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The Cypress Hills span the border between southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan.

The slopes and green coulees surrounding Cypress Hills Provincial Park have also been home to families, ranchers and farmers for generations. Impressive views of relatively undisturbed landscape spread from the highest points looking to the north. To the south, the gentle slopes give way to the Sweetgrass Hills in the distance.

    • Introduction
    • Concerns
    • Features
    • History
    • Archive
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    South Reesor Lake - Cypress Hills - Photo Credit: Kevin Mihalcheon

    The Cypress Hills span the border between southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan.

    “The Cypress Hills is a special place,” says the Cypress Hills Fringe Area Structure Plan (2003). “It stands as an oasis 300 metres above the surrounding grasslands. For thousands of years it has contained a rich history and shelter for humans and wildlife.”
    The slopes and green coulees surrounding Cypress Hills Provincial Park have also been home to families, ranchers and farmers for generations. Impressive views of relatively undisturbed landscape spread from the highest points looking to the north. To the south, the gentle slopes give way to the Sweetgrass Hills in the distance.


    The highest part of the Cypress plateau has been protected as the Cypress Hills Inter-provincial Park.

    A 278 km2 buffer area around the park in Alberta has been designated as the Fringe and Cypress County prepared an Area Structure Plan for it in 2003. The goal of the ASP is: “To provide an opportunity for development in the Cypress Fringe plan area in a manner that respects the values that created Cypress Hills Park and respects the heritage and ecological landscape of the area.”


    View to enortheast towards Saskatchewan – Cypress Hills (K. Mihalcheon)

    Wind farms

    • AWA supports green energy alternatives and is not opposed to wind energy. However, wind farms are an industrial use of the land. AWA believes that wind farms must be located in appropriate areas. They must not be located on our endangered native prairie grasslands or in environmentally significant areas.
    • A wind farm has been proposed for the area just north of Cypress Hills Provincial Park in an area known as the Fringe.
    • The Fringe is 278 km2 buffer area of agricultural land surrounding the Park.
    • The goals of the Area Structure Plan for the Fringe are to preserve the high quality native rangelands and the ranching community, and minimize roads and development.
    • The Plan specifies the importance of protecting the nationally significant viewscapes that impress visitors to the Park.

    When the Plan was created in 2003, the main concern was country residential development and wind farms were not mentioned. however, industrial developments like wind farms are compatible the intent of the plan.

    • Wind farms are considered a source of green energy, but their location is critical.
    • Winds must be at particular speeds for the turbines to function efficiently.
    • Each wind turbine requires at least an acre of land, in addition to roads for construction and access. The wind turbines proposed are 120 metres tall, the Calgary Tower is 190 metres.
    • These disturbances fragment sensitive grasslands and bring in aggressive invasive species that can invade the surrounding grasslands, particularly in drought years. Native fescue grasslands have never been successfully reclaimed. Once they are destroyed they are gone forever.

    Cypress Hills Fringe Area Structure Plan, May 2003 and Bylaw Amendment for Wind Energy Facilities, March 2005.

    Township and Range map: JPG | PDF

    Natural Subregions map:  JPG | PDF
    Environmentally Significant
    Areas map:  JPG | PDF


    The Alberta NDP government invests $239 million in provincial parks upgrades over the next 5 years, with Cypress Hills included for asphalt paving, retaining lake wall upgrade at Reesor Lake, and Comfort Camping in 2016-17, and boardwalk restoration in the next 2-5 years.


    Having received approval for 70 wind turbines in its Wild Rose 1 wind farm, Naturener continues its application for 63 wind turbines in Wild Rose 2. Pre-construction for Wild Rose 1 is scheduled for the spring of 2014 with the turbines possibly in place by the fall.
    Wild Rose 2 could begin construction in 2015.


    Cougars, which are believed to have begun recolonizing Cypress Hills in the late 1990s are now believed to number 20-40, according to researchers with the University of Alberta. Cypress Hills now “boasts one of the highest densities of cougars ever reported” in North America.

    May 2008

    The Environmental Impact Statement for Naturener’s Wild Rose 1 Project is approved. A public open house is planned for 2009. The plan includes 82 turbines, each 80 m tall with 38-m blades. Since the leased land base for the original West WindEau wind farm proposal has not changed, AWA has the same concerns as with the original application. Because the Cypress Hills are an ecological island in the midst of an ocean of grassland, the species that live here are particularly vulnerable, and a protected buffer zone is critical to their continued protection.

    September 23, 2007

    Naturener Energy Canada Inc. purchases 100 percent of the shares of Alberta-based West WindEau Inc., the original proponent for the Wild Rose Wind Farm proposal. Naturener subsequently withdraws the project application because the turbines will be louder than the manufacturer had originally stated, and then re-applies, using the same documentation as for the previous application.

    August 2007

    The West WindEau Wild Rose Wind Farm proposal in the Cypress Hills Provincial Park Fringe Area is being assessed by Natural Resources Canada. AWA issues an action alert, urging people to express their opposition to this proposal, which will damage rare and sensitive native prairie lands.

    July 19, 2008

    A visitor centre is opened in Cypress Hills Provincial Park.

    May 2006

    AWA attends an open house regarding West WindEau’s wind farm proposal. The event adds little information to those following the company’s plans.

    February 2005

    AWA becomes aware of a wind farm proposal next to Cypress Hills Provincial Park on environmentally sensitive native prairie. Ontario-based West WindEau Corporation is planning to cover a township (almost 100 km2) of largely native prairie with their project. AWA opposes private interests benefitting from the destruction of these environmentally sensitive and valuable public lands.

    June 7, 2005

    Cypress County passes an amendment to its Municipal Development Plan and Land Use Bylaw allowing wind energy facilities in the Cypress Hills Provincial Park Fringe Area.


    Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is designated a Dark-Sky Preserve.

    September 2003

    The Cypress Hills Elk Management Plan process is initiated to address the issue of elk depredation on agricultural lands outside the park.


    Cypress County releases the Cypress Hills Fringe Area Structure Plan for the area surrounding Cypress Hills Provincial Park, recognizing the Cypress Hills as a “special and unique place.” The 278-km2 Fringe Area is to be maintained as a buffer zone to preserve high-value native rangeland.


    A revised management plan is released. In a letter to Cliff Thesen, District Manager of Cypress Hills Provincial Park, AWA expresses concern in regards to logging, grazing, road access, and other issues not addressed in the management plan. AWA emphasizes the necessity that no interventionist measures be taken with respect to natural environments and wildlife populations until the ecosystem-based management plan can rationalize why intervention is necessary. AWA believes that most of the roads on the plateau should be closed, grazing should be prohibited in sensitive environments, and logging should not be undertaken.


    The Government of Alberta begins public consultation for an updated park management plan.


    A community-based (non-government) Cypress Hills Advisory Association is formed to work toward consensus on issues involving management of the greater Cypress Hills ecosystem.


    In a report entitled “Recommendations Related to a Comprehensive Forest Management Plan for Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Alberta,” consultants recommend that the clear-cutting occurring in the park be discontinued because it is not meeting the park plan’s stated objectives. AWA writes a letter to Dr. Steve West, Minister of Recreation and Parks asking him to assure AWA that no timber harvesting permits will be renewed until the management of the Cypress Hills has been given the benefit of a public review.

    August 25, 1989

    The governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan signed an agreement committing themselves to cooperation on ecosystem management, education and park promotion. Thus the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park becomes Canada’s first interprovincial park.


    Under the guise of forest management, a small-scale commercial logging operation in Cypress Hills is approved without any opportunity for public input. AWA suggests that prescribed burns are a better forest management technique and should be considered.


    All proposals requested by the Alberta government for parties interested in developing a ski hill and related recreational activities are refused.


    An Alberta Fish and Wildlife position paper states that elk depredation is not a problem; Fish and Wildlife feel its elk management strategies are working.


    Twenty-one formal complaints are registered in Cypress Hills for elk depredation on and damage to agricultural operations.


    The Cypress Hills Provincial Park Master Plan is released. The comprehensive plan guides all aspects of park management and brings in policies of allowing hunting and grazing as management tools to maintain range health and control problem wildlife populations.


    Elk hunting season becomes established in the park. The portion of the Cypress Hills known as the West Block in Saskatchewan becomes a provincial park.


    Premier Harry E. Strom allows the drilling of a natural gas well inside the boundaries of the Cypress Hills Provincial Park.


    The manager of Cypress Hills Provincial Park states that elk should not have to compete directly with cattle.


    The Cypress Hills Visitor Centre is built. Commercial lumbering operations are terminated. Domestic grazing is allowed to continue. The director of Alberta’s Fish and Wildlife Division argues that there is extreme competition between elk and cattle in the park and that the park should be for wildlife.

    Late 1960s

    Fort Walsh National Historic Park is established.


    Red squirrels and moose are introduced to the park.


    The park is expanded and facilities developed.


    The Cypress Hills Provincial Park is established in Alberta, encompassing the portion of land known as the Elkwater Block. A warden and an assistant warden are appointed to manage it.


    Administration of the townsite on the shore of Elkwater Lake is transferred to the Provincial Parks Board. Elkwater Provincial Park is established.

    Early 1940s

    Cobbles are mined from the Cypress Hills for the war effort. There are reports of hay damage by Elk in the West Block (Saskatchewan side), and by the 1950s, Alberta ranchers are seeking compensation and an open season on elk.


    A number of pieces of land are removed from the park to help administer lumber and grazing activities. Other pieces of land are added to the park as a fire boundary area.


    At the request of some Saskatchewan ranchers around the Cypress Hills, the government imports elk from Wainwright Park. The elk spread quickly to the Alberta side.


    Control of natural resources is transferred to Alberta and Saskatchewan, putting an end to almost 30 years of federal administration of the Cypress Hills public reserves.

    1930 -1951

    The Elkwater Block is administered by the Forestry Administration of the Department of Lands and Mines (later renamed the Department of Lands and Forests).


    Development occurs in a subdivision on the shores of Elkwater Lake.


    The land beside the south shore of Elkwater Lake is designated Elkwater Provincial Park.


    Eleven permits are issued to hunt wolves in the Forest Reserve. Three wolves are killed a short distance from the west end of the Forest Reserve.


    The Elkwater Block becomes a popular picnicking and camping area.


    The Cypress Hills constitute a Dominion Forest under the authority of the Canadian Department of the Interior.


    The Forest Reserves and Park Act expands the Dominion Forest from 47 to 492 km2, of which 207 km2 lie within Alberta’s border. This area is referred to as the Elkwater Block – it roughly corresponds to the current Alberta portion of the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.


    Elk have been extirpated from the Cypress Hills.


    The Forest Reserves Act is passed, establishing a 47 km2 reserve in the area.


    The last great plains grizzly is shot in the Cypress Hills.


    A fire burns through most of the Cypress Hills. Much of what is left unburned is cut down shortly after the fire.


    The CPR is extended to Maple Creek. By this time, the bison, and the First Nations who depended on them, are gone from the area.

    Fort Walsh is closed. The RCMP outpost moves to Maple Creek.


    Sitting Bull and his followers escape to the Cypress Hills after the Battle of Little Bighorn.


    The Cypress Hills Massacre leads to the formation of the North West Mounted Police and the establishment of Fort Walsh.


    A group of First Nations people and a group of trappers argue and then battle over stolen horses. Thirty-five First Nations people and one person of European descent are killed. The event becomes known as the Cypress Hills Massacre.


    Metis trader Abe Farwell establishes a trading post in Cypress Hills.


    Prospectors and whiskey traders come to the Cypress Hills area after the discovery of gold in Montana. These decades are lawless, chaotic times.


    An outbreak of smallpox occurs when a whiskey trader purposefully distributes infected blankets from the U.S.


    Captain John Palliser comments that the Cypress Hills are “a perfect oasis in the deserts we have travelled.”


    William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1803-06) shoots a Blackfoot man, an event that creates hostility between First Nations people and traders in the area.


    Anthony Henday becomes the first European to traverse the Cypress Hills.

    February 1, 2009

    Wind Farm Threatens Cypress Hills

    Wild Lands Advocate update, February 2009, by Joyce Hildebrand 20090200_AR_wla_update.pdf

    Read more »

    August 9, 2007

    Cypress Hills Park Action Alert

    AWA Action Alert: Proposed Wind Turbines on Edge of Cypress Hills Park will Destroy Rare…

    Read more »

    June 1, 2007

    How Do You Solve a Problem Like Elk in the Cypress Hills?

    Wild Lands Advocate update, June 2007, by Shirley Bray 200706_AR_CH.pdf

    Read more »

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