Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Stock associations air Castle Provincial Park concerns to MD of Pincher Creek council

Josh Davis

On Tuesday November 10, 2015, a delegation consisting of Brent Barbero of the Pincher Creek Stockmen’s Association and Darryl Carlson of the Twin Butte Stock Association met with Municipal District of Pincher Creek #9 Council regarding the proposed Provincial Park in the Castle Special Management Area and grazing in the forestry. Other concerned cattle producers were also present.

In a letter sent ahead of time to council Barbero stated the following:

“We understand you will have an opportunity to speak to the Minister of Environment this month, so meeting with you prior to that would be appreciated. Currently there are 27 family cattle operations that rely on their forestry permits for summer grazing of cattle. The majority of these operators belong to the Pincher Creek Stockman's Association and the Twin Butte Stock Association. These permits have a value which is now in question with the proposed Provincial and Wildland Park. The value is in the improvements members have made in their allotments. Brush has been cleared, water developments built, extensive fencing and corral systems built and maintained,” wrote Barbero.

“Stewardship is a primary goal of forest reserve grazers. We pay yearly grazing fees; have developed a program to pay for our Range Management Plans when government could no longer find the funds or resources to keep them up to date. We also understand other Industrial users face cuts and or removal plus red tape with the introduction of the park too. This will have broader implications for our MD. Simple things that the local community all take part in such as rail cutting, hunting, firewood and Christmas tree cutting may be eliminated.”

“We were invited to meet with the Land Use Secretariat (LUS) last month. It was a productive meeting, but left many questions unanswered. Most unsettling was the responses that we would figure it out as we proceed. We believe all the questions and concerns need to be answered before any new designation is thrust upon us,”

“The reason we’re here is, as you’re all aware, the government has announced a proposed parks and wildland area in the Castle forestry,” said Carlson. “We have some concerns about this.” The delegation argued that “We as grazers in the forestry feel that we have done a very good job in providing some stewardship for the area.” Carlson explained, “We have done way less damage than the recreational people have done up there."  He also spoke on the personal time and money invested by local grazers in providing trying to maintain the stability of grazing in the forestry. Carlson stated that they had done this in several ways, including their role in the voluntary, government mandated Forestry Reserve Review Committee, which both speakers are members of. “One of the main thing the committee did was we created the Rocky Mountain Forest Range Association (RMFRA),” said Carlson. “As a grazer in the forestry we pay a due to the RMFRA. And they take that money, and they hire and agrologist go in, and do range assessments on the various allotments.” The RMFRA then uses this data to develop a range management plan with the stakeholders.

“The other concern we have is that if this park becomes a reality, it will be under the park’s jurisdiction. We are afraid that if it becomes that way that it may be administered by parks people, rather than by forestry people, who have some knowledge and experience in range management,” Carlson continued. “The parks people are not trained in that area, and they have a different agenda.”

Carlson also raised concerns regarding security of tenure. “We now have some security of tenure where if you do things right you can get up to 10 years tenure on grazing. And we feel that this is very important.” He cited a study released by the Fraiser Institute stressing the importance of tenure in the forestry.

Another issue is the eastern boundary of the proposed park, which is on the Shell Loop Road. “The problem is, the Shell road does not follow the forestry boundary.” As a result of this, Carlson is concerned the small area between the Shell Loop Road and the forestry boundary that may become a may become a free-for-all. “This creates a problem. It creates another problem for users in the forestry, because we won’t know who we’ve got to answer to, basically, in that scenario.” Carlson hopes that the government may take a second look on that issue.

Barbero then spoke on the economics of the situation. “There are roughly 27 families that run cattle between the Crowsnest and the Waterton boundary, and that’s just the guys whose names are on permits. A lot of these families are extended.” Barbero wanted to stress how important that grazing is to those operations. “That’s basically what makes these operations viable, that little bit of extra grazing.”

“The Park’s not really pro-agriculture. They say grazing is going to stay. It might. It might not. What we’re worried about it five years down the road,” said Barbero.

The mention of hotels and campgrounds on the proposed Park’s questionnaire is also a concern for Barbero. “For that to be a viable unit up there we have to move cattle all the way from the north end of Lynch Creek all the way to the corrals right on highway 774. If they start cutting it up with campgrounds and hotels, in the end it’s just going to be difficult to run cattle.” Barbero also said plans for recreation in the area are unsustainable.

Barbero mentioned that the Alberta Wilderness Association and Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition are pushing back against the proposed park, believing that there shouldn’t be hunting or cattle there, and that instead the location should be a national park. “We’re worried about where that’s going to go. Whose side is the Minister going to take in the end?”

Apart from the stock associations, the region’s independent grazers manage about 1700 pairs of cattle, worth about $3000 per unit. “That’s a significant industry,” said Councillor Fred Schoening. Councillor Schoening then asked “How have the numbers changed with range improvement?”

Barbero explained that three years ago his association got an increase in the number of animals they could run, a change since the cutbacks in the 1970s. He explained that the increases are temporary, while they examine the effect of the increases, but that through the range management plans they determined that those numbers are currently sustainable. Carlson said their primary purpose is to maintain the numbers they have.

Reeve Brian Hammond then asked whether the Stockmen have a positive relationship with members of the forestry industry. Barbero said yes. “Their guys are excellent. Years ago it was administered by Lands and Forests. They didn’t have a specific guy for range. Now they do.” Reeve Hammond then asked whether they received any sympathy around the importance and necessity of grazing as a land management tool from the land use. Barbero said that their response was positive, and the understand fire control and the importance of mimicking what Bison did in the past in these areas.

Councillor Gary Marchuk said “We’re kind of in the dark here also. We’ve heard the exact same things that you have. Hopefully we’ll get some clarification on this.”

Councillor Terry Yagos asked if the delegation had sent their presentation to the Environment Minister. Reeve Hammond then asked the delegation to give a detailed insightful list of three or four of their concerns, stating that they must all “sing from the same songbook.” The first issue raised was the Stockmen’s stewardship. The second issue raised was keeping their tenure. The third issue raised was the impact on joining properties, and the influence Parks and MD may have on each other. The fourth issue raised was grazing administration, and the use of knowledgeable grazing management.

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