Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips issued the following statement regarding public information sessions on the Bighorn Country proposal:
“The Bighorn region of the Rocky Mountains is one of the most stunning landscapes on Earth, beloved by all Albertans who seek out our wilderness for adventure, for connecting with family, for escape from the daily grind, for solitude, relaxation and connection with nature.
“With so much to offer, it’s no surprise that so many Albertans are deeply passionate about the Bighorn. In fact, the local stewardship in this area has been impressive, and I want to once again commend the local volunteers who have spent decades taking it upon themselves to preserve and manage the Bighorn.
“But with a booming population, problems are being felt on the landscape. There are conflicts between user groups, a lack of basic infrastructure and enforcement, and encroaching impacts on wildlife and natural ecosystems. Today, we’re running the risk of losing the very things that make Bighorn special.
“That is why our government has come forward with a proposal for Bighorn Country that would create new opportunities for conservation, economic development, tourism and recreation in the region.
“But we know that in order for this plan to be successful, it must be built on the values of the Albertans who have used this land for generations. Our engagement process has reached more than 30,000 Albertans so far, as well as municipalities, recreation groups, small businesses and industrial operators.
“This engagement is ongoing, and will be critical to shaping this proposal. The proposal released in November is not set in stone. We have received lots of great feedback and want to hear more from all Albertans and, importantly, from residents and avid users of this area to ensure the proposal is shaped by local feedback.
“However, in recent weeks I have become increasingly concerned about the inflamed rhetoric and inaccurate statements made by some organizations and individuals on social media. This has led to significant misinformation on the status and substance of the proposal for Bighorn Country and, more recently, allegations of bullying, abuse, and concerns over personal safety.
“I have heard stories of Albertans afraid to attend community events, Albertans berated in public, Albertans followed home, and Albertans feeling intimidated to not speak their mind or participate in this important discussion. These reports are not only deeply concerning, this behaviour is not reflective of the values we all share. I call on all of my elected colleagues to denounce the bullying and harassment being faced by Bighorn supporters.
“As we do not feel we can guarantee the public’s safety or freedom from intimidation at this time, I am very disappointed to announce that the upcoming sessions for Drayton Valley, Red Deer, Sundre and Edmonton will be cancelled. The Government of Alberta will immediately re-evaluate our engagement plans in order to ensure Albertans in the communities of Drayton Valley, Red Deer, Sundre and Edmonton can participate safely.
“Government will also schedule two telephone town hall sessions where Albertans from Drayton Valley and Red Deer will have the opportunity to engage government officials directly with their questions about the proposal. To accommodate this work, the engagement period will be extended to February 15, 2019.
“We will continue to engage with all Albertans in the weeks to come. We believe our proposal for Bighorn Country sets the stage to achieve the right balance of environmental, economic, Indigenous and social values and goals. We’ve developed this proposal thoughtfully and have used what we’ve heard from 30 years of consultations to draft it.
“We’re not done yet. We need your help. We continue to listen to Albertans and hear your feedback. But this must be done in a respectful way – a way that ensures everyone feels safe and welcome to participate. I ask all Albertans to think hard about the future of this stunning region, and what it will mean for future generations.”
The following sessions are cancelled:
Monday, Jan. 7, 2019
Drayton Valley – Drop-in Public Information Session
MacKenzie Conference Centre
5745 45 Avenue
6 to 9 p.m.
Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019
Red Deer – Drop-in Public Information Session
German-Canadian Club of Red Deer
38167 Range Road 280
6 to 9 p.m.
Monday, Jan. 14, 2019
Sundre – Drop-in Public Information Session
Sundre Community Centre
3, 96 2 Avenue NW
4 to 9 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019
Edmonton – Drop-in Public Information Session
Radisson Edmonton South
4440 Gateway Boulevard
4 to 9 p.m.
- Bighorn Country includes public lands from the boundary of Banff National Park eastward towards Drayton Valley. It includes Clearwater County, most of Brazeau County and the current Bighorn Backcountry management area.
- The Bighorn region is recognized for its scenic beauty and natural diversity. It includes scenic mountains and foothills, rare plants and key habitat for numerous species at risk such as grizzly bear, wolverine, harlequin duck, Athabasca rainbow trout and bull trout.
- The headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River and Red Deer River are located within Bighorn Country, providing clean drinking water to more than one-million Albertans.
- Sharing this busy landscape is a wide variety of recreation and tourism activities. Hunting and fishing are popular, as well as camping, hiking, off-highway vehicle use, horseback riding, ice climbing and cross-country skiing.
- The Bighorn Country proposal includes new, expanded or amended parks, protected areas and public land use zones. This system of public lands is intended to provide a range of opportunities that suits the settings and demands of the region.
- The proposal means no significant change to recreation activities, but offers $40 million in new investment to improve services and infrastructure such as campsites, parking lots, trails and staging areas.
- The proposal supports continued practice of traditional uses and the exercise of treaty rights by Indigenous Peoples.