September 9th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 35
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Notley government protects Castle area
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Ezra Black Photo
Friday at the Stone’s Throw Cafe, Shannon Phillips, Environment and Parks Minister, announced the Castle area would be protected by the creation of a wildland and a provincial park.
EZRA BLACK
Pass Herald Reporter
While Stone’s Throw Cafe regulars navigated the crowd of conservationists and reporters in search of their morning coffee, Shannon Phillips, Environment and Parks Minister, took to a jury rigged soapbox to announce that commercial forestry in the Castle Special Management Area had been stopped and the process to designate the entire area under parks’ legislation had begun.

And just like that, the Pass became a park town.

In what is sure to have a radical effect on the community’s economic and cultural future, the Castle area, which encompasses virtually all the land south of the municipality and west to the B.C. border and then southeast all the way to Waterton Lakes National Park, is to be divided into a provincial park and a wildland park.

The two proposed parks would total more than 1,000 square kilometres, about doubling the amount that would have been protected under the previous Conservative government’s plan.

“Today we solidify the Castle area as a true gem in the crown of the continent,” said Phillips to a capacity crowd at the Blairmore cafe Friday morning. “All eyes are on Alberta’s international reputation right now, especially regarding the environment.”

For many of the cheering conservationists who gathered for the announcement, the government’s decision represents the culmination of a decades long struggle.

“This association started 50 years ago to try and see parts of the Castle protected,” said Christyann Olson, executive director of the Alberta Wilderness Association. “Fifty years later we’ve achieved that goal.”

The Castle area - comprised of mountains, foothills, forests, grasslands and wetlands - provides critical habitat for grizzly bears, wolverines and west-slope cutthroat trout and acts as a key wildlife corridor.
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It is also the source of 30 per cent of the water for the Oldman River basin, which supplies water for downstream communities like Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

In addition to the logging ban, no new oil and gas tenures will be issued and no new mineral tenures will be sold but existing agreements will be honoured.

Under the previous government’s plan, mining, forestry and the oil and gas industry would have continued to operate.

“The Castle area has one of the highest biodiversity’s of any place in Canada,” said Peter Sherrington, vice-president of the Castle Crown Wilderness Association. “It’s an absolute wonder, and yet it has been regarded as an industrial sacrifice area.”

Several of those industries expressed concern with the government’s decision.

Spray Lakes Sawmills, which holds the forestry lease in the area and was set to cut down about 99,000 cubic metres of timber in the Castle area, could not be reached for comment, but the decision has angered the forestry industry.

“It feels to us a bit like we’re being vilified,” Brock Mulligan of the Alberta Forest Products Association told The Canadian Press.

Riversdale Resources owns several mining leases and freehold land within the area of the two parks. Some of the freeholds date back about a hundred years from mines operating in the early 1900s.

David Leslie, Riversdale’s vice-president of Technical Services, said the company has not held internal discussions about the implications of the government’s decision.

“We are aware of the initial announcement,” he said. “We don’t know if there’s any impact at this point. We need to see the final legislation from the government and what impact that might have.”

Parks to grow the region’s economy through tourism and recreation

Is the Pass going to be a new Canmore?

“Could be,” said longtime resident David McIntyre.

“If they [the NDP] follow through on this, I embrace it in the strongest sense because I think it will do two huge things: It will give us an ecotourism type economy, a higher end economy that will generate a lot of jobs, and for the very first time we will have a headwaters landscape that is receiving protection.”
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The provincial park would have full camping facilities while the wildland park would have only limited backcountry camping. Though both activities would be prohibited in the provincial park, hunting and off-highway-vehicle use are permitted in many of the province’s wildland parks.

“All responsible ATV riders only use the trails in any event so this should not have an impact on us,” said Gary Clark, president of the Quad Squad in an email interview. “New park systems should bring in more people to the area and that is always a bonus to the local economy.”

Holding up the example of tourism led economic development in Kananaskis Country, which she said has created 3000 fulltime jobs over the past decades, Phillips said the parks would provide a foundation for growing the regional economy around recreation.

“The Pass has a rich labour history so I know a lot about this region,” she said. “What I’ve heard from business owners since 2012 is parks designation for Castle was an important part of economic development here.”

Kevin Kelly, owner of a bed and breakfast in Beaver Mines, applauded the government’s move.

“Beaver Mines is the gateway to the Castle,” said Kelly. “It’ll put us on the international stage with Glacier and Waterton. People will seek out this area to come visit.”

Other entrepreneurs were less optimistic. Brian Gallant, owner of the Full Moon Adventure Company, said parks status could limit some types of recreational activity.

“I’m very much for protecting the area,” said Gallant in a Facebook post. “But there may be unintended consequences to this. Despite the pledge to develop tourism, wildlands are not typically open to large scale commercial recreation… this could shut out events like the Sinister 7 Ultra.”

Opposition weighs in on NDP’s plan

“I can’t believe the arrogance of our current government,” said Wildrose Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier in a telephone interview Friday. “This came as a total surprise. There had been talk with the previous government on amending the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan but nothing has occurred since.”

Stier said the NDP would have to negotiate fair market compensation for the land, lease and licence holders affected by this decision.
“With the NDP ending new natural resources industries in the Castle, Wildrose can only hope the development of the tourism industry can offset the economic impact of these decisions,” he said in a press release.

The province’s next step will be to develop a plan to manage services for recreation and tourism in both parks. A public comment period began Friday and will last for 30 days. To participate, visit www.albertaparks.ca/consult

The newly proposed parks build on the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, which will need to be amended once the fall session of the legislature begins.

The park management planning process is likely to begin next year.
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September 9th ~ Vol. 85 No. 35
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