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WLA Editorial: Will We Let a Devil Roam the Castle?

September 4, 2015

Fist-pump, then furrowed brow – that’s how I reacted to the provincial government’s September 4, 2015 announcement that the Castle would be added to Alberta’s provincial and wildland parks system. So many people – James Tweedie, Judy Huntley, Dave Sheppard and Gordon Petersen come immediately to mind – have campaigned tirelessly for years to extend genuine, meaningful protection to this special place. When the parks were announced Gordon told Global News how important a fully-protected Castle was to the health of Waterton National Park and the Crown of the Continent lands. So, after the fist pump, I thanked Premier Notley and Minister Shannon Phillips for what I thought they had done.

The furrowed brow? It’s because of the details. Don’t believe for one second that the announcement necessarily guarantees the level of protection we’ve sought. The province simply doesn’t tell the truth when its news release trumpets: “Province to fully protect Castle area.” Sorry…but simply turning the Castle into two Alberta parks doesn’t come anywhere close to fully protecting this area. Look at the list of activities the province says it will allow in the Wildland Park and the Provincial Park. That list makes it abundantly clear that the government’s promise of full protection is an illusion.

Is exploiting oil and gas consistent with full protection of the Castle? Apparently so. The province plans to honour existing commitments in both Castle parks.

Will new oil and gas leases be granted in these parks? You bet. Sure there won’t be any new surface access allowed but it also likely means the brakes will be applied to efforts to close and restore existing access routes in the parks.

Will off-highway vehicles and snowmobiles be allowed in both parks? Absolutely. They will be allowed not only on designated trails in both parks but also in whatever a “designated area” amounts to. Not even the previous government allowed OHVs in provincial parks (well, with the notorious exception of Lakeland).

How about cows? Will Bessie and Molly (our cover girls for the June issue) get to stretch out in the Castle alpine after munching and trampling some of that area’s biodiversity? You bet. Existing grazing leases in both parks go unchallenged. Our friend ecological integrity might be even more offended by the province’s statement that new grazing will be allowed in the Castle parks (“subject to grazing suitability assessment” – whatever that means).

Did you know that, under previous governments, hunting was prohibited as a rule in Alberta’s provincial parks (the only exception to this was the elk cull in Cypress Hills Provincial Park)? The Notley government’s Castle announcement opens the door to hunting in another provincial park. Hunting will be allowed in the new provincial park. Unlike the case in Cypress Hills there’s no ecological justification for this decision. It’s absurd.

Those who write for this magazine and work for AWA on behalf of wild landscapes in Alberta have time and again documented the destruction that resource exploitation, cattle grazing, and OHV use do. If the above provisions stand they will suck much of the promise out of the decision to turn these special lands into parks.

There may still be time to ensure the promise of early September is realized. We are in the midst of a (unnecessarily brief) 30-day consultation period. We have until October 5, 2015 to make our concerns heard. Please…care enough about this special place to tell the government what needs to be done to “fully protect” it. No petroleum, no cattle, no OHVs, no hunting. Use the online form (http://www.albertaparks.ca/consult), send an email to ParkNews@gov.ab.ca, Minister Shannon Phillips, and Premier Notley.

Do it to ensure that fully protecting this area is more than just a spin doctor’s headline; do it to finish well the work of James, Judy, Gordon, and the other enthusiasts of protecting the Castle.

-Ian Urquhart, Wild Lands Advocate Editor

Wilderness is not – and should not be – a past and vanishing force in life. It is, as far as anyone can see into the future in our rapidly changing and uncertain world, an abiding value.
- George Marshall
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