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The Waterton Parkland Area of Concern is approximately 472 square kilometres in size and is found in the extreme south-western corner of the province of Alberta.

What makes this area spectacular is that it is the junction of two unique topographical features. The mountains of the continental divide rise abruptly out of undulating grasslands, almost completely without the classic foothills typical in most intervening areas between mountain and prairie. As a result of this crossroads, prairie and mountain species coexist in a relatively small area.

Waterton Parkland is one portion of a larger, international ecosystem termed the “Crown of the Continent” for its position at the narrowest point of the Rocky Mountains.

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


    Waterton Parkland (R. Pharis)


    The Waterton Parkland Area of Concern encompasses Waterton Lakes National Park and surrounding grassland. Waterton Lakes National Park, paired with the adjacent Glacier National Park in the state of Montana, comprises the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is designated a Biosphere Reserve as a part of the United Nation’s Man and Biosphere Program as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Under so many different designations and forms of land ownership, this area is under threat of fragmentation. There is constant pressure for landowners to subdivide their land for holiday housing. In addition, Waterton Parkland’s appeal to hikers, campers and tourists has resulted in associated infrastructure and significant wear-and-tear on the land that needs to be held in check.

    Waterton Parkland Map


    • One piece of the Waterton Parkland is protected: the Police Outpost Provincial Park covers 2.2 square kilometers and has been protected since 1895.
    • More than 100 square kilometres of the private land within the Waterton Parkland is also protected by conservation easements.



    The Waterton Lakes National Park is managed using the following documents:

    • Waterton Lakes National Park is currently managed by its 2010 management plan. The plan emphasizes “improving ecological integrity, the visitor experience, as well as the important role as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site.”
    • Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada Management Plan (2000):  This plans aims to move towards improved ecological integrity while promoting visitors’ experiences through numerous efforts which include encouraging biological diversity, maintaining air quality of the highest standard, supporting wildlife and providing educational opportunities and accessibility to wilderness.  This plan limits growth of the Waterton town site.
    • The Ecosystem Conservation Plan (1998): This document, now merged into the Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada Management Plan, outlines strategies for protecting and restoring the ecological integrity of the park.  Specifically, the plan tackles issues including the declining diversity due to fire suppression and invasion of non-native species, habitat fragmentation, carnivore conservation and changes in aquatic ecosystems.
    • Human Use Management Strategy (draft, called for in the 2000 Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada Management Plan):  This strategy deals with the heavy volume of recreational activities that occur within the National Park and is still in the process of seeking user/stakeholder feedback.

    The Municipal District of Pincher Creek is managed using the Municipal Development Plan (Draft, June 1997).  This plan aims to conserve agricultural land for agricultural purposes, thus protecting the buffer zone surrounding the national park from development.

    IRP map:  JPG | PDF

    Human use

    Heavy human usage is a concern in the Waterton Parkland.  About 400,000 people visit the national park annually and the townsite itself is home to 100 people.  This number swells to 300 during the summer.   More people mean more traffic, more garbage and more infrastructure.

    The health of the regional ecosystem is affected by development of areas surrounding Waterton Parkland.  Ranchland abutting the national park has traditionally created a buffer zone of diffuse human use, extending animal habitat and sheltering the Park from high impact human activities.  However, a growing market for residential and recreational property is threatening to minimize this buffer area and reduce the protection that it provides.  Similarly, drilling in the Castle-Crown area to the north of Waterton further this buffer area, fragmenting and degrading the natural quality of the entire region.


    Coexistence with wildlife is another concern in the Waterton Parkland.  In the national park, ungulates inhabiting the townsite and traffic jams due to visitors stopping to look at wildlife are relatively common.


    • Waterton Parkland encompasses foothills fescue, foothills parkland, sub-alpine and montane natural sub-regions.
    • The land surrounding Waterton Parkland in Alberta and British Columbia is used for mining, oil and gas extraction, recreation, logging and ranching.  The exception is the roadless, protected Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park in British Columbia and the large Glacier National Park found to the south in Montana.
    • To the north and east of the Waterton Parkland lie grassland plains and the Municipal District of Pincher Creek and Cardston.  Land here is generally privately owned by ranchers.
    • The Blood (Kainai) First Nation operates a timber reserve in the valley of the Belly River though there are no permanent residences there. The Blood Indian Reserve land, included in the Area of Concern, is used primarily for farming and livestock purposes.
    • For Waterton Biosphere Reserve management purposes, the Waterton Parkland region is roughly divided into three zones. The core zone of the reserve is the legally protected Waterton Lakes Provincial Park. Outside of this zone lies a buffer zone intended for use by interests compatible with conservation. Beyond this zone lies a privately owned transition zone, or area of cooperation, where sustainable land use practices are meant to be conducted.

    Township and Range map: JPG | PDF

    Natural Subregions map:  JPG | PDF


    • The Waterton Lakes Chain consists of over 100 kilometres of rivers and streams, wetlands, and as many as 80 lakes and ponds.
    • The Waterton and Belly Rivers are the two major regional drainage rivers that empty into the Oldman River Basin, which in turn, empties into the South Saskatchewan River Watershed and heads west to Hudson Bay.
    • Wetlands that exist in the Waterton Parkland are critical habitat for numerous wildlife species.

    Environmentally Significant
    Areas map:  JPG | PDF

    Environmentally Significant Areas

    • The Waterton Lakes National Park is considered to be an internationally significant area because it is home to features unique on the planet.
    • The remaining portion of the Waterton Parkland Area of Concern contains numerous nationally significant areas.  This means that these areas contain features that are limited in distribution at a national or are the best examples of a particular feature in Canada.

    Biodiversity and Ecosystems

    • Waterton Parkland has a rich diversity of wildlife and vegetation because of its location at a junction between grassland and mountain regions.  Species characteristic of the northern and southern Rockies mix and co-exist alongside prairie species.


    • Waterton Parkland is home to extensive plant life that is rare elsewhere in Canada and Alberta.
    • Rare species include mountain lady’s-slipper, Lyall’s scorpionweed, Brewer’s monkeyflower, pygmy poppy, mountain hollyhock western wakerobin, Lewis’ mock-orange, white-veined wintergreen, Waterton moonwort and Bollander’s quillwort—some of which are only found in the Waterton region.


    • A selection of mammals found in the area include : masked shrew, vagrant shrew, water shrew, little brown myotis, long eared myotis, big brown bat, pika, white-tailed jackrabbit, least chipmunk, yellow-pine chipmunk, red-tailed chipmunk, yellow bellied marmot, hoary marmot, Richardson’s ground squirrel, Columbian ground squirrel, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, golden mantled ground squirrel, red squirrel, northern flying squirrel, northern pocket gopher, Beaver, deer mouse, bushy tailed wood rat, Gapper’s Red-backed Mouse, Western jumping mouse, Heather vole, meadow vole, long tailed vole, water vole, muskrat, porcupine, coyote, gray wolf, red fox, black bear, grizzly bear, marten, ermine, long tailed weasel, mink, wolverine, badger, striped skunk, river otter, cougar, lynx, bobcat, elk/wapiti, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, bison, mountain goat, mountain sheet/bighorn sheep,  pygmy shrew, silver haired bat, northern bog lemming, fisher, least weasel,  (Source: J. Dewey Soper, Canadian Wildlife Service, Report Series, number 23)
    • A selection of herptiles found in the area include : boreal toad, spotted frog, long-toed salamander, tiger salamander, boreal chorus frog, northern leopard frog, wandering garter snake, red-sided garter snake, plains garter snake and bull snake.
    • A selection of avifauna in the area include : tundra swans, cinnamon teal, northern shoveler, hooded merganser, bald eagles, Golden eagle, prairie falcon, Canada geese, osprey, sandhill cranes, orange-crowned warbler, MacGillivray’s warbles, Red-breasted nuthatch, boreal chickadee, three-toed woodpecker, white-tailed ptarmigan, gray-crowned rosy finch, rock wren, and Brewer’s sparrow.


    • The Waterton parkland is the traditional home of the Blackfoot First Nation.
    • Abundant archeological sites dating back as far as ~11,000 years dot the Waterton Parkland.
    • Explorers, gold miners, Whiskey runners, and settlers have all called this area home.


    • Upper Waterton Lake Parkland is characterized essentially by a linear geomorphic profile of alpine glaciation as a result of pronounced erosion by glaciers, originating mainly in the mountains to the south and moving in a northward direction. The preglacial valley was deepened and widened by this glacial erosion. Similarly, tributaries to the main Waterton valley tend to be relatively straight or to appear broadly curvilinear in planar view.
    • A thousand million years ago, the Waterton Parkland was flat plain submerged under a shallow sea.  Sedimentary layers were laid over millions of years and compressed into rock.
    • One hundred millions years ago, a massive tectonic plate collision resulted in the formation of the Rocky Mountains.  In some areas, giant blocks of sedimentary rock layers were thrust on top of other others, creating areas where upper rock layers that are millions of years old lie on top of much younger rock layers.  This phenomenon is particularly evident in Waterton Parkland’s Lewis thrust.
    • Although the park currently contains no active glaciers, glaciation has had an enormous impact on the Waterton Parkland.  Glaciers carved the jagged edges of the mountains, deepened the u-shaped mountain valleys and deposited the sediment that forms the rolling grasslands.
    • After the final of four glacial periods that occurred in the area, large blocks of ice that were left in the valley bottoms melted to form deep and beautiful mountain lakes.
    • Two alluvial fans exist in the Waterton Lakes National Park.  The Cameron and Blakiston fans were formed by deposits left by glacier meltwater carrying debris into mountain lakes.  This debris amassed and spread at the mouth of the feeding rivers, resulting in the characteristic fan shape of these geological features that are still in flux due to moving water today.

    May 2016

    Local residents oppose a Parks Canada decision to built a visitor centre into the townsite in Waterton National Park, replacing a 56-year old facility. The new visitor centre will be located near the Townsite Campground and a busy playground. Completion is anticipated for 2019. Visitation in the Park is noted to have increased 50% since 2000.

    February 2015

    Cardston councilors voted against the development application of September 2014 in Boundary Creek. AWA and the landowner group were pleased with the decision, a win for the environment and local people.

    September 2014

    Cardston County Council approved rezoning land adjecent to the Police Outpost Provincial Park and Outpost Wetlands Natural Area from ‘Agriculture’ to ‘Rural Recreation’. This enables developers to apply for a development permit to build anything under ‘permitted uses’ or ‘discretionary uses’ guidelines of the Rural Recreation land use description. Boundary Creek Landowners Group forms with the goal of preserving and protecting agricultural land of Boundary Creek through wise succession planning, land conservation, and active opposition to large, commercial development proposals. They file an appeal to the Court of Queen’s Bench decision. AWA supports the group.

    February-March 2013

    An AESRD “hair snare” study in BMA 6 (south of Highway #3) that uses DNA samples taken from grizzly hair rubs to conduct a population estimate wraps up its second season of data collection. Results from the first season, 2011, indicated the same number of bears on public lands as had been previously estimated to live in all of BMA 6. Results from the second season, 2012, are expected to include private lands, and be finished analysis in June.

     July 2012

    Drywood Yarrow Conservation Partnership host a field day to showcase some of the measures recently introduced to minimize carnivore conflicts, particularly with an increasing local grizzly bear population. Measures include removal of livestock carcasses and electric fencing.

     June 2012

    AWA writes a letter of concern to Cardston County, concerning a proposal by LDS church to establish a large youth camp in the Boundary Creek area. The proposals are denied.


    Draft Management Plan released for Waterton National Park. AWA and other conservation organizations express considerable apprehension at the proposed change in direction for the management of the parks. Whereas the legislated first priority for park management is ecological integrity, this draft plans place far more emphasis than ever before on maximizing the “visitor experience.”

     October 2008

    Results for 2007 grizzly DNA population study are released, estimating 51 grizzlies south of Highway 3. Grizzly biologist Gord Stenhouse is quoted in the Calgary Herald: “With about 65 per cent of the province’s grizzly bear habitat surveyed over four years, […] there have been 230 grizzlies counted.”

    February 2008

    The Chief Mountain Study (CMS), an assessment of the potential cumulative effects of land use in the Waterton Parkland and surrounding regions, reveals key findings which include :

    • Growth in settlements and transportation networks represent significant threats to grassland integrity in the region.
    • Acreages are on track to surpass agricultural residences in area.
    • Wind turbines are becoming a significant land use. They have a relatively small footprint but a potentially high visual impact.
    • The area needed for recreational activities is increasing rapidly and is expected to surpass the energy sector footprint before 2057.
    • Hydrocarbon sector footprint growth is projected to be relatively low compared with other land uses.
    • Conventional oil, natural gas, and coal bed methane activity is projected to be substantially less than projected in the adjacent Southern Foothills Study.
    • The amount of water held in shallow groundwater aquifers is declining.
    • Livestock and humans are primarily responsible for the continuing declines in surface water quality.
    • Native grassland integrity (area presence) is projected to decline.
    • Forest fragmentation is forecasted to increase.
    • Grizzly Bear populations are likely to decline.

     March 2006

    Alberta government announces three year suspension of the spring grizzly bear hunt. Decision is in no small part due to outpouring of opposition from Alberta public, and considerable media coverage. AWA congratulates Minister David Coutts on this decision, but stresses that habitat loss is the number one issues affecting Alberta’s grizzlies, and no recovery will be possible until this is addressed. In a subsequent Calgary Herald on-line poll, 85% of readers agree with the hunt suspension.

     September 2005

    The MD of Pincher Creek throws out proposals by the owners of Waterton Springs campground to change local byelaws to allow for long-term leases for recreational vehicles. This follows considerable local opposition to the plans at a September 14 public hearing. AWA argued that if such a proposal were approved, it would pose an unacceptable threat to the integrity of the adjacent Waterton National Park.

     Spring 2005

    David Coutts, Minister for Sustainable Resource Development, ignores the recommendation of recovery team to suspend the spring grizzly bear hunt, and announces that 73 licences will be issued this spring. A ministerial news release refers to a “conservative approach” to the hunt, and officials cite “anecdotal evidence” that the grizzly population is healthy enough to support a hunt. There is strong opposition to the hunt from environmental groups, Alberta public, scientists and opposition politicians. 10 bears are killed in the spring hunt.


    Dozens of East Kootenay communities back a proposed feasibility study investigating the suggested expansion of Waterton Lakes National Park.  Mining and logging industry supporters, as well as the government of British Columbia who would need to compensate these interests, fear such park expansion.


    An area within the Waterton Lakes National Park is designated as a wilderness area.  Activities that may impair the wilderness character of the area are limited and most motorized access is banned.


    CPAWS promotes a plan to double the size of Waterton Lakes National Park by extending the protected area into British Columbia’s Flathead Valley.

    CPAWS and SAEG (Southern Alberta Environmental Group) submitted a request through the Sierra Legal Defence Fund to federal Envrionment Minister David Anderson requesting that the proposed residential development at the entrance to Waterton Lakes National Park be subject to an environmental assessment.

    Letter noting incidences of livestock trespass in Waterton Lakes National Park is published in Wild Land’s Advocate (WLA, Vol. 9, No. 6, Dec. 2001)


    Waterton Lakes National Park Management Plan released.


    The Ecosystem Conservation Plan for Waterton Lakes National Park released.  This plan is later merged with the Waterton Lakes National Park Management Plan.


    The Akamina-Kishinena Class ‘A’ Provincial Park is established in British Columbia.  This 10,921 ha Wilderness Park lies immediately adjacent to Waterton Lakes National Park and effectively adds to the core area of protected land in the region.

    AWA writes a letter to The Hon. Sheila Copps (Minister of Canadian Heritage) opposing the reopening of a road leading to picnic sites on the Blakiston Fan.  The road is closed to keep natural processes at work and does not prevent visitors from accessing the area by foot.  AWA requests a formal CEAA review if plans exist to rebuild the road.


    The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designates the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park as a World Heritage Site.


    The Waterton Homestead Campground is granted a development permit to lease approximately 200 cottage lots, 15 townhouse units, 30 park model lots, 100 RV pads and associated infrastructure adjacent to the national park.  Conservationists fear that the increased human footprint in the area will further fragment, and have a negative environmental impact, on the region.


    AWA writes a letter to the Municipal District Council of Pincher Creek expressing opposition to a proposal to change the “Waterton Vicinity Protection Zone” for the purpose of permitting a magnetite mine to be developed.


    AWA submits a response to the Waterton Management Plan Review.  In the submission, AWA encourages planners to reroute human traffic through less environmentally sensitive areas, create a First Nations educational exhibit, reclaim disturbed park areas, restrict power boats, place a moratorium on future facilities development, further regulate front and back country camping, and restrict mountain bikes to paved roads.

    The Crown of the Continent Society is created.  This society brings together 30 agencies and stakeholders groups in the Pincher Creek area.  Unfortunately, the society is shut down in 1992 due to conflicting society visions.


    Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.


    Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association is formed, a grass-roots, volunteer-driven group working closely with local people to integrate conservation values with sustainable livelihoods in the reserve area.


    Waterton Biosphere Reserve is designated by UNESCO (United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization) as part of the Man and the Biosphere Program. Waterton is Canada’s second biosphere reserve and the first with a national park at its core. The biosphere reserve program is entirely voluntary – the reserves themselves are voluntary cooperative areas. Biosphere reserves are organized into three zones– a legally protected core area, an adjacent buffer zone with activities that are compatible with conservation objectives, and a transition zone or “area of cooperation” where sustainable land use is practised. Beyond the core, the extent of WBR is not well defined. While the National Park is the core of WBR, the buffer and transition zones are not clearly delineated. The goals of Biosphere Reserves are conserving biological diversity, promoting sustainable use and logistic support.


    Waterton Lakes joins with Montana’s Glacier National Park to form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a world first.

    September 1, 2017

    Conservation Corner: Returning a Lost Species to Waterton Lakes National Park: The Northern Leopard Frog

    Wildlands Advocate article by Niki Wilson The call of a northern leopard frog sounds like…

    Read more »

    October 1, 2016

    Update: Carnivores and Communities in the Waterton Biosphere Reserve

    August 2016 Wildlands Advocate update, by Andrea Johancsik. The Waterton Biosphere Reserve Carnivore Working Group (CWG) hosted…

    Read more »

    February 1, 2013

    Composting Cows to Conserve Carnivores

    Wild Lands Advocate article, February 2013, by Nigel Douglas. If you were making a list…

    Read more »

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