Potential OHV use in Castle area concerns environmentalists
It's unclear whether ATVs and offroad vehicles will be allowed in the new parks
A southern Alberta wilderness coalition is criticizing the provincial government for repairing flood-damaged offroad trails in the future Castle Provincial Park, saying there is already too much development in the area.
In September, the province halted logging in the area near Pincher Creek ahead of an announcement that two new parks would be created an expanded "wildland provincial park" and a new provincial park.
Since then, the government has spent $130,000 on rehabilitating multi-use trails using funding from the federal Disaster Recovery Program.
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That doesn't sit well with the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition.
"We have argued against those trails going into the headwaters since 1993 and all we have seen is proliferation of them, and proliferation into every watershed in the Castle," said coalition president James Tweedie.
He said he's exasperated, adding the coalition believes there are already far too many roads and trails in the area, which is considered core grizzly bear habitat. The area is also under a critical habitat order for west-slope cutthroat trout.
OHV permissions unclear
According to the Alberta Parks website, off-highway vehicle (OHV) use is not permitted in provincial parks. However, an information brochure issued by the province states that OHVs will be allowed in both the future wildland provincial park and the provincial park.
A provincial spokesperson wouldn't confirm whether the vehicles will be permitted.
"As the department moves forward with developing the park management plan for the Castle there will a discussion with key stakeholders on establishing permitted uses on the land base," said Janice Coffin, the director of communications for Alberta Environment and Parks, in an email.
"As the park management plan is developed, strategies will be developed to ensure headwater protection and to identify sensitive species and develop management strategies to ensure their protection."
The Castle area covers nearly 104,000 environmentally diverse hectares and is a major wildlife corridor for many animals, including grizzlies.
"We will be diligent in our efforts to ensure minimal human-grizzly bear conflict and habitat disturbance," said Coffin.
"We know grizzly bears in the area are recovering well. A recently completed population study indicates a four per cent annual growth rate."
But Tweedie, who called it an "affront" that OHVs would be permitted in the parks, said the province should be spending money on removing the trails, not repairing them.
"When we lauded the government for protecting the Castle with a wildland and a provincial park, that came with the expectation that offroad vehicle activity would certainly cease in the provincial park," he said.
"Since September, the government has continued to spend money all through November and even into early December on a system of trails that has never been reviewed, has never been revised or pulled back from the headwaters."
For its part, the province says the damaged trails needed to be repaired.
"These are multi-use trails and they have tremendous social, recreational, economic, and environmental value," said Coffin.
"Leaving backcountry trails unrepaired presents a public safety risk. It was noted that people continued to access and use damaged trails, despite the fact they were closed."
With files from Tim Devlin, CBC News