Protecting Castle parks important for future generations
By Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge West and Minister of Environment & Parks
It’s a majestic natural wonder, sacred to Indigenous peoples, home to more than 200 rare or at-risk species and a destination for thousands of visitors each year. And now, at last, the Castle area of southwest Alberta, a jewel in the "Crown of the Continent’" is protected for future generations.
Last week, I joined Premier Notley as we announced two new Castle parks, unveiling a plan we first committed to in September 2015. The Castle Wildland Provincial Park and Castle Provincial Park will safeguard 103,000 hectares, more than 1,000 square kilometres of prime habitat on the eastern slopes of the Rockies.
It’s a vital wildlife corridor between the Yellowstone and the Yukon, a place where grizzlies lumber past whitebark pines. It’s where bull trout lunch on caddisflies in streams trickling from the headwaters of the Oldman River Basin. Albertans have repeatedly told me that we need to take steps to protect this treasure. Many have worked for decades to get to this point.
Blackfoot people have been stewards of the Castle area for countless generations. As Piikani Nation Chief Stanley Charles Grier said, this is where the Siksikatsiitapii Creation Story was first told. And this is where First Nations will play a role in co-operative management, creating employment and economic opportunities for the entire region.
At last, the Castle area of southwest Alberta, a jewel in the "Crown of the Continent’" is protected for future generations.
We can diversify our economy and create new jobs without sacrificing our drinking water or the ecological integrity of southwest Alberta. To that end, the two new Castle parks complement each other, a mirror of the twin priorities of conservation and recreation. The wildland provincial park offers a higher threshold of protection; the provincial park supports a wider range of tourism and recreation activities.
There is still a lot work ahead. On the Alberta Environment and Parks website, we have posted a draft management plan developed with key stakeholders in the area over the past 16 months. Over the next 60 days, we want all Albertans to take a look and have their say. Our government is committed to doing what we can to ensure these parks balance human activity and the need to protect biodiversity, sensitive fish and wildlife habitats, the watershed, and our drinking water source for all of southern Alberta.
Any management plan must consider the scope of recreational activities and where investments in infrastructure are needed. To protect environmentally sensitive areas, we may have to narrow what takes place where. The draft plan we have considers several of these possibilities. One is a three- to five-year plan to phase out off-highway vehicle use, with reclamation of unauthorized trails throughout the parks.
Finding balance doesn’t always mean easy conversations, but ones that are nevertheless important for our kids and grandkids. There are other places some of these recreational activities might take place in the region. That’s why it’s important to look to recreation management planning and appropriate infrastructure development in the Crowsnest Pass and elsewhere.
Albertans want access to high-quality outdoor experiences, where we protect our natural landscapes and grow and diversify the economy. The Castle parks reflect what Albertans have told us is important to them: a sacred space for countless generations. And now, at last, we are making sure the Castle area is protected for countless generations to come.
First published in the Lethbridge Herald, Feb. 1, 2017.