The Castle is to be closed to motorized recreation and random camping despite clear messages from the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, hereafter “SSRP”, land use process workshops, and repeatedly by Minister Phillips herself, that designated trail systems would remain. Fact is this Minister and the Premier had the Order in Council amending SSRP passed January 20, 2017 that bans OHVs and random camping even though they tout public input into what should be in the Castle that runs through to March 20, 2017. Anyone detect the fix is in and public input counts for close to nothing unless matching the Government’s pet ideology? The Porcupines and Livingstone will be severely cut back in terms of trails along with elimination of random camping. Elevations above 6000’ to be shut down for motorized access to key passes that link to Elkford BC trails. Be aware these land use parameters are to be the template for the rest of AB. As reported in the Herald, per Shannon Phillips, our local Minister of Environment & Parks, this is based on “science”.
Perhaps that claim needs some examination. Linear Footprint, hereafter “LF”, is their “scientific” term for visible linear features on the land. It is deployed as a key driver for eliminating long existing and/or improved trails and thereby traditional user access. Let us look at what constitutes LF. Despite the Minister’s implication that LF is “roads”, it, in fact, under the SSRP includes everything from roads to cut blocks and access links, seismic lines, pipelines, powerlines, O&G well sites and access links, rancher’s access tracks to grazing areas, fence lines, OHV trails and literally anything that appears as a linear feature right down to meandering cow trails. The 2016 Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan states they have no science regarding anything beyond roads, OHVs was a topic for future study, and the primary concern is bear mortality from collisions.
The science related to what is being called LF comes out of the US and its basis is related primarily to highways and their impact on wildlife fatalities. We have all seen signs warning of game crossings on highways. Where migration and game corridors are habitual there may be fencing as well and if deemed critical enough under or over pass infrastructure. We also know that such high risk areas are generally intermittent, not continuous; they are based on studied game movements. Well, the so called SSRP “science” of LF distorts this concept to severely limit trail kilometers by deeming any and all linear features to have continuous and identical impacts. A heavily travelled highway thus has the same weight as a cow trail on game fatality/movement and this is termed “science”?
First there is the matter of physical dimension/magnitude, how much would a wide highway right-of-way of its own deter movement versus say a narrow forestry road, or OHV trail? Observation tells us that even busy highways don’t pose much of a movement restriction as despite preventative measures wildlife crosses and there are fatal collisions. What I am pointing out is that wildlife routinely crosses linear features. And further that wildlife fatalities, a major consideration in such studies, are rare on forestry roads and virtually non-existent on lesser linear features. Most traditional users of the backcountry will tell you that existence of linear features, of themselves, do not curtail game movement and may be routinely used by wildlife.
Intensity of use is not reflected in this LP “science” and that is of utmost importance! A heavily travelled highway is a whole different scenario than a lightly used forestry road, seldom or never used powerline, seismic cutline, or static fence line. The Minister’s SSRP “science” makes no distinction for intensity of activity, or intensity duration of a given LF feature. The “science” is not nuanced by virtue of key game migration patterns/routes or seasonality. There have been no on-the-ground studies of this LF concept in the Castle, Porcupines or Livingstone per Minister’s SSRP staff. Yet the magical illusion of LF “science” will be the primary driver to curtail/limit trails to some factor such as 0.6km of trail per square km, or significantly less as put forward in SSRP workshops. That is not, when it comes to the matter of trails, the Minister’s reported and misleading 1 km to 3.5 km per square km related to roads. And does she propose closing of any access roads?
There are also interpretation issues around DNA documented grizzlies in the SW where doubling of prior count numbers seemingly doesn’t count when it comes to population increases as officially reported. Why doesn’t a doubling count – well they are just tourist bears passing through in their immense ranges. Did the previous lower DNA count get massaged reflecting local bears were tourists off in BC and MT –hell no! Also, adjacent land
conservation programs such as Nature Conservancy of Canada lands are excluded deemed irrelevant to game habitat and conservation in the SSRP. In this later aspect one must ask, “So why are public funds used to co-finance this largely tax driven land scheme if conservation claims are unworthy of inclusion by Government re SSRP planning?” And of the 200 threatened species how many are officially specifically so designated and in which of the official threat categories for same?
When it comes to trails and streams there has long been agreement that they should be bridged, or have proper hardened fords for OHV trails and riparian areas are to be avoided as anyone with a modicum of knowledge of contemporary trail design and construction would know. Significant expenditure of volunteer time and funding has been invested in the Castle and beyond by the Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad to do just that. Not the least being the post 2013 Government funded flood rehabilitation trail program in the Castle Carbondale area completed last year. I believe in responsible trails and helped start a Recreational Access Committee with the Oldman Watershed Council, hereafter OWC, to inform how environmentally responsible trails can be compatible with prudent watershed management. Perhaps the Minister should check with Shannon Frank of OWC and their support for responsible OHV trails communicated to us, hopefully that also hasn’t changed.
As both a non-motorized recreationist and a motorized user who has random camped in AB for over forty years, raised my family to responsibly enjoy these pursuits, I regard myself as being environmentally responsible and take exception to this rushed closure dictate. It leaves me with questions. Why is random camping fine if I merely take my tent and walk a few hundred yards into the bush, setup camp where I can enjoy nature, oh, and dig a cat-hole to bury my excrement or if not responsible just make a deposit behind a bush? Is this more environmentally desirable than a self-contained unit? It also appears acceptable to have cattle defecating in our streams and stomping through riparian areas for trivial grazing fees, but that is okay no wheels involved?
I have long promoted environmentally responsible designated OHV trails including proper management, enforcement, training, funding mechanics along with tourism potential thereof. I have worked for same at local, provincial and national levels for over fifteen years. We know how to build responsible trail systems just check NOHVCC for specifics. My experience has been that politicians are consistently deceptive and managed to screw-up even the best and most responsible of past proposals – that hasn’t changed. What has changed is some Albertans have elected an activist environmentalist as Minister of Environment and Parks and a Premier playing green heroine to chosen special interests.
Environmental activists such as Y2Y, CPAWS, AWA and adjuncts seek to shut down the mountain corridor from some traditional uses. That not only includes motorized access, but also effectively impacts hunting and fishing access along with local community economies that depend on access. Their stated and highly promoted scheme is to have the entire mountain corridor made into a continuum of government designated parks, or equivalents, restricting only some traditional users and impacting local communities all along the mountain corridor of AB, BC and YK. Check a map and see how many mountain corridor parks and equivalent set asides we already have in AB against their Y2Y maps. These activist NGOs are the same tax subsidized, grant funded and professionally managed NGOs whose politicalized agendas attack and undermine our critical resource industries.
In my opinion, for this Minister, who conducts herself as a Greenpeace activist, to claim to be objective is moot and her claimed “science” should not be given a free pass as it essentially has been. One-time electoral aberrations should not be allowed to permanently deny traditional responsible current and future public recreational access to public lands. Parks aren’t top of mind when you are trying to survive job losses and the economic morass inflicted on AB. Many if not most Albertans are unaware of what has hit their traditional recreational access and what it means province wide. If this activist driven closure of our entire mountain corridor is so broadly supported as the Minister and Premier purport, hold an Alberta wide referendum with a clear yes or no, question to have been agreed to in advance by the opposition parties. When reasoned input is ignored and doesn’t work votes will!