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The Little Smoky area represents a critical portion of Alberta’s Upper and Lower Foothills Natural subregion.

In Alberta, the Foothills are only 2% protected. The Little Smoky has long been recognized as provincially significant as it supports many ESAs, including the Donald Creek drainage, Middle Berland River, and the Little Smoky Caribou range.

    • Introduction
    • Concerns
    • Features
    • History
    • Management
    • Archive
    • Other Areas

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    Located between Hinton and Jasper National Park along the front ranges of the Rockies, the Little Smoky area represents a critical portion of Alberta’s Upper and Lower Foothills Natural subregion. In Alberta, the Foothills are only 2% protected. The Little Smoky has long been recognized as provincially significant as it supports many ESAs, including the Donald Creek drainage, Middle Berland River, and the Little Smoky Caribou range.

    Unique wildlife potential exists for natural heritage appreciation in the region. The area supports the Little Smoky caribou herd that has been given the provincial status of “at immediate risk of extirpation” as well as “threatened” under the both the provincial Alberta Wildlife Act and the Federal Species at Risk Act. These species as well as the Foothills region are at risk from the lack of designated protection and cumulative impacts of industrial activity and recreational disturbance.

    AWA’s Vision for Little Smoky

    • Defer new industrial development within the habitat range of the Little Smoky caribou population. Research must be undertaken prior to exploration to determine herd viability, location of key habitats and parameters of present and historic caribou range.
    • Officially protect the caribou herd range.
    • Attain designated protection for the Solomon Valley and Wildhay River area located adjacent to the Rock Lake-Solomon Creek Wildland Park.

    Status

    Existing protected areas include :

    • Pinto Creek Canyon Natural Area
    • Wildhay Glacial Cascades Natural area
    • Rock Lake- Solomon Creek Wildland Provincial Park
    • William A. Switzer Provincial Park

    Little Smoky landscapes are subject to some of the most intensive demands by industry and agriculture expansion in Alberta.

    • Area dissected by numerous cut lines, cut blocks, pipelines, seismic corridors, well sites and industrial access roads.
    • No protected areas have been designated within the caribou ranges of the Little Smoky, A La Peche and Highway 40 herds.
    • Main threats from industrial activity:
      • Increased access via roads and corridors
      • Fragmentation of habitat from roads
      • Increased predation from natural and human predators and poachers
      • Road kills
      • Noise and general disturbance
      • Habitat avoidance
      • Loss of habitat
      • Increased footprint affects function of habitat

    Oil and Gas

    • Active oil and gas developments including access roads, facilities, plants, wells, pipelines, seismic lines invade and encroach upon Little Smoky boundaries
    • Big oil and gas players in area: Petro Canada, Talisman, Devon, Suncor, and Chevron
    • Suncor/ConocoPhillips sour gas pipeline
      • In 2004, Suncor proposed to construct a 101km long sour gas pipeline through the home range of the Little Smoky/A La Peche caribou herd. Suncor’s current pipeline proposal crosses the remaining relatively intact portion of the range
      • Efforts have been made in the past to protect the Little Smoky caribou, however Suncor’s current pipeline proposal would jeopardize past and present efforts to maintain Little Smoky herd viability
      • The addition of this pipeline would lead to future activity of oil and gas and forestry in this area
      • November 2004 news release (pdf 56KB) and backgrounder (pdf 152)

    Forestry

    • Forestry operations impact the area with access roads, clear-cuts and habitat fragmentation and loss.
    • Big players are Weyerhaeuser, Weldwood, Canadian Forest Products (CANFOR), and Alberta Newsprint Company (ANC)
    • Weyerhaeuser has deferred their logging activities in the Little Smoky caribou range and ranges to the north until the Alberta Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan process is completed
    • ESAs completely allocated to FMAs held by ANC, Weyerhaeuser and CANFOR
    • Solomon Valley/ Wildhay River area:
      • Located between Hinton and Jasper National Park along the front ranges of the Rockies
      • Area roaded and logging began by Weldwood of Canada Ltd. in 2002
      • Area includes 2 environmentally significant areas which support critical moose, elk, bull trout and arctic grayling habitat
      • Contains some of the oldest spruce and fir in FMA
      • Offers abundant recreational opportunity
      • Need protection for these foothills in addition to the small quantity already protected with the Rock creek Solomon Wildland park
      • Long history of use by first nations

    Recreation

    • Increases in roads and corridors by oil and gas and forestry have led to increased access by recreationists, particularly motorized vehicles.

    Area

    • Area is approximately 7,200 km2 located within the Foothills east of Jasper National Park and bordering on the Wilmore Wilderness.
    • The Little Smoky contains the last significant pockets of wilderness in the boreal forest region. It supports mature old growth coniferous forest and a variety of peatland and ecological features.

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    Township and Range map: JPG | PDF
         
    20101117_Little_Smoky_NSR_v3_small.jpg
    Natural Subregions map:  JPG | PDF

    Natural Region

    • Upper and lower foothills, subalpine

    Environmentally Significant Areas

    There are several environmentally significant areas, at both the provincial and international levels of significance, which support critical moose, elk, bull trout and arctic grayling habitat. The Little Smoky area also encompasses four legislated protected areas:

    • Wildhay Glacial Cascades Natural Area
      • 25 km2 in size
      • A unique landscape developed from a glacier passing over the area over 10,000 years ago
      • A convoluted terrain with narrow sharp topped ridges
      • Wildhay River traverses the centre of the area
    • Pinto Creek Canyon Natural Area
      • 12.32 km2
      • Preserves a foothills population of mountain goats (~ 10-30 individuals); the only canyon/forest dwelling herd of goats in Alberta
      • Natural area declared under the Special Places 2000 program
    • William A. Switzer Provincial Park
      • 62.67 km2
      • designated in 1958
      • contains Jarvis Creek, one of the most relatively intact and productive river valley habitats in Alberta’s foothills
      • nesting habitat for osprey
      • high plant diversity including rare plant species
    • Rock Lake-Solomon Creek Wildland Park
      • 347 km2
      • Represents alpine, subalpine and montane sub regions of the Rocky Mountain Natural region as well as the upper Foothills region
      • Designated in December 2000 as part of the Special Places 2000 program
      • Rock Lake area is a significant wildlife movement corridor
      • Dense coniferous forests of lodgepole pine and white spruce forests, mixed and aspen woods, tall shrub communities, grassy slopes and wet meadow
      • Winter range for elk, deer and bighorn sheep, moose, grizzly and black bear, cougar and wolf
      • Activities include camping, hiking, cross country skiing, horseback riding and hunting

    20101117_Little_Smoky_ESA_v3_small.jpg
    Environmentally Significant
    Areas map:  JPG | PDF

    Watershed

    • Contains numerous major watersheds including the Berland River, Wildlhay and Athabasca Rivers and the headwaters of Little Smoky River.
    • The Little Smoky River and tributaries contain one of the last unexploited Arctic grayling populations in Alberta. It is rated as the highest quality grayling recreational fishing opportunity and wilderness experience in Alberta.

     Wildlife

    • Valleys of the Little Smoky, Athabasca and Berland rivers provide important habitat for large concentrations of elk, moose, mule deer, white tailed deer, black bear, wolves, lynx and beaver.
    • The valleys support critical habitat for the most remnant population of caribou, the Little Smoky caribou herd. Organic fens predominate in the core range of the herd along with coniferous forests. Other Caribou herds which occupy the area include the A La Peche and Highway 40 herd.
    • Little Smoky Herd: (see our Caribou pages)
    • Boreal ecotype of woodland caribou living year round in range.
    • 60-100 caribou in the herd
    • Immediate risk of extirpation and Provincially and nationally threatened
    • Little smoky caribou range is approximately 3200 km2 of which an estimated 13,000 km of linear features exist.
    • 85% of the Little Smoky Range is within 250 m of a linear corridor (Boreal Caribou Standing Committee)
    • Declines in this species is due to the cumulative effects of industrial development and recreation over the years. Any further disturbance will greatly impact the populations.
    • Valleys also support a significant grizzly bear population.
    • Unique population of Foothills dwelling mountain goats.

    Sustainable Activities

    • Recreation: Various tourism and recreational opportunities including fishing, boating, and hiking.

    February 2013

    AWA writes an open letter to Alberta Energy Minister Hughes, urging that planned auctions of new energy dispositions in the Little Smoky caribou population range in February, March and April 2013 not proceed. AWA notes that despite horizontal drilling technology that could consolidate new exploration and production on a reduced footprint, the Alberta government  continues to issue leases and approve new surface disturbance including in the 5% of the Little Smoky caribou range that was formerly intact. This violates the Alberta Government’s 2011 woodland caribou policy that states the immediate priority is maintenance of habitat, followed by habitat restoration.

    January 2013

    AWA denounces extensive new disturbance in the Little Smoky caribou range as violating the 2011 Alberta woodland caribou policy. AWA visits and documents significant new road, well site and pipeline corridor disturbance within the last 5% intact area of the Little Smoky’s range.

    April 2012

    AWA learns that from 2005 to 2012, the Alberta government’s Little Smoky wolf control  this program has killed about 650 wolves. About 550 have been killed from shooting by helicopter, and about 100 have been killed by strychnine poisoning. The Little Smoky caribou herd population has been stable for several years at about 80 animals. Full details of this program are published in an April 2012 article in AWA’s Wild Lands Advocate.

    July 25, 2008

    AWA submits comments to Alberta Tourism, Parks  and Recreation in regards to the drafting of a management plan for William A. Switzer Provincial Park. In the submission AWA expresses the need for:

    • opportunities for effective consultation;
    • protection of environment of the highest caliber;
    • consideration of buffer zones and adjacent land uses;
    • preservation of historical and cultural values;
    • monitoring of recreation types and intensity;
    • education programs;
    • enforcement of the park rules;
    • careful planning with regards to necessary infrastructure development; and
    • environmentally sound mountain pine beetle strategies.

    May 20, 2008

    Alberta Wilderness Association, along with Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Federation of Alberta Naturalists, and the Athabasca Bioregional Society write to Dr. Marco Festa-Bianchet, co-chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada’s (COSEWIC) Species Specialist Subcommittee – Terrestrial Mammals requesting COSEWIC assess the status of the Little Smoky local population of woodland caribou. In the letter, the groups submit that the Little Smoky herd is both particularly imperiled relative to the wider boreal population of woodland caribou and is both geographically and genetically distinct from the boreal population.

    January 24, 2008

    Dave Ealey, spokesman for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD), reports that 90 new oil and gas well sites have been approved within the Little Smoky caribou range.

    April 2006

    The SRD institutes the Caribou Calf Project in another attempt to bolster the dwindling numbers of the Little Smoky herd. Ten pregnant females are captured and will be monitored in fenced pen until the calves are born and determined to be doing well.

    January 24, 2006

    AWA, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Federation of Alberta Naturalists issue a news release stating that the Alberta Government is breaking its own policy by allowing industrial use in the Little Smoky caribou range. The Operating Guidelines for Industrial Activity in Caribou Ranges in West Central Alberta states that “Industrial activity can occur on caribou range provided the integrity and supply of habitat is maintained to permit its use by caribou.” Nonetheless, industrial use continues despite a 2004 assessment of the caribou habitat in Little Smoky published by logging companies and the Alberta government concluded that Little Smoky “…does not currently provide habitat conditions sufficient to maintain stable caribou population growth…”

    January 2006

    Under authorization from ASRD, an estimated 34 wolves are shot and killed. In what AWA considers a senseless and useless strategy when used in isolation, SRD is culling the pack to reduce the predation that is causing caribou mortality in Little Smoky. AWA recommends an immediate deferral of industrial activity in the caribou habitat instead.

    December 2005

    AWA and seven other ENGOs file a petition under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) with the Minister of the Environment asking the federal government to take action for the sake of the Woodland Caribou.

    April 2005

    AWA, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Athabasca Bioregional Society and Federation of Alberta Naturalists send a letter to Brad Pickering, Deputy Minister of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development requesting the deferral of logging rights in the Little Smoky and À La Peche caribou ranges until a range plan is developed.

    March 2005

    Canfor defers plans to log and build roads in Little Smoky in light of the threatened Woodland caribou. Canfor will not abandon the area permanently. Logging will continue when the Province implements its Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan. This deferral is partly the result of pressure from companies that buy pulp from the Hinton mill.

    February 2005

    The Suncor and ConocoPhilips pipeline through the range of the endangered Woodland caribou habitat will not be rerouted despite ongoing discussion with ENGOs.

    Also this month, conservation groups meet with SRD staff to discuss the caribou issue.  Although SRD acknowledges the concerns about habitat fragmentation due to industry, industry is clearly given precedence.

    November 30, 2004

    A representative from Sustainable Resource Development confirms that Suncor/ConocoPhillips pipeline route has been approved and construction has started.

    November 1, 2004

    AWA, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Athabasca Bioregional Society and Federation of Alberta Naturalists issue a news release announcing the plan by Suncor and ConocoPhillips to build a pipeline through Little Smoky.

    October 2004

    Alberta Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan draft completed and submitted to Minister of Environment for review and recommendations. Recovery Team recommends a moratorium be placed on new development in caribou range until full assessment is made of the effects on herds.

    Also in October, Devon Canada Corporation announces to AWA their proposed sour gas pipeline and processing site in the Little Smoky area. AWA responds by expressing their opposition to the plan. AWA notes that “The Little Smoky range contains the highest level of industrial development including oil and gas and forestry, than any other caribou range in Alberta. As a result, the herd cannot afford to be disturbed any further, as it clearly cannot tolerate what disturbance already exists.”

    Finally, AWA expresses opposition to the Devon pipeline to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB). For the Board to consider the AWA’s opposing point of view, the pipeline must directly and adversely affect the legally recognized rights of AWA. The EUB refuses to recognize AWA’s opposition because in the opinion of the EUB, AWA did not demonstrate a legally recognized interest in the land on or near the proposed pipeline, nor were any individual members directly negatively affected. 

    September 2004

    AWA and other ENGOs meet with Suncor and ConocoPhillips to discuss the development of the 101 km-long gas pipeline through Little Smoky. Although the company plans to restore existing linear disturbance in the area as compensation, ENGOS work to reroute the pipeline and encourage industry to take the lead and set a higher standard of practice than the law provides

    July 14, 2004

    Enviroline reports that Weldwood of Canada is defending its woodland caribou protection strategy despite criticism from environmental groups who want the company to cease logging operations in caribou habitat. The Little Smoky caribou herd is in immediate risk of extirpation. AWA and other conservation organizations call for oil and gas and forestry activity to be stopped wherever caribou are at risk.

    July 2004

    Suncor/ConocoPhillips propose the construct a 101 km long sour gas pipeline through the home range of the Little Smoky caribou and A La Peche herds. Development to begin in December 2004.

    May 2004

    The Alberta Woodland Caribou Recovery Plan comes into effect.

    2002

    Alberta Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development form the Alberta Woodland Caribou Recovery Team to write a recovery plan for woodland caribou in the province.

    July 2001

    AWA begins letter writing and market action campaign against Weldwood of Canada’s plan to log 15 km2 in the Solomon valley.

    2000

    Special Places 2000 leads to the designation of Pinto Creek Canyon Natural Area and Wildhay Glacial Cascades Natural Area in Alberta.

    1999

    Environmental groups (including AWA) launch “The Rescue Mission” campaign. It was a campaign to protect a total of 23,277 km2 extending from the far north to south of Alberta’s foothills.

    January 12, 1998

    Meetings held between AWA, Black Cat Ranch, and concerned citizens with Weldwood Canada Ltd. to discuss logging plans within the Solomon Creek Valley in the Foothills.

    March 1993

    Valleyview District Fish and Game Association (VDFGA) formalise a proposal for the creation of the Little Smoky Boreal Forest Primitive Area (500 km). This area would support sustainable industry practices, develop restrictions for corridor use along the Little Smoky River. The Little Smoky Boreal Forest Primitive Area would encompass areas within and outside boundaries of the Little Smoky caribou herd range.

    Berland Subregional Integrated Resource Draft Plan released for review.

    1987

    Alberta Fish and Wildlife division released Provincial Caribou Recovery Plan- this study showed woodland caribou were at “immediate risk of extirpation” as a result of habitat change related to logging and other industrial activities.

    September 1986

    Development of the Fox Creek –Knight Subregional Integrated Resource Plan.

    1986

    Berland Sub-regional Integrated Resource Plan was initiated. Purpose of the IRP is to promote the coordinated management of pubic land and resources within the area.

    1982

    October: Solomon Creek proposed as an ecological reserve – first identified in 1969 by members of the International Biological Programme as an excellent example of upper foothills vegetation.

    1979

    April: Resource Integration Committee (RIC) approves development of plan for Berland River-Fox creek Proposed Forest Management Agreement Area (FMA). Intent of regional plan is to provide direction for the management and the use of resources and public land in the area.

    1974

    Denison Mine Ltd. Undertakes coal exploration in the Rock Lake area

    1973

    August: Foothills Resource Allocation Study for Berland and Simmonette Planning Districts released- planning program to determine beneficial allocation of resource in Alberta’s Foothills Region on the basis of productivity and economic considerations.

    1969

    Solomon Creek identified by members of the International Biological Programme as an excellent example of upper foothills vegetation.

    1958

    William A. Switzer area designated as a Provincial Park. Initially named Entrance Provincial Park.

    The Little Smoky area falls under the management of the Berland Sub-regional Integrated Resource Plan and the Fox Creek –Knight Subregional Integrated Resource Plan.

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    FLUZ map: JPG | PDF
         
    20101117_Little_Smoky_IRP_v3_small.jpg
    IRP map:  JPG | PDF

With rare exception cattle ranchers have been the best of guardians of the land entrusted to them. May we continue to be conscientious caretakers of this precious resource and hand it on to another generation unspoiled.
- Gerald Brewin, Rancher in the Taber area 1929 - 2016
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