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Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve, at the southern tip of Kananaskis Country, is as diverse as it is geologically unique.

AWA’s vision for Plateau Mountain is that it remains protected as an Ecological Reserve to conserve its natural heritage  and that all existing commercial development and infrastructure including forestry and oil and gas will be phased out.

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

     

    PlateauMountain_map_150px Plateau mountain, the flat-topped mountain in distance, as seen from Junction Hill in Kananaskis. PHOTO © A. JOHANCSIK

    Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve, first established as a Natural Area in 1971, is a 23 km2 area located approximately 80 km west of Calgary, at the southernmost tip of AWA’s Kananaskis area of concern along Highway 40.The broad windswept summit of Plateau Mountain supports a remarkable variety of wildflowers and offers an incredible view of Alberta’s Eastern Slopes and the surrounding foothills.

    AWA is a volunteer steward of Plateau Mountain and works with Alberta Environment and Parks staff to ensure the best possible conservation of this remarkable mountain ecosystem.

    Status

    Plateau Mountain is formally protected as an Ecological Reserve, established in 1991. Ecological Reserves are representative or special natural landscapes of the province, which are protected as examples of functioning ecosystems, as gene pools for research, and for education and heritage appreciation purposes. Ecological Reserves provide limited opportunities for outdoor recreation and environmental tourism, where they are compatible with the protection objective, and access is only permitted by foot.

    Management

    Direction for the management of Plateau Mountain is provided by the Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve Management Plan, published in 2000. The protective status for Plateau Mountain falls under the provincial mandate of the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands Act (WAERNAHR).

    AWA has been a Volunteer Steward for Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve since November 2001

    Area

    Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve, first established as a Natural Area in 1971, is a 23 km2 area located approximately 80 km west of Calgary, at the southernmost tip of AWA’s Kananaskis area of concern. The area is located near the junction of Highway 40 and Highway 532. The Ecological Reserve is relatively secluded from any major developments, except Ga-hna (the Eden Valley Reserve) of the Ĩyãħé Nakoda Peoples, located to the north along Highway 541.

    The Ecological Reserve is named for Plateau Mountain. Plateau Mountain is neighboured by Mt. Burke to the north, Sentinel Peak to the northeast, and Hailstone Butte to the east. The Plateau Mountain ice cave is one the area’s unique and fragile features, as well as the primary driver for Plateau Mountain’s original designation as a Natural Area in 1971.

    AWA’s Kananaskis Area of Concern. Map © AWA: JPG | PDF

    Watershed

    Kananaskis is located within the South Saskatchewan River watershed and the Bow River Basin – an important basin as it provides water resources for more than one million Albertans downstream. Within the Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve, there is a small pond in a cirque along its eastern boundary, and permanent springs in the upper valley drain the southwest portion of the reserve.

    Geology

    Plateau Mountain is part of the Livingstone Range within the Front Ranges of the Rocky Mountains. The upper strata are composed of limestone in elongated upward and anticlinal structure. The uppermost surface of the mountain is made of a thin layer of hard quartz sandstone.

    Plateau Mountain is known for its unusual surface, formed by periglacial processes. Periglacial landscapes are associated with cold climates, active frost processes and permafrost; testament to the immense power of water to shatter rock as it freezes and thaws.

    Significant features are:

    • Ice caves, with pillars of ice, ice sheets and crystals. Due to their fragility, these caves are closed to public access.
    • Felsenmeer, or ‘rock sea’, a layer of angular rocks caused by frost-shattering, covering a large proportion of the 14 km2, flat-topped summit.
    • Patterned ground, which includes a diverse selection of sorted stone circles, polygons and stripes, caused by a variety of periglacial processes. Cold, underground water, which is less dense than the surrounding water, rises towards the surface pushing rocks and soil with it. Larger rocks become sorted and appear at the surface.
    • Active permafrost and relic permafrost to a depth of nearly 100 metres.

    Rock sea on Plateau Mountain. PHOTO © N. DOUGLAS

    Environmentally Significant Areas

    Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve is a nationally significant ecological area.

    Environmentally Significant Areas of Kananaskis. MAP © AWA: JPG | PDF

    Natural Regions

    Plateau Mountain is located in the Rocky Mountains Natural Region, and the Alpine and Subalpine Subregions. Plateau Mountain is located at the southernmost tip of Kananaskis.

    Natural Subregions of Kananaskis. MAP © AWA: JPG | PDF

    Vegetation

    Alpine: Engelmann spruce, arctic willow, mountain timothy, wood rush, death camas, alpine arnica, alpine forget-me-not, milk vetch, pussy-toes, Hypochaeris radicata

    Subalpine: Lodgepole pine, whitebark pine, subalpine fir, subalpine larch, prickly rose, blueberry, bearberry, heart-leaved arnica, Kentucky blue grass, rock sedge, wandering daisy

    See AWA’s Plateau Mountain Plant List for an extensive species index.

    Wildlife

    A range of bird species has been recorded within the area, including rosy finch, horned lark and white-tailed ptarmigan. Golden eagles regularly pass over the area on their spring and fall migrations along the front ranges of the Rockies.

    Plateau Mountain is home to a number of mammals typical of alpine and subalpine communities, including coyote, hoary marmot, pika, and a small flock of bighorn sheep.

    See AWA’s Plateau Mountain Animal List for an extensive species index.

    Cultural

    Indigenous Peoples have inhabited Kananaskis for more than 10,000 years, since the retreat of the glaciers. Most notably, the Rocky Mountain Nakoda (or Ĩyãħé Nakoda) travelled the foothills and mountain valleys surrounding the Kananaskis area to forage and harvest large game. Evidence suggests that during the last Ice Age, Plateau Mountain was a Nunatuk (an Inuit word for a mountain protruding through the ice), and remained relatively ice-free.

    Three Head Chiefs from the Ĩyãħé Nakoda attended the signing of Treaty 7. The Government of Canada then went on to allocate a single tract of land to be shared by those three groups, known in the modern day as Mĩnĩ θnĩ Wa-pta (or the Morley Reserve). From the Mĩnĩ θnĩ Wa-pta came two smaller satellite reserves, one of which falls within AWA’s Kananaskis area of concern; this satellite reserve is now called Ga-hna (or Eden Valley Reserve), meaning “along the foothills”.

    Activities

    As Plateau Mountain falls under strict protective status, limited recreational activities are permitted within the Ecological Area. However, access is permitted by foot, providing one of Kananaskis’ most unique backcountry hiking experiences.

    Oil and Gas

    In 2013, Suncor sold a large proportion of its gas business – including the Savanna and Sullivan fields – to Centrica (Direct Energy) and Qatar Petroleum International (QPI). The implications for those two fields (which include infrastructure throughout southern Kananaskis Country) remain unclear;  although, according to Alberta Energy Regulator’s Abandoned Wells Map, it appears as though the gas wells atop Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve have been abandoned. AWA believes that oil and gas development is not appropriate within sensitive protected areas, like Plateau Mountain, and that all infrastructure must be removed on conclusion of activities.

    Forestry

    While Plateau Mountain holds its status as an Ecological Reserve, forestry is still permitted within and near its boundaries. In 2017, CCI Inc. on behalf of Balcean Consolidated Contracting undertook large-scale clearcuts in the Cataract Creek area of the Highwood River drainage, just below Plateau Mountain. Forest clearcuts heavily impact natural biodiversity, resulting in shifting hydrological function, habitat loss, fragmentation and sedimentation, among many more serious impacts. It is unacceptable to compromise the ecological integrity of Plateau Mountain as a stronghold for biodiversity. For this reason, AWA believes that forestry, and other industrial activity, should be kept outside of the Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve and throughout a defined transition zone in its surrounding areas.

    Recreation

    While some low-intensity recreation is permitted within the Ecological Reserve, non-permissible activities like random camping at the base of the mountain persist. Improved signage and educational resources at trail heads are required in order to reinforce what activities are allowed within the Ecological Reserve. AWA asserts that a leave-no-trace approach is needed to maintain sensitive protected areas, like Plateau Mountain.

    2016
    AWA staff and volunteers lead a stewardship trip to Plateau Mountain to remove garbage, document changes from the previous year, and enjoy spectacular scenery.

    2015
    AWA takes three stewardship trips into Plateau Mountain. In October, evidence of OHV tracks is noted beyond the boundary sign. A separate visit in October confirms there was no signage at the locked gate indicating that it is an Ecological Reserve. In November, AWA returns to place signs, remove garbage, and eliminate illegal camp sites. In each visit, abundant evidence of wildlife is noted.

    2013
    Suncor sells a large proportion of its gas business – including the Savanna and Sullivan fields – to Centrica (Direct Energy) and Qatar Petroleum International (QPI). The implications for those two fields (which include infrastructure throughout southern Kananaskis Country) remain unclear. Both fields are currently shut in, following the closure of Devon’s Coleman gas plant in 2012. This could potentially see the closure of the one remaining gas well on top of Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve.

    2012
    Gas production at Plateau Mountain, and the entire Savanna field, is shut in indefinitely due to the closure of Devon’s Coleman gas plant.

    2009
    The University of Calgary’s Stuart Harris publishes a report, Climate Change and Permafrost Stability in the Eastern Canadian Cordillera: the Results of 33 Years of Measurements. Harris studied the depth of permafrost – the permanently frozen layer of ground – at a series of sites, including Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve.

    2001
    Alberta Wilderness Association becomes a Volunteer Steward for Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve

    2000
    The Government of Alberta publishes the Management Plan for Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve.

    1993
    The Ecological Reserves Steering Commits approves the Terms of Reference for Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve Management Plan.

    1991
    The Government of Alberta upgrades Plateau Mountain’s status from a Natural Area to an Ecological Reserve, due in part to a cooperative relationship between AWA and Husky Energy.

    1986
    The Government of Alberta releases the Kananaskis Country Subregional Integrated Resource Plan. The plan specifies the objective for Kananaskis Country as “to preserve the environmental and aesthetic quality of Kananaskis Country and create recreational development that is expressive of the unique natural quality.”

    1984
    The Ecological Reserve Steering Committee submits a report proposing the designation of Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve, along with 13 other sites.

    1978
    Public vehicle access becomes restricted within the Plateau Mountain area, as the Kananaskis Country Forest Land Use Zone restrictions come into effect.

    1977
    The provincial government establishes Kananaskis Country; however 57 percent of the area does not receive park protection.

    1971
    The Government of Alberta establishes Plateau Mountain Natural Area.

    1968 – 1971
    Plateau Mountain Ice Cave identified as a fragile and unique feature requiring protection.

    1950s
    Husky Energy Inc. operated wells on Plateau Mountain.

    Pre-History
    Indigenous Peoples have inhabited Kananaskis for more than 10,000 years, since the retreat of the glaciers. Most notably, the Rocky Mountain Nakoda (or Ĩyãħé Nakoda) travelled the foothills and mountain valleys surrounding the Kananaskis area to forage and harvest large game. Evidence suggests that during the last Ice Age, Plateau Mountain was a Nunatuk (an Inuit word for a mountain protruding through the ice), and remained relatively ice-free.

    June 28, 2016

    Plateau Mountain: AWA Stewardship Report June ’16

    AWA is a Volunteer Steward of Plateau Mountain, an Ecological Reserve in Kananaskis Country. AWA…

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    November 7, 2015

    Plateau Mountain: AWA Stewardship Report Nov ’15

    AWA is a Volunteer Steward of Plateau Mountain, an Ecological Reserve in Kananaskis Country. AWA…

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    October 30, 2015

    Plateau Mountain: AWA Stewardship Report Oct ’15 (2)

    AWA is a Volunteer Steward of Plateau Mountain, an Ecological Reserve in Kananaskis Country. AWA…

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