Calgary, AB – To appease a noisy minority, the Government of Alberta appears to be opening the door for motorized recreation and industry in the Castle Parks, despite the direction of public consultation on creation and management of the parks.
In 2017, the Castle Parks in southwestern Alberta were officially designated. Based on the longest and most extensive public consultation in Alberta Parks’ history, a management plan was developed that reflects the wishes and directions expressed by the people of Alberta.
CPAWS Southern Alberta received results of the consultation from a Freedom of Information and Privacy (FOIP) request, which states: “A 90-day public consultation period was held from January 20th to April 19th, 2017. Input was received by the Alberta government in a variety of ways, including online surveys, correspondences and face-to-face meetings. Input included approximately 7,200 online surveys with over 10,000 written comments, 1,200 letters and email submissions, three public information sessions, and over 20 stakeholder meetings (including the recreational community, environmental organisations, and local governments).”
The FOIP also indicates that a total of 65 percent of respondents to the public consultation were supportive of the Castle Management Plan, which included a complete phase-out of off-highway vehicles from the Castle Parks.
Two drafts were released during the consultation period, both including a phase-out. Sixty-one percent of respondents were in favour of the first draft and 72% in favour of an updated second draft, which clarified several areas of the plan, creating a total of 65% support for either draft plan.
“We appreciate that the Minister has stated he is open to hearing from stakeholders but unfortunately we don’t believe that was the approach taken,” says Katie Morrison, Conservation Director with CPAWS Southern Alberta. “Instead of respecting the wishes of all Albertans as expressed through the Castle management planning process, it appears they are opening the door for motorized users by asking the Livingstone-Porcupine Hills, Recreational Advisory Group (LPH RAG)—a group whose main focus is motorized recreation in an entirely different location, and under a much different land classification—to look at re-establishing motorized trails in the Castle Parks.”
“It’s outrageous,” says Gordon Petersen of the Pincher Creek-based Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition (CCWC). “After decades of work, the Castle Parks were established to protect a unique and valuable ecosystem and now, through the LPH RAG, this government wants to give motorized recreation groups, Spray Lake Sawmills, and the coal-mining company Riversdale Resources a direct role in managing the Castle Parks.”
Petersen continued, “To a large extent, parks are created to protect wild lands, watersheds, and wildlife from industrial development and motorized use, and here the government is putting the foxes in charge of guarding the hen house.”
“For decades, Albertans have made it clear that the priority for the Castle Parks is to manage for healthy ecosystems and non-motorized recreation. After exhaustive public consultation, the resulting management plan reflects this desire,” continued Morrison. “The vast majority of Albertans who live, recreate, and rely on the Castle for invaluable ecosystem services support the removal of off-highway vehicle trails. Albertans need to know that their input is being ignored, and that the beauty and peace of Castle Parks are being eroded.”
The CPAWS Southern Alberta chapter was established in 1967 in response to citizens’ concerns over commercial development pressures in Banff National Park. Today, we work with Albertans to establish and protect parks and wilderness areas from Red Deer to Alberta’s southern border, including well-known areas such as Kananaskis, the Whaleback and the Castle Wilderness. We also offer environmental education in the classroom and interpretive hikes in nature to foster a new generation of environmental stewardship.