing has occurred in the Castle over the past several decades, plant communities have been converted from native species to a combination of non-native grasses, native forbs and shrubs, and non-native weedy species. By removing competing herbaceous species, grazing may also have contributed to the invasion of woody plant species. In the 2002 paper Bringing it Back: A Restoration Framework for the Castle Wilderness, Dave Sheppard, Gary Parkstrom et. al. note that grasslands in the overgrazed meadows of the South Castle River valley, “presumably once dominated by rough fescue and other native grasses, had been largely taken over by introduced Kentucky blue grass and timothy, as well as introduced weeds such as Canada thistle and tall buttercup.”

    In a 2000 survey, botanist Reg Ernst also determined that over grazing has served to diminish the canyons’ natural values, suppressing native flora and replacing them with a host of invasive plants placing a heavy burden on the crucial watersheds they support.

    Livestock grazing diminishes the quality of the area as a site for recreation. Hikers, fishers, campers and other self-propelled recreationists end up needing to pick their way around manure piles. In some areas, finding an undisturbed site to set up a tent can be a challenge.

    In an October 13, 2014 letter to the Government of Alberta, AWA passed on the concerns expressed to us by our supporters who have visited the Castle’s front range canyons. These concerns included:

    • The trampling of tree and plant life on the valley floor.
      “This was so bad that the historic trail in many places in the upper part of the valley is now indistinguishable from dozens of other ‘trails’ through the trees created by cattle.”
    • The presence of large amounts of cow dung throughout the valley.
      “Although having some dung is undoubtedly a natural part of the ecosystem the problem seems to be that large numbers of cattle are returning to the same area year after year and are adding to the deposits faster than they can decompose.”
    • The trampling of the banks and stream bed of the main creek and some of its tributaries; and the pollution of this vital water source.

    Livestock grazing does not belong in the upper alpine areas of the Castle. It is questionable, at best, in the lower canyon bottoms. In any case, careful management of grazing is an absolute necessity. Only non-native forage species should be provided for grazing. This may mean reducing the stocking rate in some areas. It is essential to avoid grazing where competition with wildlife will occur.

    Off-Highway Vehicle Use

    Off-highway vehicle use is damaging to the environment and is damaging to nearly all wildlife species including, sensitive and threatened species. It disrupts the wilderness experience for other park-goers and should not be allowed in either of the Castle parks.

    Plans to allow off-highway vehicle (OHV) use in the Provincial Park and Wildland Provincial Park constitute a significant concern. The Castle encompasses a network of trails used for OHV recreation – some designated and some not – that far exceeds linear disturbance density tolerances recommended in the recovery plans for species at risk that are found in the area, such as those for the grizzly bear and the westslope cutthroat trout. For these species populations to persist in the Castle, the extent of the trail network needs to be drastically reduced or eliminated. These trails have multiple effects on the forest ecology and the resident plant and wildlife species. Trails disrupt and fragment habitat, provide a vector for the introduction of invasive plant species, and bring greatly increased human use deep into the backcountry where it conflicts with existing wildlife populations. Disturbances related to both trail construction and maintenance, as well as their use by OHVs, erodes the land; they ultimately accelerate siltation into headwaters streams where native fish species are threatened. In short, OHV use is incompatible with native plants, wildlife, fish and non-motorized recreation activities in the park.

    In similar areas elsewhere along the Eastern Slopes, such as the Bighorn Backcountry, AWA monitoring and research projects (reports online at: https://albertawilderness.ca/wordpress/issues/wildlands/areas-of-concern/bighorn/#parentHorizontalTab5) have revealed that the establishment of a designated trail network is insufficient to prevent motorized recreation from damaging watersheds. Years of monitoring have shown that users regularly go off-trail and damage vegetation and riparian areas. This kind of damage takes decades to recover. This damage occurs despite the presence of signs banning this practice. Trail closure periods, established to protect wildlife and sensitive water-logged ground during vulnerable times of the year, are often ignored. Even conscientious riders who stay on-trail and adhere to the regulations end up causing untenable amounts of erosion and damage to the valley bottoms, just by virtue of their numbers and regularity of use. The alpine and sub-alpine headwaters along the Eastern Slopes, with their soft soils, frequent rainfall, and carefully balanced ecosystems, cannot support this type of activity on the land.

    In the Castle parks, we need to ask what really is being protected. With motorized recreation in place, native plants are not protected from invasive species, native fish populations are not protected from watercourse disruption, and native terrestrial populations are not protected from habitat fragmentation. Perversely, these parks protect the very activities that have compromised so severely the ecological health of the area. Unless these activities are prohibited and restricted seriously the government’s September 4, 2015 announcement delivers symbolic, not substantive, protection.

    Native Species Protection

    A focus on native species protection is of paramount importance for these new parks. Native species habitat is highly negatively impacted by dense networks of trails and other linear disturbances, such as which exists in the Castle currently. These networks must be clawed back.

    It is well-documented that the livelihood of several species at risk inhabiting the Castle, such as grizzly bears, wolves and wolverines, is negatively impacted by linear developments such as OHV trails and other areas where motorized activity takes place. For example:

    • In her 2015 MSc thesis Complex Effects of Human-Impacted Landscapes on the Spatial Patterns of Mammalian Carnivores, Nicole Heim notes that “wolverines negatively respond to spatially extensive and increasing density of linear features, such as road networks and seismic lines.”
    • In the 1997 Southern East Slopes Cumulative Effects Assessment, Michael Sawyer et. al. investigate the change in habitat for wolves over the previous century. They find that “the most notable change over time was the significant reduction of very high and high quality […] habitat, concurrent with increases in very low quality habitat.” This continues: “Most of the reduction in habitat effectiveness was attributable to adverse effects of increased linear developments such as roads.”
    • For many threatened species, such as the grizzly bear, OHV trails constitute “sink” habitat – bears are attracted to the trails because they offer easy travel and because of the food found along the trails’ edges, but suffer elevated rates of mortality (noted particularly by John Boulanger and Gordon Stenhouse in The Impact of Roads on the Demography of Grizzly Bears in Alberta).

    The Alberta Government’s Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan 2008-2013 recommends no more than 0.6km/km² of open routes in any grizzly bear core conservation area – which includes the entire area proposed for inclusion in the two Castle parks. (“Open routes” are defined as roads or trails that receive motorized use, and on which motorized use is not controlled for the purposes of grizzly bear conservation.) Similar recommendations on limits to the density of linear disturbance are found in recovery and management strategies for threatened fish species, such as the bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.

    20150922_lt_awa_aep-minister_castle_park_consultation_map_1_small
    Map 1: Designated westslope cutthroat trout critical habitat inside the proposed Castle parks.

    Trail density in the Castle already far exceeds that recommended threshold. In Castle Area Forest Land Use Zone: Linear Disturbances, Access Densities and Grizzly Bear Habitat Security Areas, Peter Lee and Mathew Hanneman of Global Forest Watch Canada (GFWC) measured and ground-truthed the extent of linear disturbance within the Castle Special Management Area FLUZ (now PLUZ). This area is approximately co-extensive with the two Castle parks. They found that:

    • The total length of linear human disturbances in the Castle area FLUZ is 1,283 km (1.3 km/km²);
    • The linear disturbance density averages more than double the Grizzly Recovery Plan’s recommended threshold of 0.6 km/km² and more than triple the threshold in several watersheds and within several important grizzly bear areas; and
    • The Castle Area FLUZ is not secure for grizzly bears according to thresholds for disturbances in core habitat.

    Without significant reductions in the trail network, and close monitoring and enforcement of OHV activity, the mere designation of the Castle as either Provincial Park or Wildland Provincial Park does not offer sufficient meaningful protection on the ground. The elimination of logging, mineral extraction and new surface access to petroleum and natural gas commitments is a helpful step, but is not sufficient so long as the trail network remains in place. One without the other seriously limits the effectiveness of stopping the abuse.

    While the GFWC study measured all linear disturbance in the Castle PLUZ (designated and not), even the designated motorized trail network as defined by the Castle Access Management Plan exceeds that threshold in much of the Castle. That designated trail network, for example, includes over 285 km in the proposed 299 km² Provincial Park. Thus the designated trail density will be 0.95 km/km² – well in excess of the scientifically recommended limits. Even in the proposed Wildland Provincial Park where the overall density is lower, the damaging effects of these trails are present. There are, for example, many specific watersheds within the Wildland Provincial Park (including the West and South Castle Rivers) where the density of the designated motorized trail network exceeds the recommended thresholds and where this occurs in the presence of federally-designated westslope cutthroat trout critical habitat (see map 2).

    Concerning petroleum and natural gas commitments in the parks (both existing and new), it will be important to carefully develop a life-cycle plan regarding those developments. These plans will need to include agreements about the conclusion of operations by a certain date that will include restoration and reclamation commitments. The memorandum of understanding method used in the Hay-Zama Wildland park can serve as an excellent model for this approach.

    AWA believes it is critical that the existing access management plan must not stand in the new parks. Re-examining the presence and extent of motorized recreation in the Castle as a whole and implementing the species-at-risk protection that the proposed parks are intended to provide is required. This is especially important considering that the entire proposed parks’ areas are within designated core habitat for grizzly bears and includes many streams designated as critical habitat for westslope cutthroat trout. Also directly impacted are streams that provide critical habitat for bull trout, which is already listed by the province under the Wildlife Act, recognized as threatened by COSEWIC, and currently under review for listing under SARA.

    20150922_lt_awa_aep-minister_castle_park_consultation_map_2_small
    Map 2: Castle parks showing 135 km of designated motorized trail or road (in red) within 1200m of westslope cutthroat trout critical habitat streams.

    The existing designated trail network outlined in the current access management plan is problematic for other reasons as well. The planning and siting for that network impacts all the westslope cutthroat trout (WSCT) critical habitat areas that are protected by law (see maps 2 and 3). The total length of this trail within the proposed park boundaries totals roughly 135 km. At least as important is the fact this network includes many uncontrolled and unbridged crossings of sensitive water bodies. The access management plan is a legal mechanism that de-facto overrides section 43 of the Alberta Public Lands Administration Regulation. That regulation would otherwise prohibit driving motorized vehicles through a water body and disturbing the habitat of provincially and federally threatened fish species, including WSCT. Further it is critical to remember that it is illegal under SARA to damage critical habitat. Trails and motorized activity in areas outside the designated critical habitat, such as hill slopes paralleling the stream outside the buffer, or upstream of the critical reaches, still cause siltation that flows downstream and becomes a threat to that habitat. Even in areas not flowing into designated WSCT critical habitat, streams still have the potential to provide good habitat for sensitive aquatic species, once properly recovered. This recovery cannot take place in the presence of ongoing motorized activity.

    20150922_lt_awa_aep-minister_castle_park_consultation_map_3_small
    Map 3: Documented threats to bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout within proposed park boundaries.

    In summary, motorized recreation is not compatible with ecosystem protection, let alone ecosystem restoration. This activity contributes to a negative experience for other human park visitors. The existing trail networks exert numerous documented negative pressures on the environment within the proposed parks and the trail density is far too high for the survival of threatened species. This is not an appropriate land use for either the Provincial Park or the Wildland Provincial Park in this sensitive ecosystem. For the Provincial Park, ministerial written authorization would be required to allow this land use. AWA strongly urges the Minister not to grant this exception.

    Adventure Experiences

    Urbanization of wilderness must be avoided. Fixed roof structures of any kind, or associated “adventure tourism experiences” are not appropriate within the Wildland Provincial Park.

    Many of the types of adventure recreation development have similar impacts on the landscape and on the watershed as those documented for OHV trails. This includes, but is not restricted to, the concepts of hut-to-hut backcountry travel or via ferrata. In addition to their contribution to the urbanization of wilderness areas, a concern specific to hut-to-hut travel is that where it has been implemented elsewhere, the buildings often end up being misused, occupied for long periods of time (including an entire season), and rendered unavailable for the travellers and kinds of activity for which they were originally intended.

    There may be scope in the Provincial Park for low-impact adventure tourism opportunities. They also could occur within the Castle Mountain Resort, but outside the park boundaries, where the landscape is already significantly impacted and is perhaps not a good candidate for reclamation. However, within the Wildland Provincial Park especially, these activities are not compatible with the wilderness experience that we believe most visitors would be seeking. And they are especially incompatible with the ecosystem protection and restoration that should be a hallmark of the park. Careful protection is the highest and best use of these lands, given their extremely high ecological, scientific and natural history value and cultural significance to Alberta.

    Highway-side and other Retail Services

    Highway-side regions inside the park boundaries are best left undeveloped and gateway community development encouraged.

    There are many excellent opportunities for highway-side and other retail services (gas stations, hotels, etc.) in the hamlet of Beaver Mines and along highways 774 and 507, outside the park boundaries. These can build on existing services in the area and will be positive additions to the economy of the region. Beaver Mines and towns further afield such as Pincher Creek or the Crowsnest Pass are ideally situated to become gateway communities for the parks, and to service park visitors.

    Transition Zone

    For parks to be effective at providing ecological protection from impacts of industry there needs to be an effective transition zone between the areas intended to provide that protection, and those where industry is allowed to continue.

    Restoration cannot occur when the impacts that caused the disturbance continue. Industrial scale activities allowed to occur immediately adjacent to the park boundary including the Shell natural gas plant, and the Southern Rockies Watershed Project (see map 4) are existing disturbances that must be reconsidered and life cycle plans implemented with buffers targeted for any new disturbance.

    20150922_lt_awa_aep-minister_castle_park_consultation_map_4_web
    Map 4: Cut areas in the Southern Rockies Watershed Project immediately abutting and encroaching within the proposed Wildland Provincial Park boundary

    AWA proposes that a scientifically determined transition zone be established around the park boundaries where reduced impacts are allowed to occur, in order to facilitate full protection and restoration within the park.

    Enforcement

    All activities and land uses in the Castle parks will need monitoring and consistent empowered enforcement.

    We have often seen well-designed policies and regulations fall through on implementation or rendered moot by a lack of enforcement.

    • Currently in the Castle, grazers are required to follow a Grazing Lease Stewardship Code of Practice; however, repeated documentation and concerns expressed to public lands managers about damage being caused by grazing in sensitive areas have not been addressed with changes in practices.
    • Motorized and off-highway vehicles are currently prohibited from driving through or along water bodies under the Public Lands Administration Regulations; however AWA research on various sites along the Eastern Slopes has demonstrated regular and repeated violations of this principle, leading to declining population of threatened fish species and damaged riparian habitat.
    • Fish species are further jeopardized by a failure to enforce habitat protection provisions of the federal Fisheries Act on the part of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. In a forthcoming paper From ‘Badly Wrong’ to Worse: An Empirical Analysis of Canada’s New Approach to Fish Habitat Protection Laws, University of Calgary professor Martin Olszynski documents a 60 percent reduction in DFO authorization activity from 2012 to 2014, which he concludes has led to “the near-total abdication of responsibility for the protection of fish habitat by the federal government.” Where the federal government does not act to protect assets of critical value to Alberta, it is even more important for the province to intervene.

    Oil and Gas Development

    The Castle Wilderness sits on top of the Waterton Gas Field. To date, over 60 sour gas wells, a large network of sour gas pipelines, numerous sour gas facilities and extensive road networks have fragmented the landscape and severely impacted the ecological health of the region. The Alberta Energy Resource Conservation Board (ERCB) continues to approve petroleum development despite the acknowledgment by its predecessor, the Energy Utilities Board, in March 2000 that significant regional cumulative environmental impacts have occurred in the Castle and that biological thresholds for some species have likely been exceeded.

    Logging

    Forest harvesting above all else has been the largest surface disturbance in the Castle Wilderness. Current estimates indicate that 15% of the Castle’s forests have been clearcut and that 50% of all old growth has been lost due to logging. This leaves less than 10% in an old-growth state – significantly less than the 25% recommended by sustainable forestry advocates.

    In 1993, the Natural Resources Conservation Board noted that old growth forests in the Castle “are being logged, raising concerns over the survival of old-growth forest for thermal cover for large animals as well as for habitat essential to the survival of smaller animals and plants.” Conventional forestry practices increases habitat fragmentation, causes stream siltation and intensifies road density.

    The current proposal for the Castle Parks has halted logging in the Castle Wilderness. The focus must now be on restoration of this altered wilderness landscape.

    Commercial and Residential Development

    Over a decade ago, Vacation Alberta proposed the expansion of the West Castle Park ski area in order to create a four-season resort. After a full environmental assessment, the Natural Resources Conservation Board ruled that an expansion could only proceed if protection of the surrounding public lands was first secured through the designation of the Waterton-Castle Wildland Recreational Area. The Board stated furthermore that the protected area be established whether or not the development proceeded.

    While the Alberta government later rejected both the protected areas designation and resort expansion plans, piecemeal development by Castle Mountain Resort Inc. continues within the core of the Castle Wilderness. However, no environmental assessment has been required. The cumulative impacts of such continued commercial and residential development may have significant ramifications for sensitive species such as bears and wolves. Their larger movement patterns will likely be disrupted, posing a threat to their regional populations. Furthermore, associated sewage lagoons threaten fish habitat and a drinking water source.

    Area

    • The Castle Wilderness is approximately 1,700 km2 located within the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem in extreme southwestern Alberta. It extends along the Alberta-British Columbia border immediately north of Waterton Lakes National Park and south of the Crowsnest Pass.
    • The Castle is a natural extension of the internationally renowned landscapes of Waterton Lakes National Park and the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
    • The importance of the Castle Wilderness extends far beyond its borders. Traversed by north-south wildlife corridors, it is a vital link connecting protected areas to the north (Banff and Jasper National Parks) to those further south (Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park). The Castle Wilderness is a key component of the Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) vision.

    Natural Regions

    • alpine, sub-alpine, montane, foothills fescue and foothills parkland. The latter 3 ecological regions are all underrepresented in Alberta’s current system of protected areas.

    20101117_Castle_TR_v3_small.jpg
    Township and Range map: JPG | PDF

    20101117_Castle_NSR_v3_small.jpg
    Natural Subregions map:  JPG | PDF

    Watershed

    • 34 alpine lakes and tarns, as well as numerous alpine and sub-alpine wetlands. Over 26 major headwater streams of the Oldman River originate here, 23 off which support populations of native trout.

    Biodiversity

    20070728_waterfall5_castle_ndouglas.jpg

    The Castle Wilderness and Waterton areas combined have the highest diversity of plant and animal species in Alberta. The funnelling of southwesterly, gale-force Chinook winds down the Front Range Canyons create an ecosystem unique in Canada. Combined with some of the highest precipitation levels in Alberta, the result is a landscape of sparse and contorted tree cover, grasslands at elevations that normally support forests and remarkable plant diversity. In fact, one can travel through all 5 ecological regions with an elevation gain of only 275 metres!

    Plants

    20090721_townsendia2_cas_ndouglas.jpg

    Alpine Townsendia (N. Douglas)

    The importance of the Castle Wilderness is particularly evident when one considers the outstanding flora diversity. Plant species common in the northern mountains and arctic can be found along with those normally associated with more southern and coastal environments. Over half of Alberta’s 1600 plants can be found in the Castle, including over 120 provincially rare and 38 nationally rare species. By comparison, Banff National Park that is over 8 times the size of the Castle Wilderness has fewer species overall and only 36 species that are provincially rare.

    The Castle is also home to the largest stand (approximately 5 square kilometres) of big sagebrush in Alberta, a rare floral community.

    Forests

    The Castle’s remaining old growth forests are rich in biological diversity and provide critical habitat to numerous species that can survive nowhere else. Tree species include whitebark pine, sub-alpine fir, Engelmann spruce and lodgepole pine. Douglas fir can be found at lower elevations.

    Wildlife

    • Parks Canada has identified the Castle as having an unusual diversity of butterflies, including species found nowhere else in Canada.
    • Four species of amphibians occur in the Castle; the northwestern toad, leopard frog, spotted frog and long-toed salamander.
    • Approximately 105 species of birds breed here, while some 60 others migrate through the area. The Castle is a major migration route for both bald eagles and golden eagles.
    • Other notable species include Cooper’s hawk, northern waterthrush and harlequin duck.
    • 59 species of mammals can be found in the Castle Wilderness. The high diversity of carnivores include the grizzly bear, black bear, cougar, grey wolf, bobcat, lynx, marten and wolverine. Ungulates include elk, moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain goat and bighorn sheep. The wandering shrew is an extremely rare species and in Alberta is only found in the Westcastle valley. The bison and probably the river otter have been extirpated from the Castle Wilderness.
    • The 1979 Integrated Management Plan for the Castle River noted:
      •  “The eastern canyons of the Front Ranges contain some of the best bighorn sheep range in North America.”
      • “Approximately 600 head of elk have been recorded on winter range in the area.”
      • “Lakes and streams comprise some of the most productive and popular trout-producing waters in Alberta.”

     

    Sustainable Activities

    • The Castle is an outstanding location for various low-impact recreational opportunities; hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, wildlife photography, hunting, fishing, berry picking and horseback riding.

    20101117_Castle_ESA_v3_small.jpg

    Environmentally Significant
    Areas map:  JPG | PDF

    March 9, 2017

    AWA sends a letter to the Government of Alberta on the January 20, 2017 draft of the Castle Management Plan. The following outlines some of AWA’s comments:

    • Grazing: The establishment of the Castle Parks provides an opportunity to rectify past management practices for cattle grazing and to restrain the invasion of non-native species. Wherever intensive livestock grazing has occurred in the Castle over the past several decades, plant communities have been converted from native species to a combination of non-native grasses, native forbs and shrubs, and non-native weedy species. We maintain that cattle impacts to riparian areas, the upper alpine and the alpine need not only be reduced but eliminated, which will mean curtailing livestock grazing throughout the Castle.  It is also essential to avoid grazing where competition with wildlife will occur, in order to restore populations of native grazers such as elk. AWA believes a more holistic approach where due attention is also paid to environmental and wildlife issues is required. This means that reducing the stocking rate in some areas will be necessary.
    • Hunting: AWA has outstanding concerns about the reasoning for allowing hunting in the Castle Provincial Park, but we support hunting within the Wildland Provincial Park as a compatible use. The only hunting currently allowed in an Alberta Provincial Park is the Elk management hunt in Cypress Hills Provincial Park. This is an exception that exists for a specific documented reason; we would request that analogously that any reasons are explained for the Castle Provincial Park. One of the cited reasons is that adjacent private land may be impacted by not allowing hunting within the PP. We would request that any information be disclosed about any documented negative impacts on landowners adjacent to other Provincial Parks before this reasoning guide the management of the Castle PP. AWA remains concerned about the reasoning for allowing hunting within the Provincial Park and the precedent it may set for future parks. We therefore request that hunting not be allowed in the Castle Provincial Park.
    • Off-Highway Vehicles: Motorized recreation is not compatible with ecosystem protection, let alone ecosystem restoration. In addition, continuing motorized reaction will create a negative experience for new visitors interested in visiting this area and may deter them from returning. AWA believes the decision to continue OHV use for up to five years may delay building a positive and loyal visitor base for many years, therefore delaying providing benefits to adjacent communities.We understand the phase out of off-highway vehicles has been proposed in order to allow time for the government to identify more suitable areas and to determine appropriate sites to allow OHV use on other public lands. This work by the government could be completed in much less time than the currently proposed 3-5 year window and AWA believes is not sufficient reasoning to delay sound decision making for our parks.AWA respectfully requests that all motorized recreation be banned from the Castle Provincial Park and the Castle Wildland Park immediately.

    March 1, 2017

    A number of announcements regarding the Castle region are made, including changes to the draft management plan and an extension of the consultation period.

    February 11, 2017

    On Saturday February 11 in Lethbridge, a group of  scientists, local residents, conservationists, authors and recreationists told the story of 50 years of stewardship for the Castle Wilderness. This enforced the ovewhelming amount of local support for the Castle Parks. Speakers included local anglers, ranchers, and residents.

    January 20, 2017

    An Order in Council  for the Castle Parks was passed on Thursday, January 19th that expands the previously announced Castle Wildland Provincial Park boundaries. Coupled with an announcement  by Premier Notley that all illegal off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails will be closed immediately and all others will be phased out over the next few years, focusing on prioritizing trail closures which threaten westslope cutthroat trout habitat. The decision and protection recognizes the overwhelming body of science that shows recreational OHV use at current or substantially reduced levels is incompatible with conservation goals for our headwaters and of the park. However, the proposal to continue off-highway vehicles in the Provincial Park for up to 5 more years places ongoing stress and risk to our species at risk including westslope cutthroat trout and AWA believes the elimination of off-highway vehicles needs to be immediate.

    May 2016

    An incident report from the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition’s Stewardship Coordinator on May 7th documented illegal motorized recreation  in a closed area during a province wide off-highway vehicle (OHV) ban. This prompted a call for a continuation of the OHV ban that had been institued due to the province-wide fire hazard.

    March 2016

    Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition publishes Management Principles for the 10140 km2 Castle Wildland and Provincial Parks as announced by the Government of Alberta.

    September 2015

    Two new parks were declared in the Castle on September 4, 2015: one a Provincial Park and the other a Wildland Provincial Park. Together these two parks will encompass nearly 1,050 km² of sensitive wilderness area. AWA has been advocating for the protection of this area since our founding in 1965, and we are greatly encouraged to now see what is potentially the best chance in 50 years to see that protection come to fruition.

    The provincial government is to be congratulated for ending commercial forestry, coal and mineral extraction, and new surface access to oil and gas developments in the parks. At the same time, their list of planned land designations in the parks contains some activities, such as motorized recreation, grazing and hunting. When some of these activities are allowed to continue, the restoration that this fragile land needs cannot occur, and the already-damaged ecosystem will continue to degrade.

    Meaningful protection of the Castle parks means restoration to truly achieve the wilderness values of headwater security and prime wildlife habitat. This area has endured extensive damage from the cumulative impacts of a variety of overlapping land uses. Only a decision to prohibit environmentally destructive activities will restore the Castle parks.

    • Monitoring and consistent, empowered enforcement – will be needed for all activities and land uses.
    • Natural restoration and reclamation of Castle wilderness with closure of roads and trails is urgently required. Linear disturbance density is well beyond scientifically recommended limits.
    • Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) use should not be allowed in either Castle Park for a number of reasons based in sound scientific study including the threat created by putting ecosystems and water security at risk. Chronic non-compliance, refusal to remain on designated trails, coupled with scarce enforcement resources for OHV use are perennial problems.
    • Hunting should not be allowed in Castle Provincial Park. There is no reason to allow hunting and it will set a harmful precedent in provincial parks.
    • Livestock grazing needs to be carefully managed and eliminated from the upland sub-alpine and alpine areas. Grazing has contributed to the spread of non-native plant species and great care is needed to avoid competition with other ungulates and wildlife grazers. Grazing in the Castle has diminished the quality of some recreation sites.
    • First Nations places, their cultural use and their history must be protected.
    • Random camping is a recreational activity AWA supports but has grave concern over how motorized random camping is abused in this area. Motorized random camping must be properly enforced and consistently managed to prevent abuse.
    • High impact adventure tourism including Via Ferrata should not be allowed within the Wildland Provincial Park, as it degrades the landscape and watershed, promotes urbanization, and encourages activities which are not compatible with the level of wilderness protection needed or the experience most visitors will be seeking
    • Gateway community development in the hamlet of Beaver Mine and along highways 774, 507 and along highway 3 in the Crowsnest Pass outside of the park boundaries will benefit the local economy and should be encouraged and promoted. Highway-side development is not needed within the Castle Parks.
    • Transition Zone – To facilitate full protection and restoration within the park, there should be a scientifically determined transition zone around park boundaries which would require lessened industrial activity – including logging operations around the park.

    The September 2015 management proposals from Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP), suggest a level of protection that is more symbolic than substantive. True legislative protection of the Castle Area is critical to ensure that protection of the Castle Wilderness is substantive and allows restoration of this magnificent area as a vital wilderness legacy for generations to come.

    December 2014

    AWA learns that experimental logging of Star Creek Valley is going ahead, despite the number of groups and individuals expressing concern about the project. Of particular concern is that the creek, downstream of the proposed logging area, contains westslope cutthroat trout, which is a federally and provincially listed threatened species.

    July 2014

    The final version of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) was released July 23, 2014. While some improvements were made from the draft, it fell short from the long awaited expectations of having the entire 10,000 hectares of the Castle designated as a Wildland Provincial Park. Instead, a 54,588-ha Castle Wildland Provincial Park was designated but left many of the important valley bottoms and biodiversity hotspots outside of the park boundaries. The remaining area in the Castle was designated as a public land use zone (PLUZ), allowing industry encroachment. Since the SSRP was completed and implemented, lines of communication have remained open with the Government of Alberta and AWA has continued to push for increased protection in the remainder Castle area not included in the Wildland Park.

    September 2013

    On September 15 2013, 50 conservationists hiked to the top of Table Mountain in support of protecting the Castle Wilderness.

    Protect the Castle. (R. Pisko)

    Protect the Castle. (R. Pisko)

     

    August 2012

    Documents recently released under a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) application by Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) reveal that the Alberta Government receives just $20 in royalties for each truckload of non-merchantable timber removed from the Castle.

    April 2012

    Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition and local residents initiate a judicial review into the Alberta government’s decision to allow clearcut logging in the Castle.

    March 2012

    A newly-released Community Values study of residents in the Pincher Creek area reveals that the strongest community opposition was to “more opportunities for motorized recreation, such as off-roading, dirt biking”, followed by “allowing clear-cut logging in the Castle Special Management Area.”  The study, Community Values Assessment for the M.D. of Pincher Creek No. 9, was prepared by the Praxis Group for the Southwest Alberta Sustainable Community Initiative and the Municipal District of Pincher Creek.

    February 2012

    • February 1, four protesters (Mike Judd, Rick Collier, Reynold Reimer and Jim Palmer) are arrested by RCMP for declining to leave the Castle logging protest camp, despite a court order to do so.
    • SRD officers and RCMP also serve a Court Order against five more protesters. The Court Order was served against  Mike Judd; award-winning author Sid Marty; and three other local residents, Gordon Petersen, Tim Grier and Diana Calder.
    • Road clearing work at the site begins.
    • February 3, the Court Order is appealed at the Alberta Court of Queens Bench in Calgary.
    • February 23, in a negotiated agreement, provincial officials decide not to charge anti-logging protestors who were arrested on February 1. Protestors who were named in the related Court Order will not be appealing that Order in court. Lawyers for the protestors, and the Crown’s lawyer, reached an out-of-court understanding where no further action will be taken against those arrested, and where the Court Order will be allowed to expire.

    January 2012

    Despite extensive public opposition, government plans for a clearcut logging operation in the Castle continue. Most of the timber cut by Spray Lake Sawmills will be used for fence posts and garden mulch.

    • January 11, despite the frigid temperatures, local residents set up a protest camp in the planned logging location.
    • January 19, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) serves the protesters a Notice of Development under the Public Lands Act to vacate their camp immediately.
    • More than 150 people attend a rally, January 22 to protest the logging.
    • January 23, SRD issues trespassing notices to the protesters who remain at the site. The protesters file an appeal.
    • January 26, RCMP and the SRD staff serve protesters with a court order to vacate the area and dismantle the camp. In fact, the order bans named protesters from all public land in Alberta nearly 400,000 km2 of land! The court order states: “The parties shall not occupy or use any other public lands in the province of Alberta unless otherwise authorized to do so.”
    • January 30, a court order is served requiring the protesters to cease their “trespass” on public lands. Protesters are until February 1, when the RCMP will begin making arrests.

    October 2011

    Logging plans for the C5 forest management area are changed to include clearcut logging in the Castle, despite intense local opposition. The new premier, Alison Redford, receives thousands of letters and emails asking her to suspend the logging and protect the Castle.

    June 2011

    An Alberta government update report on grizzly recovery in the province, titled Grizzly Bear Conservation in Alberta. 2010 Management Activities and Recovery Implementation, finds that in 2010, 5 of the estimated 51 grizzlies in the Castle region were known to have died, and another was relocated. This 11.8% removal rate adds to the 1 grizzly killed and 4 relocated out of the region in 2009. This underlies the importance of the findings of a Global Forest Watch report released in March that had concluded that the Castle Special Management Area is no longer secure for grizzly bears and that sustainable environmental management of the Castle wilderness is not occurring. The Castle continues to be a population sink for grizzlies.

    More than 80 people attend a rally, June 8, on the steps of the Alberta government’s McDougall Centre in Calgary, to protest the planned logging in the Castle Special Place.

    April 2011

    Legal counsel for Mike Judd, a Pincher Creek based landowner and outfitter, files a Leave to Appeal application with the Alberta Court of Appeal in Calgary, appealing against the Energy Resource Conservation Board (ERCB) approval of Shell’s Mount Backus well. The appeal is on the basis that the ERCB “erred in law by not properly considering the potential impacts of Shell’s project on endangered grizzly bear populations and by refusing to allow evidence about the presence of a known and documented grizzly bear den to be admitted at the public hearing.” The appeal is eventually thrown out. Local residents plan a “wake/ celebration” at the site “to mourn the loss of the site, but also to celebrate all the time, effort, and passion that went into trying to protect it.”

    April 2011

    The Praxis Group of Calgary carries out an opinion poll survey of residents living close to the Castle (in the Livingstone Macleod riding of MLA Evan Berger). Of the 774 residents surveyed 74 per cent agree that the province should legally establish a 1,023 km2Wildland Park to better protect the Castle Special Place. 77 per cent also oppose plans by Alberta Sustainable Resource Development and Spray Lake Sawmills to clear-cut log the area between Beaver Mines Lake, Castle Falls and Lynx Creek starting in June. In an earlier survey of Lethbridge and Coaldale residents, more than 85 per cent of those surveyed opposed the clear-cut logging in the area, and 87 per cent of residents surveyed supported the establishment of a Wildland Park in the area.

    March 2011

    Global Forest Watch (GFW) Canada produce a new report: Castle Area Forest Land Use Zone: Linear Disturbances, Access Densities and Grizzly Bear Habitat Security Areas. The report finds that the total length of roads and trails that are potentially used by off-highway vehicles within the Castle is 1,283 km, or a density of 1.3 km/km2. The Castle falls within one of the Core Grizzly Bear areas recognized by the Alberta government: access densities in these areas are intended to be no higher than 0.6 km/km2. Motorized access in the Castle goes far beyond the designated trail system.The report concludes that the Castle Special Management Area is no longer secure for grizzly bears and that sustainable environmental management of the Castle wilderness is not occurring. The report concludes “The Castle Area Forest Land Use Zone is not being managed according to its mandate, regulations or stated purpose. Access is not being controlled, and is a threat to all other public values of this area.”

    March 2011

    The ERCB gives the OK to Shell Canada to drill a critical sour gas well (32% H2S) in an area of the proposed Castle Wilderness. Shell had applied to drill an exploratory well near Mount Backus in an area designated by the Alberta government as Critical Wildlife Habitat. If the well is successful, then up to five producing wells will be required. But in a curious decision (2011 ABERCB 007) ERCB denies permission to construct the necessary pipeline which would be required to extract any gas should the test well be successful. ERCB notes a long and complex construction history in the region including:

    • A December 1995 pipeline leakage caused by internal corrosion (the pipeline had been in operation for just 3 months);
    • An August 1997 pipeline failure which led to a sour gas leak which killed a cow and calf;
    • An observation that “The Carbondale and Castle River systems operated without further corrosion-related releases until November 2007, at which time a rupture occurred…” This pipeline failure occurred shortly after ERCB’s predecessor, the Energy Utilities Board, had held its first hearing into Shell’s application to drill the Mount Backus well. Permission was denied after this first hearing.

    ERCB’s language in turning down the pipeline is surprisingly strong:

    • “The Board does not disagree that the operational procedures and pipeline technologies proposed by Shell may work for corrosion mitigation; however, these considerations have been
      outweighed by examples of its poor operating practices, such as improperly secured open excavations, odour complaints, pipeline and associated equipment failures, spills, poor reclamation efforts, and weed growth at Shell’s facilities.”
    • “The Board is of the view that Shell, in the way that it has operated its existing infrastructure in this area, has not adequately demonstrated that it has followed its own procedures. Until Shell can better demonstrate compliance with its own procedures, the Board is of the view that it is not reasonable to tie in these additional production volumes and add more pipeline length to the system. Therefore, the Board hereby denies Applications No. 1614198 and 1614210.”

    The ERCB decision also recognizes that Shell’s rare plant survey of the potential well site was flawed: it failed to find 9 rare plant species which were discovered in later independent surveys. Subsequently, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development suspends approval of the well development until a plan is produced to “mitigate” impacts on rare plants. An SRD spokesman comments: “We require them to come up with some sort of mitigation approach that ensures that what kind of impact they might have would be minimized, where it can be avoided it is, and if there is some impact it’s done in a way that affects as few specimens as possible… We need to say that construction wouldn’t begin on the site until we’re satisfied the issue’s been resolved.”

    July 2010

    The new C5 Forest Management Plan is passed, but does nothing to respect the non-forestry values of the region. AWA and local residents remain active in protesting against plans for clearcut logging in the Castle region. AWA has identified a need for education of suppliers of wood products as to the source of timber, and is working with Alberta Foothills Network to investigate the possibility of a market action campaign based upon these contacts.

    August 2009

    August 2009, a leaking filter pot spills 20,000 litres of diesel at Shell’s Waterton 69 well. The spill is cleared up quickly and no diesel apparently reaches the nearby Carbondale River.

    Shell issues a letter reaffirming its position on protected areas in the Castle: “Shell continues to believe that through appropriate discussion, dialogue, compromise and negotiation between government, Shell and other stakeholders it is possible that an acceptable agreement can be reached for the establishment of a park.”

    2009

    Castle Special Place Citizens’ Initiative meets throughout the year. This is a broad group, with individuals representing adjacent landholders, industry, First Nations, Municipal governments, watershed groups and environmental organizations. In October 2009, AWA is one of the many signatories to sign on to the Castle Special Place Conceptual Proposal for Legislated Protected Areas, which is sent to the Minister for Tourism, Parks and Recreation. Proposal is in response to “Broad, local and regional concern for achieving better short and long-term protection of the Castle Special Place.” The initiative proposes “legislating the entire protected area (except the [Castle Mountain Resort] lands) within the province’s current protected areas and parks legislation,” and proposes that “the present types of recreational uses, including hunting and fishing, and summer grazing permits continue within the ecological limits of the Castle Special Place.”

    December 16, 2008

    The Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) issues its decision (2008-127) denying Shell Canada permission to drill a sour gas well and construct two pipelines and a central facility close to the town of Beaver Mines. Shortly after the initial EUB hearing into Shell’s proposals ended in October 2007, a nearby Shell pipeline had ruptured, causing a sour gas leak which forced the evacuation of 10 homes, with other residents ordered to stay in their homes. Subsequently the Board decided to delay its decision on the Shell application until investigation of the pipeline leak was complete; the final report on the leak was published in October 2008.
    In its decision on the Shell applications, EUB rules that “sufficient details have not been provided on how Shell will operate and monitor the proposed pipelines to ensure their integrity over the long term.” Interveners, including the Castle Crown wilderness Coalition, argue that the ERCB should convene a public inquiry into the whole Shell Waterton gathering system.

    February 2008

    Shell Canada issue a letter clarifying that they “are not opposed to the creation of a park” in the Castle region. “We believe that any process to establish a park must include broad stakeholder consultation and a committed effort to address the concerns of all parties.”

    Shell also commits to:

    • “not proceed with further development in the front canyons or Mill Creek beyond the extent of our existing facilities…”
    • not drill any more wells on Prairie Bluff
    • not proceed with exploration and development activity in the South Castle and West Castle drainage south of Southfork Mountain.

    2008

    Castle Special Place Citizens’ Committee begins to meet to discuss protection options in the Castle, specifically the area identified by the province’s Special Places program, 1995-2000.

    October 2007

    At an Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) hearing into a proposed |Shell Canada gas well at Mount Backus, near Beaver Mines, Shell publicly states for the first time that they do not oppose a protected park in the Castle. Local residents and the Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition speak out strongly against the proposals. Just weeks after the hearing, local residents are evacuated from close to the proposed well because of a sour gas pipeline leak.

    Also in October, the Premier of Alberta and the Governor of Montana sign a Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation between the Government of the State of Montana, and the Government of the Province of Alberta, which includes the statement: “To improve understanding, raise awareness and promote collaboration on the management of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, the Participants [the Province of Alberta and State of Montana] wish to pursue the following … (d) ensure sustainable flow of economic, social and environmental benefits and preserve the ecological values of this outstanding landscape.”

    March 2007

    Approval of the draft C5 Forest Management Plan is again postponed by Ted Morton, Minister for Sustainable Resource Development. Minister Morton delays implementation of the plan until the Oldman Watershed Council has completed its report on the state of the Oldman Basin in the fall “with an eye to shifting priorities to better consider environmental protection” (Calgary Herald, March 13, 2007). Minister Morton later writes, in a letter to AWA, “In the proper context, timber harvesting and forest management planning could be used as an innovative tool, within a broader land management scenario, to create wildlife habitat and watershed integrity and support natural areas and conservation.”

    2007

    AWA Research program in the Castle continues with 3 projects:

    • An Overview of Invasive Species in the Front Range Canyons, finds a number of invasive plants, including three noxious weeds, and concludes that “active removal and continued control are necessary to eliminate weed species.”
    • A second study, Monitoring the Revegetation of High Elevation Disturbed Sites on Prairie Bluff studies how well Shell Canada’s 1991 revegetation of an old access trail had succeeded. It finds that “by 15 years post-disturbance, natural recovery on the disturbed area was well advanced. This indicates that in the absence of non-native species, native plant communities can recover on high elevation disturbed areas.”
    • A third study is begun to look at direct seeding of whitebark pine seeds in subalpine areas.

    November 2006

    A proposal by Castle Mountain Resorts (CMR) to withdraw 30,000 m3 of water from the Westcastle aquifer for snowmaking is withdrawn in November, following Statements of Concern filed by the Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition (CCWC) and the Parks branch of Alberta Community Development. Of particular concern are the potential effects on water levels of the nearby Westcastle River Wetlands Ecological Reserve and the implications for plants and wildlife such as bull trout. Other options for CMR are now somewhat, limited following the Alberta government’s recent decision to cease issuing new water extraction licences from the Oldman River basin.

    2006

    CROWPAC, the Public Advisory Board for the C5 Forest Management Plan, writes to the Crowsnest Pass Promoter to criticize the draft C5 Forest Management Plan. “After much discussion and deliberation the members of CROWPAC believe there are enough uncertainties regarding the Forest Management Plan’s ability to achieve the ecological and social priorities, as represented in the Preferred Future Forest and Timber Supply Analysis sections, to let it be known both to SRD and the public that we cannot entirely support and defend those sections.” CROWPAC comments include :

    • “Maximum cut block sizes as currently defined are a concern. Our committee believes current cut block maximums (500 ha) coupled with low retained structure have great potential to compromise the ecological and social values inherent in the plan.
    • “Important issues such as fragmentation, connectivity and habitat patches have not been addressed in the Forest Management Plan or in some form of environmental assessment, nor have the cumulative effects been considered in the planning process. We suggest they should be an important component of the forest management plan.
    • “What is not clear is how the computer modelling takes into account all the other values that we developed and identified as objectives. We know that it is thought by SRD that run 90022 will in 20 years best meet the desired future forest criteria but confidence by CROWPAC and perhaps SRD in that prediction is low especially concerning the non-timber values of the forest.”

    Plans to develop the former ranger station and old minimum security camp on crown land in the Castle are vigorously opposed by locals and environmental groups. The plan would convert the land into a trailer park offering year-round accommodation and recreational facilities in the area.

    Prince Philip writes a letter of support for the Andy Russell Park proposal to Sierra Club Canada. “I can only hope that the appropriate action to bring about this desirable proposal will be taken as soon as possible.”
    AWA opposes Prairie’s Edge Aviation’s plan to operate guided helicopter tours in the Castle wilderness. “Helicopter access must only be allowed where it does not adversely affect wildlife, non-motorized back-country recreation, or fragile terrain.”

    November 25, 2005

    The Draft Forest Management plan is released for the C5 Forest Management area. This region stretches from southern Kananaskis Country south to the border of Waterton National Park and includes the Castle region. The plan proposes to “maintain or increase the net forest (commercial timber harvesting) land base in the C5 FMU” and proposes a 25% increase in an already considerable Annual Allowable Cut (AAC). Much of the Castle area is not slated for clear-cutting for the next 20 years, but the plan still ignores proposals for protection in the region. AWA comments include : “The plan appears to be very much a ‘Forestry’ management plan, as opposed to a ‘Forest’ management plan. Although only 34% of the C5 land base is designated for harvesting, this plan will have serious implications for the other 66%. The emphasis of the plan continues to be on the provision of a continuing timber supply (“The FMP will focus on managing the C5 forest land base to supply a continuous flow of timber” [1.2 Purpose and Scope of this Plan]), rather than the management of a complex forest ecosystem.”

    November 2005

    Calls for the new Andy Russell Wildland are tabled in the Alberta Legislature by Harry Chase, Alberta Liberal Party Critic for Community Development. They receive a warm response from members of all political parties. “Alberta would benefit from remembering people like Andy Russell, respecting the original First Nations inhabitants, and protecting more places like the Castle wilderness,” said Chase. “I urge all members of the House to support the creation of the Andy Russell I’tai Sah Kòp wildland provincial park as a legacy for future Albertans to enjoy” (Alberta Hansard, November 16, 2005).

    Supporters of the US group, the Natural Resource Defense Council, send 23,000 letters to Premier Klein in support of designation of the Andy Russell Wildland.

    October 2005

    A group of well-known western Canadian figures, including wildlife artist Robert Bateman, water scientist Dr. David Schindler, writers Sid Marty and Farley Mowat, and politician Joe Clarke, write to Premier Klein to encourage protection in the Castle region. “What good will it be if the last piece of the wilderness frontier Andy brought from the mountains and foothills of southern Alberta to the world […] is no longer intact to inspire our children and grandchildren?”

    September 2005

    Alberta Court of Appeal overturns earlier Judicial Review decision, which ruled that Alberta Environment was ‘patently unreasonable’ not to require an Environmental Assessment for future expansions of Castle Mountain Resort in the Westcastle Valley.

    August 2005

    CPAWS and Shell Canada jointly release Selected Ecological Resources of Alberta’s Castle Carbondale: A Synopsis of Current Knowledge. The 216-page report, written by Martin Jalkotzy, raises some eyebrows because industry and environmental groups both seem to be working together to call for improved management in the Castle region. The report finds that the province has “missed opportunities” to resolve conflicts, has failed to use “specific, legally binding” management techniques and conducted “little to no enforcement” of rules in the region.

    July 2005

    Third year of AWA rare plant survey, and first year of invasive weed survey carried out in the Front Range canyons. “AWA’s studies show there has been a dramatic and irreversible vegetative change to many of the natural systems in the Castle, particularly at low elevations along valley bottoms. Non-native grasses have replaced native plant species resulting in impaired watershed integrity and diminished wildlife habitat. Several species of noxious weeds are widespread and abundant, particularly along drainages in the Carbondale watershed.”

    June 2005

    AWA calls for the Castle to be protected as the Andy Russell Wildland, in recognition of this incomparable wilderness advocate who died June 1.
    Premier Ralph Klein writes, in response to AWA’s proposal, “I was honoured to have the opportunity to attend and speak at a memorial for Andy Russell. He was a great Albertan who made it his life’s work to educate people about wildlife and conservation. His great work will live on through his books, films, and articles, and I have shared your idea with the Honourable Gary Mar, Minister of Community Development.”

    Gary Mar writes, “Designating the Castle as Andy Russell Wildland Provincial Park would be a fitting tribute to a truly great Alberta who dedicated his life to protecting Alberta’s wild places. I will discuss your proposal further with my colleague, the Honourable David Coutts, Minister of Sustainable Resource Development.”

    May 2005

    Government appeal of the Judicial Review decision that not holding an EIA of the proposed Castle Mountain Resort expansion was ‘patently unreasonable.’

    2005

    Beginning of process to revise 1992 Castle River Access Management Plan for Motorized Recreational Access. Groups involved in the original process are contacted by SRD.

    AWA comments include :

    • “Wrong to have an access management plan which looks solely at motorized access and ignores its effect on non-motorized access.”
    • “Limited resources for enforcement and weak penalties make access control considerably less efficient.”

    AWA is still committed to seeking legislated protection for the Castle Wildland.

    2004

    Madam Justice Kenny, Court of Queen’s Bench, hands down decision on Judicial Review of the Minister for the Environment’s decision not to order an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the CMR proposed development. The Minister’s decision was ruled to be ‘patently unreasonable’. CMR development put on hold.

    August 2004: the government files to appeal the decision.

    Alberta’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner finds that the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resources Development contravened the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in refusing to release information relating to Alberta Environment’s decision to not require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Castle Mountain Resort expansion.
    Shell agrees to decommission old Waterton #12 well site, North Drywood Creek, one of 26 old sites in the front range canyons, though they are not legally obliged to do so. Soil samples revealed alarming levels of soil contamination, leading to the recommendation that the whole site be excavated to bedrock (more than 10,000 cubic meters of soil). For wells drilled prior to 1972, there is no legal reclamation requirement.

    Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition (CCWC) issues report: Grizzly Bear in southwest Alberta: A vision for population and habitat recovery, by Dr. Brian L. Horejsi. The report estimates that there may only be a total of 39 grizzly bears in Southwest Alberta south of Highway 3. Only about a quarter of these are females, with as few as three or four of these females being adults. With very low productivity, adult females are the crucial element of long term grizzly survival; so few adult females cannot sustain a stable grizzly bear population given current levels of mortality and the management removal of bears from the area. The report recommends:

    • The Grizzly Bear should be recognized as endangered and managed with care.
    • A core protected area in the Castle Wilderness should be established immediately to provide habitat.
    • The effects of roads, off road vehicle use, oil and gas activity and recreational real estate development must be addressed.
    •  Implementation of a voluntary grazing permit buy out program to increase the quality of habitat on public land.

    A full-scale environmental impact assessment should be conducted for logging in the area before any more planning proceeds

    May – December 2003

    In response to the Alberta government’s failure to require an Environmental Impact Assessment of proposed Castle Mountain Resort (CMR) expansion, the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition (CCWC) initiates a judicial review, held December 2003.
    CCWC appeal to the Environmental Appeal Board (EAB) over Alberta Environment’s approval of proposed changes to CMR’s Sewage Lagoon next to West Castle River Wetlands Ecological Reserve. The clause limiting approval to 88 housing units would be removed by these changes. CCWC argues that this decision should not be made until the judicial review process has taken place.

    August 2003: The Lost Creek Fire burns 21,000ha
    AWA begins 3 year Rare Plant survey of the front range canyons in the Castle area. Study focused on the lesser known areas of the Castle, including the upper parts of the Front Range Canyons, South and West Castle and Carbondale valleys.

    April 2003
    The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), an American ENGO with hundreds of thousands of members worldwide, names the Castle Wilderness a BioGem – wild places throughout the Americas in urgent need of defence.

    January 2003
    Alberta’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner finds that the Department of Environment and Sustainable Resources Development contravened the “Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act” in refusing to release information relating to Alberta Environment’s decision to not require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Castle Mountain Resort expansion.

    2002
    Shell Canada
    Shell Canada submits an application for the development of the Waterton 14-21 drill site, a sour gas well located within the Castle Wilderness.

    Westcastle Ski Hill
    Castle Mountain Resort (CMR) continues to expand development of the ski hill in a piecemeal fashion, despite the lack of wildland protection as ordered by the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) as a condition of similar expansion proposed in the early 1990’s. In response to the Alberta government’s failure to require an Environmental Impact Assessment of this expansion, the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition (CCWC) initiates a judicial review.

    CMR Area Structure Plan proposes expanded ski hill development; expansion of housing to 225 units; and development of additional facilities including restaurants, pubs and retail space.

    May 2001
    The Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) ignores its own environmental and safety policies, rejects public hearing requests and approves Shell Canada’s potentially lethal sour gas well only 300 meters from a major public campground.

    2001

    Shell Canada
    Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) ignores its own environmental and safety policies, rejects public hearing requests and approves Shell Canada’s potentially lethal sour gas well only 300 meters from Castle Falls, a major public campground.

    2000

    North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (NACEC) considers the “Crown of the Continent” ecosystem to be part of one of North America’s 14 most biologically diverse and threatened regions – the Rocky Mountain region.
    The Panel on Ecological Integrity of Canada’s National Parks details that the health of Waterton Lakes National Park is dependent on adjacent provincial and private lands. It recommends that the federal government dedicate funds to conservation efforts in this larger ecosystem and seek provincial cooperation to find conservation solutions for lands adjacent to Waterton.

    Shell Canada
    The Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) release their Screwdriver Creek Decision Report (2000-17) in response to an application by Shell Canada and Canadian 88 to drill at the eastern edge of the Castle Wilderness. It acknowledges that significant regional cumulative environmental impacts have occurred in the Castle, and that biological thresholds for some species (i.e. grizzly bears) have likely been exceeded. However, the Board continues to approve development.

    Forestry
    Atlas Lumber, and to a lesser extent Spray Lake Sawmills, continue wide spread clearcutting of old growth forests within the Castle Wilderness. In response, the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition (CCWC) initiates a consumer boycott of lumber taken from the area.

    1999

    Integrated Resource Plan
    Revised Castle River Sub-Regional Integrated Resource Plan released for public comment. Revised plan is intended to incorporate recommendations from Special Places report, A Living Document.

    Castle area advocated by Alberta’s conservation groups and national affiliates as one of the ten easiest, big wilderness areas for the Alberta government to establish as a park.

    Access Management
    AWA, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Professional Outfitters Association and Speak Up For Wildlife withdraw from Castle Access Management Plan Working Group due to the fundamentally flawed process, particularly the failure to use the best available science in decision-making.

    Forestry
    Atlas Lumber proposes a winter logging plan that would remove the last remaining stands of mature old-growth forest in the Lynx Creek-Carbondale drainage.

    1998

    A “range of preservation measures” is announced for the Castle by provincial Minister of Environmental Protection Ty Lund. “These designations mark a major milestone in the preservation of Alberta’s natural heritage for future generation,” says Mr. Lund.

    “The protection measures for the Castle area reflect the Local Committee’s recommendations to provide legislated protection for the area,” says a government news release. Measures include establishment of the West Castle River Wetlands Ecological Reserve.

    Integrated Resource Plan
    Plans to review the Castle Integrated Resource Plan also announced.

    Access Management
    Castle Special Management Area Forest Land Use Zone designated, March 1998. This zone will allow for clear-cut logging, oil and gas development, motorized access, mining exploration and the four season West Castle resort. The 94 hectare West Castle River Wetlands Ecological Reserve established.

    1997

    Special Places
    Terms of reference for the Castle local committee of Special Places 2000 are released by MD of Pincher Creek. The original intention of these committees was to decide what level of protection sites such as the Castle (as selected by the Provincial Coordinating Committee) should receive. In contrast, the Castle committee decides unilaterally to revisit whether there should be any protection at all.

    Under the Special Places program, the Local Committee recommends only three very small areas for protection, including a 1 square kilometre area in the West Castle Wetlands. There was no ENGO representation on the committee. Klaus Jericho, President of Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition, states, “This process has given Albertans one process for protecting land but it is so flawed that environmental groups like ours have decided that we can’t be part of it. The local procedures of Special Places 2000 are such that we think it might actually harm our efforts to protect the Castle Wilderness, not help them.”

    The local Special Places committee makes recommendations for management changes, including the strengthening of Prime Protection and Critical Wildlife zones to include the goal of ‘preservation’. The committee also notes that “it is imperative that the Castle River Subregional Integrated Resource Management Plan be updated.”

    Westcastle Ski Hill
    Vacation Alberta sues the Alberta government over its failure to designate the West Castle Wildland Recreation Area, and its subsequent withdrawal of permission to develop the ski resort. They claim that the Alberta government has no right to unilaterally cancel their project or to revoke the NRCB permission. The case is settled out of court.

    West Castle Development Authority purchases an additional 40 hectares (100 acres) of public land for $1,235.50/hectare ($500/acre). This land adjoins those public lands sold in 1986 and allows further development of the Castle Mountain Resort.

    1996

    Access Management
    After seven years of often acrimonious discussions, the Castle River Access Management Plan, created to regulate off-highway vehicle use, is approved by the Alberta government. Environmental groups continue to oppose a plan that does nothing to address needs or non-motorized users, or wildlife such as grizzly bears. Of the 26 major drainages in the Castle region, just two will be closed to motorized vehicles (CCWC). Unanimous recommendations from Access Management Group that Land and Forest Service be given legislated enforcement powers, and that the plan not be implemented until such enforcement is in place, are ignored.
    The Castle Public Advisory Group includes the four members who walked away from the Castle River Consultation Group, mandated to determine the boundaries of a prospective Waterton-Castle Wildland Recreation Area.

    1995

    Extensive flooding (like the 1975 floods, said to be ‘one-in-a-hundred-year’ floods) cause considerable damage to trails and clearcut forested areas.

    Westcastle Ski Hill
    May: Four members of the Castle River Consultation Group (representatives of local farmers, OHV users, Cowley Forest Products and Backcountry Horsemen of Alberta) resign. Cabinet quickly reverses its approval of the 1993 NRCB decision and disband the committee. Minister of the Environment, Ty Lund, advises in a press release that the project was cancelled because there were “legal threats from environmentalists and the sudden resignation of several committee members studying the wildland areas started to divide residents in the Pincher Creek area, forcing the government to act.

    (This is notably in contrast to the 1989 resignation of three environmental groups and one outfitter from the Castle Access Management Plan, which carried on without them!) Government and MLAs had been under severe lobbying pressure from OHV users, including false claims that Wildland Recreation Area designation would ban a range of activities, including hunting, fishing and berry-picking.

    1994

    Shell Canada
    Shell Canada lobbies the Alberta government to oppose the Natural Resources Conservation Board’s recommendation for Wildland designation of the Castle Wilderness.
    Westcastle Ski Hill
    Alberta government passes Order in Council to authorize 1993 NRCB Decision Report. Castle River Consultation Group mandated to develop new land use strategy for the Castle River, in order to “establish the Wildland Recreation Area.” New strategy would supersede Castle River IRP and Castle River Access Management Plan. Castle River Consultation Group is to “provide recommendations to the Minister by June 15 1995 that identify the boundaries of the (Waterton-Castle Wildland Recreation Area), management intentions, compatible activities and a proposal to allow for immediate designation.

    1993

    Westcastle Ski Hill
    The Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) finds that the ski resort operated by Vacation Alberta (presently known as Castle Mountain Resort) can be expanded only if the rest of the area receives Wildland designation. “The Board concludes that the state of the Crown of the Continent ecosystems is at risk of further deterioration if the level of use continues to increase. It may be at risk if the present level of use continues.”

    The Board stresses the value of the region: “In the Board’s estimation, conservation of the Castle area is crucial to the state of the Crown [of the Continent] Ecosystem and the greater chain of Rocky Mountain ecosystems by virtue of its strategic location.” “The Board is persuaded that the West and South Castle Valleys, together with Waterton Lakes National Park, are a unique and important area for Alberta’s flora and that it would be in the public interest to afford them some form of protection.”

    The Board continues to state that Wildland designation is recommended whether or not the resort project proceeds. “The Board would recommend that in any event the area the Board has described as the proposed (West Castle Wildland Recreation Area) should be protected and land uses should be established for it as described by the Board whether or not the project proceeds.”

    Forestry
    Atlas Lumber begins cutting the last old growth forest (230 year old Engelmann spruce) in the Goat Creek area.

    1992

    Special Places
    Alberta government releases Special Places 2000: Alberta’s Natural Heritage, to “complete a protected areas system that achieves the goals of protection, outdoor recreation, heritage appreciation and tourism.” Plan is met with guarded optimism.

    Westcastle Ski Hill
    Terms of reference for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of Westcastle development released. EIA focuses on the development itself but does not consider the impacts of increased visitor and resident numbers on the region as a whole, nor impacts on the Castle River downstream.

    1991

    Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition set up, with the goal of “the establishment, restoration, maintenance and environmental protection of the Castle Wilderness as a viable wilderness within the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem.”

    Westcastle Ski Hill
    Development plans for four season Westcastle Ski Hill unveiled, December 1991. Proposals include 98 ha of ski runs, two 18-hole golf courses, two hotels, condominiums, townhouses, fourplexes, RV park and commercial space.

    1990

    Access Management
    Public ‘hearings’ on the draft access management plan are held in Crowsnest Pass, Pincher Creek and Lethbridge and are “densely packed with off-highway vehicle users, most of them male and most of them angry.” (Wild Lands Advocate, Summer 1990). Atmosphere at hearings is intimidating and not conducive to democratic participation.

    Intense lobbying by OHV groups continues to call for more motorized access.
    Revised Access Management Plan makes significant concessions to lobbyists from motorized access groups, including extended summer and winter access.

    1989

    Access Management
    AWA, CPAWS and Speak Up for Wildlife withdraw from Access Management Plan process, over fundamentally flawed process and failure to use credible science in access decisions. Reasons for AWA withdrawal include :

    • “The process, as it exists, is not soundly based on available information and relies too heavily on the unsubstantiated opinions of the participants.”
    • The forestry representative exhibited bias in recognizing and supporting the needs of motorized recreation users but not those of non-motorized users.
    • About three quarters of the user public are not members of any group and so were not represented at the table.”

    1988

    Goat hunting is suspended in the Castle region following concerns of a ‘major decline’ in the population (Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife).

    Access Management
    Access Management Plan process initiated by Alberta government.

    Shell Canada
    Shell Canada is given permission to drill at Upper Whitney Creek, one of the last pockets of untouched wilderness on the east slopes of southern Alberta. Road construction and drilling commences the next year.

    1987

    Shell Canada
    Through a “step-out” loophole of the Eastern Slopes Policy, Shell Canada proposes drill two gas wells in prime protection land on top of Prairie Bluff. Two wells and an access road would be constructed above 7000 feet, within the Prime Protection Zone (Zone 1).

    Despite a January 15 letter from Fred McDougall stating that the wells “would be incompatible with the paramount recreation values and should not be permitted”, proposals go to an ERCB hearing, September 16. AWA argues that wells will disturb struggling bighorn sheep populations. ERCB approves Shell’s applications in October. No Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required.

    In response to non-violent protest by concerned citizens at the Prairie Bluff/ Corner Mountain construction site, Shell Canada wins an injunction to get demonstrators off the leased public land.

    As a result of the Prairie Bluff protest, Shell Canada serves Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) with a statement of claim for over $100,000 – well in excess of the organization’s assets.

    1986

    The Alberta government continues to talk about possible protection for the Castle area. In a letter to the Bow Valley Naturalists, Peter Trynchy, Minister for Recreation and Parks writes “Although it is our intention to maintain the option to pursue provincial park designation for this area some time in the future, we would not be opposed to the implementation of compatible proposals, such as a Wilderness Natural Area as you identified in your letter.”

    Shell Canada
    Plans by Shell Canada to drill for sour gas in the Jutland area results in vigorous opposition from local residents, conservation groups, scientists, outfitters and Parks Canada. Plans go to ERCB hearing, January 1986. AWA, an intervener at the hearing, opposes the well for a range of reasons:

    • Lack of environmental impact assessment
    • Threat to grizzly bear populations, including Waterton Park and the US
    • Risk to bull trout habitat
    • Visual impact, including 24 km of upgraded access road.
    • Safety concerns
    • ERCB approves Shell well licence in June, with certain conditions. A campaign to boycott Shell products soon follows. ERCB issues Shell Canada a drilling licence, but Shell later decides not to drill at the site due to geological reasons.

    June: Shell Canada also announces its plans to drill three new wells on prairie Bluff, over 7000 feet and also in the Prime Protection Zone.
    Alberta Forest Service assists in determining possible access routes to locations for wells proposed by Shell Canada on Prairie Bluff (in Zone 1, Prime Protection).
    A campaign to boycott Shell products follows. Shell Canada decides not to drill at the site due to geological reasons.

    Westcastle Ski Hill
    The Alberta government sells 12.5 hectares (30 acres) of public lands in the West Castle for an expansion of the ski hill, as well as commercial and residential development. The land is sold for $1,235.50/hectare ($500/acre). Provisions are made in the Agreement for the future sale of another 40 hectares.

    1985

    AWA applies for protection and rezoning of entire South Castle as Prime Protection Zone. The government rejects the AWA application and approves a drilling application by Shell Canada.

    AWA also submits Preliminary Disclosure for a Wilderness Natural Area to Don Sparrow, Associate Minister for Public Lands and Wildlife. Both proposals are summarily dismissed.

    Integrated Resource Plan
    Instead, with only a few minor changes, the Alberta government approves the 1984 draft of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The introduction to the Plan emphasizes the values of the area:

    • “The watershed, recreation and tourism resource management objectives have highest priority in the Castle River area.”
    • “The primary intent of the Castle-Front Range Headwaters resource management area is to provide a wide range of extensive recreation opportunities. This is in recognition of the high potential of this area for wildland recreation as identified in the eastern Slopes policy.”
    • The new Plan still purportedly sets watershed protection and recreation as primary values of the area, but changes the zoning to facilitate proposals by Shell Canada to drill in the Jutland area. Tourism, specifically “intensive tourism facility development”, is also added as one of the priorities for the region. The Planning Team acknowledges AWA’s proposals for a Wildland Recreation Area, but responds that a “wildland management philosophy” will suffice. In a letter to AWA, Alberta Energy and Natural Resources states “It has become very apparent that our definition of ‘wilderness’ differs from your in that we recognize that wildlands include areas where management strives to hold types and intensities of resource use to the lower end, but not extreme end, of the development continuum.”

    Shell Canada
    Shell Canada applies once again to drill in Jutland area.

    1984

    Alberta government unilaterally changes its 1977 Eastern Slopes Policy (which was produced following a substantial public input process). Changes include allowing regional management committees to change zoning to allow industrial activity, changing Prime Protection (Zone 1) to allow “step out” drilling and other “geophysical activity”, and redefinition of the General recreation (Zone 4) to allow oil and gas activity.

    Integrated Resource Plan
    A revised draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is released with zoning changes. The Prime Protection Zone is reduced and no longer includes the Jutland site. The management planning committee for the South Castle includes AWA and Shell Canada Environmental Biologist Doug Mead, representing the Canadian Petroleum Association.

    1983

    Integrated Resource Plan
    A draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) released without any reference to the 1979 recommendation to expand the Prime Protection Zone. The Jutland site remains within the Prime Protection Zone.

    Westcastle Ski Hill
    Major four-season development proposal for the West Castle receives approval in principle, despite Alberta Business Development and Tourism evaluation that “It is very doubtful that any experienced ski management group could operate the West Castle resort at a profit.”

    1982

    Outbreak of Pasteurella pneumonia kills an estimated 65% of approximately 400 bighorn sheep between Waterton and the Crowsnest Pass. Domestic sheep are implicated in the outbreak.

    1979

    Integrated Resource Plan
    The Integrated Management Plan for the Castle River is released.

    • “Provincial Parks Division has proposed a large Provincial Park for the Castle River sub-basin, to provide for both intensive and extensive recreation use.”
    • “As a result of improved methods of detecting and suppressing fire, there has been a significant loss of winter range to natural succession.”
    • “The location of recreation developments and associated infrastructure can significantly affect the fisheries resource since most summer recreation is associated with fishing.”
    • Proposed to expand Zone 2 (Critical Wildlife Habitat) to include elk winter range on Maverick and Byron Hills.
    • Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) team recommends expansion of Prime Protection (Zone 1) area in the South Castle.

    Together with Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier National Park and adjacent lands in Montana, the Castle River drainage is declared a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve. South Castle becomes the Biosphere Zone of Cooperation.

    Shell Canada
    Shell Canada applies for reduction of Prime Protection Zone in the South Castle to allow exploratory drilling. The Alberta government rejects the rezoning application, though Fred McDougall, Deputy Minister of Natural Resources, writes to AWA: “Although it would be convenient to process every proposal in the area by means of strict application of the (Eastern Slopes) policy, this would be inconsistent with the intent – that is, to apply the policy in a reasonable manner, taking into account changing circumstances and new information.” However, rather than compensating Shell Canada Ltd. for its leases and purchasing back other leases in the area or letting them expire, the government extends the life of the lease.

    1977

    Eastern Slopes Policy creates areas of Prime Protection (Zone 1), Critical Wildlife (Zone 2) and General Recreation (Zone 4) in the Castle region. Zone 1 designation does not allow Logging, petroleum and natural gas development, mineral or coal exploration and development or OHV activity. Petroleum and natural gas development is ‘restricted’ in Zone 2, and not allowed in Zone 4, General Recreation.
    Alberta Government Policy for Resource Management of the Eastern Slopes identifies the Castle as having “considerable park potential.”

    “The Provincial Parks Division of Alberta Recreation, Parks and Wildlife have proposed a three-phase conceptual plan for park establishment in the Castle area…Phase two would expand the park to include the remainder of the South and West Castle valleys and would provide the wilderness aspect for the park. Use of the upper valleys would be non-motorized.” Background Paper, Castle River Integrated Management Plan, Alberta Energy and Natural Resources.

    Parks Canada “urges the Government of Alberta to consider the establishment of a large provincial park in the Castle River area, to relieve some of the pressures on Waterton National Park.” Parks Canada policy of maintaining the existing character of the Park relies on facilities and visitor numbers not increasing substantially. It would therefore “welcome the provision of a large, complementary recreation area to share the increasing load. The Castle area would appear to be particularly well suited to this purpose.” Parks Canada notes the considerable movement of wildlife across Park boundaries, particularly sheep, goats, elk and grizzly bears.

    Shell Canada
    Shell Canada applies to drill in Jutland area of South Castle but is denied because it is within a Prime Protection Zone (i.e., no petroleum or natural gas exploration and development permitted).

    Sour gas well blowout at Waterton #35 well in Yarrow Canyon. Waterton National Park Superintendent feels that the Park were notified much too late to provide warnings to park visitors.

    1975

    Westcastle Ski Hill
    Alberta Business Development and Tourism project evaluation of West Castle Resort Development states “It is highly improbable that any amount of additional capital investment will allow the ski area to operate at a profit. Only if there were superior physical features and natural resources would profitability be possible. It is not felt that this combination exists at West Castle, or on Haig Ridge. It is very doubtful that any experienced ski management group could operate the West Castle resort at a profit, all factors considered.”

    1974

    An Alberta government study recommends that a park be established in the headwaters of the Castle River, “because of its scenery, natural history and potential for supporting extensive and intensive recreation interests.” Landals, 1974 The Castle Crowsnest Survey of Park Potential. “The most valuable resource of the area is the visual one – the prairie, foothill and mountain scenery. This is augmented by the opportunity for fishing in the small, inaccessible alpine lakes and the more accessible reaches of the streams, and by the opportunities for examining features of the unique natural history of the area. Zoning of some lands for wilderness recreation would also provide the opportunity for a traditional hunting experience by the removal of all forms of mechanized access.”
    Shell Canada

    Shell Canada obtains subsurface leases for Castle area.

    1973

    Foothills Resource Allocation Study for the Castle Drainage District produced (Alberta Lands and Forests). Study refers to approximately 117 square miles of protection forest: “land over 6,500 feet in elevation and reserved from cutting (in most cases) for the purpose of watershed protection.” The limitations imposed by restricted tree growth in this dry, arid region are also noted: “Problems have been experienced in the Castle District in satisfying holders of timber quotas. In some areas the headwaters of streams have been allowed to be logged, including some protection forest, in order to meet the quotas.”

    AWA proposes South Castle Wildland Recreation Area during Eastern Slopes Hearings.

    1964

    Timber Management Branch of Alberta Forest Service outlines concerns over harvesting timber from the high value watershed of the Castle District: “The steepness of the terrain and the gradient of the streams make timber harvesting very hazardous to watershed values” (quoted in Foothills Resource Allocation Study for the Castle Drainage District).

    1958

    Pincher Creek Fish and Game Association calls for protection of the South Castle area.

    1957

    Discovery of Waterton Gas Field stimulates further exploration throughout the area.

    1954

    Provincial Game Reserve status is removed from the Castle.

    1953

    First road, a fire road, built along the South Castle River. Recreational use of the Castle region begins to expand. (Castle Wilderness Environmental Inventory)

    1935 – 1936

    Huge fires consume forests of the South and West Castle, all the way north into Kananaskis Country.

    1930

    Control of Alberta’s natural resources transferred from Federal government to province, through Resources Transfer Act.

    1921

    Castle was removed from Waterton Lakes National Park and transferred to Alberta Government. The region becomes a Provincial Game Reserve.
    “This arrangement (1914 extension of the Park), however, proved to be unsatisfactory both to the Forestry Branch and the National Parks Service and in 1921, the northwesterly portion of the park which had been under dual administration, was withdrawn and later reincorporated in the Rocky Mountains Forest Reserve.” (From Lothian, W.F. 1976. A History of Canada’s National Parks. Vol. 1. Ottawa: Parks Canada. p. 47)

    In 1921 manpower constraints forced the park to divest itself of more than half of its territory. (By 1976 the park is 195 sq mi.)

    1914

    Waterton Park enlarged (from 35 to 1347 square kms), to include much of the Castle wilderness. From 1914 to 1921 the park included all of the South and West Castle River headwaters.

    “Recommendations by the new commissioner, J. B. Harkin, supported by public opinion, led to the extension in June 1914 of the [Waterton] park boundaries to include an area of 423 sq. mi. The enlarged park encompassed the colourful main range of the Rockies east of the Continental Divide from the International Boundary north to North Kootenay Pass and the Carbondale River. The expanded park also included the portion of Upper Waterton Lake in Canada, together with the middle and lower lakes and a portion of the Belly River Valley. Inter-departmental rivalry for the control of game populations in the enlarged park led to enactment of an order in council which placed the park area containing the watersheds of Castle River and Scarpe Creek under the control of the Director of Forestry, exclusive of the game population, which continued to be the responsibility of the Commissioner of National Parks.” (From Lothian, W.F. 1976. A History of Canada’s National Parks. Vol. 1. Ottawa: Parks Canada. p. 47)

    1911

    Waterton Park designated a Dominion Park.

    1895

    Waterton Lakes set aside as Forest Park by federal government on 54 sq mi. of land surrounding the lakes.

    June 1, 2017

    The Great Divide Trail

    June 2017 Wildlands Advocate article, by Joanna Skrajny Amidst the controversies concerning what will be allowed and…

    Read more »

    April 19, 2017

    AWA Letter RE: Updated Castle Parks Management Plan

    April 19, 2017 Premier of Alberta Honorable Rachel Notley Email: premier@gov.ab.ca Minister of Alberta Environment…

    Read more »

    April 5, 2017

    UPDATED AWA’s Companion Guide to the Castle Management Plan Survey

    On January 20th, the Government of Alberta released the draft management plan for the Castle…

    Read more »

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