Friday, January 20, 2017

Castle parks draft management plan released at Pincher Creek event

Premier Rachel Notley, Minister Shannon Phillips, and private citizens at today's announcement
Photos/video C. Davis/T.Lucas except where otherwise noted

C. Davis / T. Lucas - Today, Friday January 20, 2017, a press conference was held at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek.   Presenters included Premier Rachel Notley, Minister of Environment and Parks and Minister Responsible for the Climate Change Office Shannon Phillips, and Piikani First Nation Chief Stanley Charles Grier.  The occasion was the official release of the Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park Draft Management Plan, which among other things sets the boundaries of the expanded Castle Wildland Provincial Park and the new Castle Provincial Park.
“Our government committed to Albertans to strengthen protection of the Castle area, part of the ‘Crown of the Continent.’ There is still a lot of work ahead, but the establishment of these new parks sets in motion our ability to implement the values of protection, conservation, recreation and tourism opportunities in this important region.” - Rachel Notley, Premier

In attendance were several members of area councils including Mayor Don Anderberg and Reeve Brian Hammond. Over 200 hundred citizens were in attendance, as well as reporters and crews from several media outlets including local press. Also in attendance were members of several conservation groups and environmental advocates, area farmers and ranchers, OHV enthusiasts, students from local schools (and St. Michael's Principal Don Kuchison), outdoors enthusiasts, scientists, environmental advocatesand representatives from Napi's Playground.

It was to a degree a volatile mix, and the norms of decorum were breached several times during the event. Premier Notley and Minister Phillips were both cheered and booed during their entrance, announcements, and exit.

Napi Playground Elementary Dance Troups and Piikani Secondary School Princess

Right foreground - local students getting involved in the civic process

The event began with traditional Blackfoot drumming and a performance by Piikani Nation Secondary School dance troupe and Piikani Secondary School Princess.  Minister Phillips then gave some introductory comments before turning the mic over to Premier Notley.

Premier Rachel Notley
Premier Notley said "In our province the landscape is part who we are.  We are campers, we are hikers, we are mountain bikers, and we are much more."  She spoke of how natural areas are a way to unwind and reconnect with nature.  "Increasingly, our wild areas are also a refuge for endangered species.  And they draw visitors and tourists to marvel at some of the most magnificent landscapes anywhere on the earth."

"Wilderness areas are delicate and we have a responsibility and an obligation to protect them."

"Alberta has a government focused on preserving them for all time."   Notley said the Castle area has over 200 rare or at-risk species.  "Families can camp and hike, children can get their first taste of nature, and indigenous people can share and celebrate their history and their culture.  In September 2015, a few months after taking office we promised  to fully protect the Castle.   Today, I'm very pleased to announce that we are establishing the Castle Provincial Park, and the expanded Castle Wildland Provincial Park. Thanks to these actions more that 103,000 hectares  of irreplaceable land is safe from disturbance and development."  She announced a 60 day online public consultation period (see links below).

"Additional work in the region includes the development of a regional tourism strategy and the completion of priority planning for Porcupine Hills and Livingstone Range vacant public lands adjacent to the Castle parks’ boundaries." - Government of Alberta press release

"We will work with indigenous groups to explore how the parks can be managed co-operatively," Notley continued.  "Our plan is founded on the idea that Castle needs enhanced measures to keep its beauty intact.  A Wildland Provincial park and a Provincial park both protect the environment. However, a Wildland Provincial park limits recreational activity to low impact forms, better safeguarding important headwaters, wildlife corridors, and ecosystems."   She said recreation management planning is continuing.  There were some very vocal dissenting comments from some people in the crowd when she said "Two Castle parks will prove to be a significant benefit for southern Alberta."

Syncline Mountain (Alberta Government photo)
"Maintaining these parks will be work of generations, and I am happy that we can make a start.  And I know that the feeling is universal for Albertans familiar with this amazing part of our amazing province, and committed to protecting it for generations to come."

Premier Notley finished to cheers and boos from various factions in the crowd.  The man who shouted "lock her up" was shut down instantly by most in the crowd, regardless of where they stood on the issues.

Piikani Nation Chief Stanley Grier speaks
Piikani Nation Chief Stanley Grier spoke next.  "Piikani have always been indigenous to this territory," he said.  "Our world view is such where we co-exist with all other beings the Creator has placed on the Earth in this region whether they crawl, live, or swim, whether they fly, wherever they roam."

"The Blackfoot Territory spans from the South Saskatchewan River to the north, to the Yellowstone River to the south, to Cranbrook to the west, to Regina  we call Five Hills in the east."

"We all know this is a pristine area, it's healthy, it's free of pollution... This property, this territory, is extremely healthy. It's a rare piece of territory and it's important that we entrench this type of territory for all of us to enjoy."

“Our people have existed, protected and preserved these lands for our use. Indeed the Siksikatsiitapii Creation Story originated in this area. We still use these lands for our way of life and have co-existed with the various beings and later newcomers to our lands.”  - Piikani Nation Chief Stanley Grier
"Why we are here today is to applaud the announcement, also ensure that our interests are entrenched as we go forward in meaningful dialogue with the  Province of Alberta and Premier Notley  and all of her Ministries."

"Let's face it, everybody here today, all of you that enjoy that area.  Again the consultations I have seen are some sort of fleshed out your interest, everybody's interests, and see how we can work together to achieve that usage of that land.   That's going to be for our current and emergent generations to this territory."

Renee Richards
Minister Phillips then introduced the Richards family, Parents Sam, Renee, Nali, Ella, Carthew, Indie as local to the area. and invited Renee to speak. She said, in part, "I have been coming here for years. as we were driving out my young son said 'Mom, look at the mountains'. In a day of technology, that is a huge victory."

Chief Grier and Premier Notley

Phillips then made some concluding remarks. "This is a big day for Alberta, as we have established the boundaries of the park." She outlined the consultation and planning up to this stage, and how there is more to come. "We have a lot of work ahead of us."

A press scrum with Minister Phillips followed a short while later. "We've announced our intention to protect Castle Parks 16 months ago in Blairmore, and this is the finalization of the boundaries today," she said in answer to one question saying the 16 month consultation process included community groups, municipalities, users of many kinds, scientists, First Nations, and environmental groups. When asked what her reaction was to the people who expressed their concerns and unhappiness about the plan she said "This is why we are continuing the conversation, with everyone who is affected by the establishment of these parks." She mentioned the Alberta Off Highway Vehicles Association and Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad as two groups who will continue to be part of the process. "Those organizations represent users that are responsible, that have a long history in this area, and we are going to make sure they have got the right kinds of supports to undertake their activities where the science supports that it is the best decision for the environment."

During the public press conference she said 44 jobs would be created under the new plan, and was asked to elaborate. She said some employment opportunities areas will include Parks, and public land management, "We did have had so much conflicting use, and quite frankly, irresponsible use that has been allowed to fester over the decades of the previous government's mis-management in the area. We have already invested in a number of new jobs and new positions on the enforcement side, and we are going to continue to do that. With new parks, comes new tourism opportunities, new interpretive centres, new hospitality and other jobs. We are also looking at ways we can properly support the Castle Mountain Resort, to make sure they are meeting the needs of the region as well. There are a number of other employment opportunities that come over and above the Parks employment."

Table Mountain (Alberta Government photo)
Minister Phillips also spoke to the involvement of Piikani First Nation in the process.  "This will be the first time in Alberta history that we move forward with conversations around cooperative management for Provincial and Wildland parks. We are also at the beginning stages of those conversations up north, but it has progressed further with respect to the parks down here down here and the Piikani First Nation. This is a good way to ensure that we are properly sharing the economic benefits of parks, that we have the right kind of interpretive facilities, and so on in place, and that we have the right kind of tourism opportunities. When people visit Canada and Alberta from elsewhere, they want to learn about that history. They also want to learn about the history we see here, at the Kootenai Brown museum. They want to see the full picture of Canada. Certainly Piikani's involvement in that park will assist in that."

Minister of Environment and Parks and Minister Responsible for the Climate Change Office Shannon Phillips

"This has been 40 years of scientists and environmentalists and others asking for protection of these parks given their tremendous ecological significance. The Castle area is called 'the Costa Rica of Canada' given its biodiversity. What we have been able to do here is fill in a piece of the puzzle in terms of the Yellowstone to Yukon wildlife corridors, to make sure we've got headwaters protection for the drinking water that supplies the city that I represent, and many, many people and agricultural activities throughout southwest Alberta. So there are very good scientific reasons for doing this. Not the least of which is making sure we have got the right habitat in place for our fisheries, for our hunters, you know there are many, many, many different folks who take great pride and joy in this area."

"What's proposed in the draft management plan, we want to hear from people about if it is staged over time five year approach for these particular areas. As we build up infrastructure in other areas. What happened over the last couple of decades with the previous governments essentially ignoring this problem is that off highway vehicle users have not had the infrastructure that they need in order to appropriately enjoy that activity. We think that activity is appropriate, and we think it is a good activity for people to engage in, in the right places. So what we are going to do is make sure that they have got that infrastructure in place. Alberta Off Highway Vehicle Association has engaged with me personally several times on how we can work together collaboratively to make that happen. They have some really good ideas, so does the Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad."

Barnaby Ridge (Alberta Government photo)

"It may be that we are closing some trails over time, thoughtfully and carefully, within the two Castle areas, but that does not mean to say there are not areas to enjoy this activity elsewhere and that's what the Premier talked about with respect to building up the infrastructure elsewhere and where it is appropriate to do so."  When asked if OHV areas within the parks would disappear entirely, she said "It means that within the Castle area, what is in the draft plan right now is a phase out over five years. However, a draft is just that. It is a draft. So we will talk to the public about what that means, and what it means in terms of citing some of these activities in other places. What we see in other places with large amounts of off highway vehicles, is that the province or the jurisdiction in question... they often invest in the infrastructure. The bridges, the side roads, the paths, all of those things to make sure that it's compatible with the environment around it. Previous government didn't do that, and so that's why we are taking this staged approach to Castle, so that we can look at other places that these activities can take place so they are better supported over the long term."

Part of government’s move to further improve protection of the Castle parks area and its unique biological diversity is to transition off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation use out of the new Castle boundary. - Government of Alberta Press release
The ongoing consultation process was again the theme of a question. Phillips said the previous consultation period included input from "Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad, Off Highway Vehicles, environmental advocates, grazing lease holders, hunting and fishing advocates and other enthusiasts. Those working groups then reported to us and their input went into the draft management plan that we have now put out for the 60 day consultation. So the 60 day consultation period means that the general public can engage with us online absolutely. You may write us a letter, organizations may also file their feedback in a more formal fashion, and any municipalities or others who would like to have specific meetings with officials are invited to do so. We will hear their concerns and then their will be a process of a final management plan after that."

Existing OHV trails within the Castle parks will be assessed for ecological risks to the area, an important source to the Oldman River Basin headwaters. Non-designated trails will be rehabilitated. - Government of Alberta Press release

The potential loss of revenue from logging curtailment was also queried. "It was announcement 17 months ago around the termination of the C5 logging permit for Spray Lakes (Sawmills). The conversations with Spray Lakes are ongoing and have been very productive in terms of finding them alternative cut volumes and alternatives. So far we have had no job losses in Cochrane or elsewhere as a result of that decision, and we continue to talk to the company involved in finding a solution that works for everyone." about off highway vehicle users "For the user groups that want to see responsible use in the back country, they want to see it appropriately supported, in the places it makes the most sense to have it. We continue those conversations, and I really look forward to hearing their ideas. They've already been really really helpful, for example the Off Highway Vehicle Association of Alberta has been helpful not just in the Castle, but during the Fort McMurray wildfire they were instrumental in talking to their members when we closed down the back country to OHV use. That shows their collaborative nature."

"The next phase for the 103,000-hectare parks is the development of a management plan for the ecologically and culturally significant area. A 60-day public consultation will help flesh out the new parks’ features and opportunities. A draft plan has been developed in conjunction with key stakeholders. Albertans are encouraged to participate and provide feedback." - Government of Alberta press release regarding the draft plan

Government of Alberta video released today


On September 4, 2015 Minister Phillips travelled to the Stone's Throw Cafe in Blairmore to announce the creation of two protected parks, The Castle Provincial Park and Wildland Provincial Park, as a significant part of a plan to protect the entire Castle area, including a ban on logging, mining, and oil and gas expansion. The affected area includes almost 1,040 square kilometres encompassing Castle Falls, Lynx Creek, Castle River Bridge, and the Beaver Mines and Syncline provincial recreation areas. According to an Alberta government press release at the time, "Designating the Castle under the Provincial Parks Act will allow government to focus on stewardship, protecting and enhancing biodiversity, and boosting the local economy by promoting the area as an outdoor destination for Albertans and out-of-province visitors."

In a press release following the above park announcement Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier (Wildrose) said “The NDP are going to have to negotiate fair market compensation for land, lease, and license holders affected by this move. 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.”

As extensively documented here at the time (see links below) environmental groups put pressure on the provincial government of the time in 2012 and 2013 to prevent logging in the Castle area, and were largely successful in that effort.

Environmental groups respond

Castle River (Alberta Government photo)

The government had been encouraged by the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) and the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition (CCWC) to limit off highway vehicles (OHVs) in the parks. "Eighty-six percent of Albertans prioritize non-motorized recreation and the majority of the public believes that OHVs have no place in provincial parks. It pushes out other users and harms wildlife," said Peter Lee of the CCWC when a draft management plan for the Castle Parks was released last July. In a press release issued today AWAY Conservation Specialist Joanna Skrajny said "The Castle parks, with expanded Wildland Provincial Park boundaries, will provide important protection for headwaters and threatened species including westslope cutthroat trout and grizzly bears. Albertans will be happy to see that they have been listened to and that protection of our headwaters and species at risk is being taken seriously."  AWA Secretary Treasurer Cliff Wallis said "While we would have preferred to see all off highway motorized recreation banned from both parks immediately, we expect that OHVs will be phased out in an expedited manner that targets, minimizes and eliminates ongoing threats to westslope cutthroat trout and grizzly bears, allowing these populations to recover. The elimination of illegal trail use in the Castle will begin the important process of protecting vital landscapes."

“A new protected area in the Castle is a real gift to Albertans. The Castle is a major source of water for southern Alberta, and is home for grizzly bears, bull trout and rare plants. It’s a great place to connect with nature through quiet recreation. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society congratulates and thanks the government for creating this amazing new park.” - Katie Morrison, Conservation Director, Southern Alberta Chapter, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
 “The Castle is a key part of the Yellowstone to Yukon region. It’s one of the linchpins in the whole Y2Y system. Today’s announcement will start Alberta towards a new mandate for protecting places that help protect nature, diversify our economy and create jobs that support our province and our environment.” - Stephen Legault, Program Director, (Crown, Alberta, NWT) Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
“Camping, hiking, mountain biking, snowsports - these activities shape and enrich the lives of hundreds of thousands of Albertans and numerous visitors to the province. They are also mainstays of MEC’s business. We congratulate the Government of Alberta on providing provincial park status to the Castle area. The designation will benefit retailers like MEC and many other businesses that rely on outdoor recreation." - David Labistour, CEO, Mountain Equipment Co-op
The draft plan includes an objective to establish and maintain connectivity corridors and Highway 3 connectivity corridors and linkages through the Castle parks and habitat recovery plans for species at risk.

Grazing rights

Ranchers in the area have expressed concerns that their grazing rights might be restricted or eliminated. Brent Barbero of the Pincher Creek Stockmen’s Association and Darryl Carlson of the Twin Butte Stock Association appeared as a delegation before the MD of Pincher Creek's council in November of 2015 to express those and other concerns. “Currently there are 27 family cattle operations that rely on their forestry permits for summer grazing of cattle... 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,” Barbero wrote to the council prior to the delegation. Landowners have also expressed concerns about what they see as a lack of proper consultation.   One of the big issues for area ranchers is grazing rights in the Castle.  Livestock grazing is specifically mentioned in the draft plan as one of the key risks to native plants and ecosystems, along with invasive species, climate change, recreational vehicle use, and infrastucture development.   According to the draft plan, "Existing grazing and range management practices will be reviewed and an updated grazing management strategy will be developed that incorporates protected areas values.  Existing operational plans, agreements and permits will continue and will be updated and replaced as required.  Plans will be informed by the overall range and riparian health assessments, conservation objectives for important habitat, protection of critical fish habit and the vegetation management strategy."

"Unless specifically required for vegetation management purposes, cattle will be the only domestic livestock permitted." - Castle Management Plan draft

The draft plan also includes the intent to develop a "communication strategy to explain presence of livestock to park visitors."

The draft plan is 162 pages long... More to come.


  1. Sounds like a progressive move on the governments part. Most of Alberta has been handed over to Oil and Gas, specifically foreign interests like the KOCH Brothers. Its about time we had our lands set aside for us. And to the person who shouted "lock her up!" shame on you! We don't need trumpolitics here! Show some respect!

    1. Well said. The machines have been given priority for too long. Take your kids out for a hike, leave the atv and beer at home. Change is necessary.

  2. The No Democracy Party shows up to make this unjustified announcement. Only giving notice to their supporters and news outlets and having a coordinated effort to not inform the public. They did this so there would NOT be hundreds if not thousands of fed up Albertan's as they take away rights and life style of rural Alberta again. Then they run out the back door as quick as it is done not take any questions from the public. This shows that lack of integrity of the premier and the true character of the NDP A huge announcement that will directly effect tens of thousands of Albertan's in this area, and they don't inform the public until a few hours before. There are still people on government boards who have not yet given their recommendation but the NDP still makes an announcement. It proves the NDP is only for the special interest groups and does not listen to Albertan's or the facts.

  3. Anonymous23/1/17

    Unite the right and get rid of these fools. The only people they will serve are their base, Unions, Environmentalists, Students etc. They gave no consideration to what the locals wanted for this area.

    1. Anonymous1/2/17

      Actually, Sirs, they did consult with area residents and the entire province for that matter not just the right wing population as the previous government did. The CONCENSUS was protection of the region and elimination of ATV's and other destructive activities.

    2. Tracey Michtich6/2/17

      Are you a local? Why not state your name? My family lives here. My family and friends make their living here. The government ignored the needs of the Crowsnest Pass for decades. Now they think they are going to save the day by making another Alberta Ghost town (s).

  4. Anonymous23/1/17

    Say Goodbye to camping, fishing, and the quad/dirtbike rides you used to love. The NDP cares more about bringing tourism from out and beyond but does not care about what the people of this area want as usual. When the Premier ran out the door to her car that shows she knows what they are doing is Wrong but doesn't want to hear any local person whom actually uses this area. All she cares about is her "nature loving invitees." You can still love nature and ride motorized units. Not everyone is there to tear up the beautiful landscape!!! GET THE FACTS NOTLEY!!!

    1. Anonymous1/2/17

      It is very evident by the turn out at this particular event, that the majority of local residents do support this initiative. Correct me if I'm wrong but of the 200 local people attending, approvimately 30 where there to protest the plan to protect this world class wilderness area. Unlike the previous government, NOTLEY ACTUALLY DOES HAVE THE FACTS. Most people refer to fact based evidence as science. It's a powerful thing.

  5. Anonymous4/2/17

    WRONG Anonymous 1/2/17. The CONSENSUS was not to eliminate atv's. It was only the consensus of the Environmentalists, and 1 targeted pole of approximately 550 people of which most were again Environmentalists, NOT the entire province. Every consultation when all user groups were involved over the past 25 years were NOT TO ELIMINATE OHV USE. That has only been the Environmentalist goal. Not a consensus.


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