The recent announcement of the legislated protection of the Castle Wildland and Provincial Parks is cause for celebration – both for water, and for the health and well-being of Albertans and all Canadians.
For over 40 years, we have known this area is special and merits protection. It is home to an incredible diversity of natural life and, most importantly, it is headwaters for the Oldman Watershed. Clean water for Albertans and for those downstream is priceless. Because of this, local landowners, businesses, concerned citizens, and a wide range of organizations have worked towards achieving its protection.
A recent Alberta-wide poll showed 88 per cent of Albertans want more wilderness protected. Protection of the Castle, with a focus on low impact recreation, ensures the long-term protection of these lands and waters for future generations.
After months of consultation with the public and stakeholders, including both motorized and non-motorized recreation groups, the creation of the Castle parks reflects what Albertans want from a world-class park: protection of water, nature, and quiet places to hike, fish, camp, picnic, hunt, or just enjoy the outdoors! In fact, 76 per cent of all adult Albertans participate in some form of outdoor recreation with 88 per cent of these users preferring non-motorized recreation. The Castle is an amazing gift to the citizens of our province with the addition of two parks to Alberta’s amazing protected areas network.
However, putting conservation first has led to some difficult decisions with respect to high impact uses. Science has shown that to protect the water and other important ecological values, forestry and off-highway vehicle (OHV) use are not appropriate for this sensitive region.
Low-impact recreationalists who have been displaced from the region by motorized users can now return to the special places they love. Local landowners and ranchers who have stewarded both public and private lands can now know their efforts will not be undone by high-impact industrial or recreational land-uses. The parks will be open for all Albertans – just not their machines.
Government and stakeholders are working diligently to find solutions for regulated and properly managed OHV use in less sensitive areas, recognizing that responsible users require this outdoor space as well. The protection of Castle Wildland and Provincial Parks isn’t about taking nature away from Albertans; it is about seeing the bigger picture, planning accordingly, and putting water first so these beautiful, outdoor spaces are protected for future generations.
Finally, creating two new parks in the Castle region is a great step towards reaching international targets of 17 per cent protected lands. This recent announcement shows Canada taking a leadership role in respect to conservation and putting nature at the forefront of our decision-making to ensure a sustainable future. However, the increasing consensus is nature needs much more than 17 per cent to be healthy, and meet our own needs, well into the future.
As we celebrate this momentous announcement, we encourage our government to continue creating protected areas throughout Alberta and to find solutions to land-use issues on public lands which respect science-based limits for our lands and waters.
Executive Director, CPAWS Southern Alberta