Monday, January 25, 2016

Conservation community calls for swift action to protect Alberta’s headwaters

Press release - Representing tens of thousands of members and supporters across the province, Alberta’s conservation community is today calling for strict limits on off-highway vehicles (OHVs) on public lands, and a ban on OHVs in parks and protected areas across Alberta’s Eastern Slopes.

“Alberta’s Eastern Slopes – our mountains and foothills – are a unique, globally important landscape that support threatened species such as the grizzly bear, westslope cutthroat trout and woodland caribou,” says Kevin Van Tighem, conservationist and author of Heart Waters: Sources of the Bow River. “They are also the source of drinking water for Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, and across the prairies.”

Naturalist Charlie Russell says, "It makes me wonder where our society is going. We are destroying ourselves. It seems that because we need our local businesses to grow, we sell inappropriate vehicles to as many people as we can, and give them permission to rip and tear up our public lands at will. These are lands that I grew up on when they were pristine and would have remained that way. My father Andy would be horrified at what is now happening in the Eastern Slopes."

“Logging, mining, and oil and gas development have all taken a heavy toll on Alberta’s headwaters,” says Stephen Legault of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. “Because of the sheer volume of trails, and where those trails are, the damage caused by OHVs is on the same scale. It’s time to put watershed protection and wildlife conservation ahead of unregulated motorized recreation.”

“The Eastern Slopes are covered with a network of roads, trails, power lines, seismic lines and pipeline access routes that cover nearly every square kilometer of land, the majority of which are used and abused by OHVs,” says Joanna Skrajny, Conservation Specialist at Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA). Lorne Fitch, P. Biologist adds, “Species at risk including grizzly bear, native trout, and woodland caribou have all suffered major population declines due to excessive industrial activity and motorized recreation on the landscape. This issue is even more urgent with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ recent emergency protection order for critical westslope cutthroat trout habitat in Alberta.”

One of the key concerns raised by the conservation community is the proposal that could allow OHV activity within the Castle Parks. “Motorized recreation has no place in our parks and conservation areas,” says Peter Sherrington, Vice President of Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition. “Albertans love the outdoors. Eighty-eight percent of Albertans' recently surveyed say they want more wilderness protected. Eighty-six percent prioritize non-motorized recreation, and many say that OHV use interferes with their ability to enjoy wildlife and the quiet of the outdoors.”

The groups are calling on the provincial government to reject the policies of the previous government and to immediately undertake the following:
  • Ban OHVs from protected areas in Alberta’s Eastern Slopes, including the new Castle Parks, and from areas identified by the province as Prime Protection and Critical Wildlife Zones.
  • Permanently close and decommission trails in westslope cutthroat trout habitat.
  • Reduce the existing road and motorized trail density in Alberta’s Eastern Slopes to scientifically defensible levels.

The communiqué was sent to the Government of Alberta on January 13, 2016. The groups are asking that these steps be taken before May to begin to reverse the destruction of Alberta’s Eastern Slopes.
To read the full communiqué, click here.

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