Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Comment about Alberta's Public Lands Act and the Castle Parks

James Tweedie photo

James Tweedie, Letter to the Editor - The recent coverage of the Off Highway Vehicle Users rallies in the Crowsnest Pass and Lethbridge earlier this month by a local media outlet reads like a libertarian manifesto for the continued hedonistic use of Alberta’s public lands, with complete disregard for the reasons for the protection of a tiny portion of these lands that the Government of Alberta has explicitly provided, in their current Draft Management Plan for the Castle Wildland and Provincial Parks.

Let’s set the record straight. It is precisely because Alberta’s Public Lands Act under previous governments had so clearly failed to address the cumulative impacts of all our human activities in the Castle that the present Government has acted to check that trend before the damage to our vital natural resources becomes irreversible.

In 1974 much of the Castle was placed under a “Crown Reservation” for a future park but by 1993, the Natural Resources Conservation Board concluded that “the cumulative effects of development and disturbance have led to a deterioration in the state of the regional ecosystem, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.” 

By 2000 it was clear that the exponential growth of OHV use had become an intractable problem on all public lands along the Eastern Slopes, with about 90% of all Alberta’s Crown Lands being available for unregulated OHV use. At the same time, the legislative framework under the Public Lands Act, the Forestry Act, the Traffic Safety Act and the Occupier Liability Act was completely inadequate to manage these activities.

In an attempt to address some of these shortcomings and in the absence of effective landscape-scale planning since the demise of the Oldman River Regional Planning Authority, the previous Government initiated its Regional Land-Use Planning Framework in 2007. The South Saskatchewan Regional Planning (SSRP) consultation process ran for 5 years. 

The motorized user groups and their lobbyists were visible and assertive participants in that process. Their voices were certainly heard. People should be aware that OHV registrations account for less than 6% of the Alberta population and that number includes all those used in industry/forestry and agriculture. “Recreational” numbers are likely less than 4% of the population. This tiny group can inflict damage to our public lands and watersheds out of all proportion to their numbers, as well as jeopardizing the enjoyment of these lands for the vast majority.

The SSRP confirmed the defining importance of the Castle on the regional scale for the health of our streams and rivers, for our wildlife populations and particularly those that are at high risk (notably Grizzly bears and Westslope Cutthroat trout amongst others), for the cultural and spiritual values for First Nations and finally the heritage of early settlement in the area. The Plan identified the inadequacy of the available regulatory framework under the Public Lands Act to protect and advance those values, notably with respect to motorized use by the general public. It contained all the right words for enhancing the protection of the Castle as a special “Conservation Area”, but stopped short of any actions to remedy the on-going cumulative effects.

This land does not “belong” to any of us. We are fortunate to have been gifted or loaned the Castle (or as I believe they might call it, the “Tipi Liner”, with all the protective qualities that the term implies) from our Blackfoot neighbours - the Piikani, Kainai and Siksika Nations - whose notably non-motorized stewardship of it has allowed its natural processes to flourish throughout the many generations past. As today’s ultimate custodian of these lands, but recognizing those First Nations’ cultural values and Alberta’s Treaty obligations, the present Government of Alberta has chosen to “do the right thing”, as Premier Notley has put it, to act with the interests of our future generations in mind, rather than be cowed, as were previous governments, by the self-serving rhetoric that is voiced by Off Highway Vehicle users.


  1. Anonymous22/2/17

    I see Minister Phillips has her friends, that have the same ties to environmentalist organizations, as she does defending her misguided plan. As Mr. Tweedie has done. Mr. Tweedie had a government (Conservatives) that had 5 years of consultations with the public will all user groups having a say, it was the SSRP that came to the conclusion that OHV use should continue in the castle area. Mr. Tweedie didn't like that. All groups had spoken and facts had been studied and a decision had been made. It wasn't implemented before the government had changed. The NDP and Minister Phillips comes in and throws away 5 years of planning and consultations and only listens to her friends in the environmental community so the NDP can ram down the throats of Albertans, Minister Phillips and Mr.Tweedie's environmentalist agenda.

  2. James Tweedie22/2/17

    An Interesting form of dialogue when you don't identify yourself. The wilds of Alberta will come much closer to your backyard and you won't have to drive so far to reach fact you might be able to have a quiet walk. Have a great day. James Tweedie

  3. Anonymous22/2/17

    I agree, the situation has been unregulated and largely unchallenged for far too long. I participated in some of the SSRP 'open houses' which essentially were a shouting match and bullying from motorized users.. I didn't feel safe speaking up and I think the OHV abuse issue wasn't addressed because people don't feel safe. The previous SSRP sessions were not the 'fair consultation' process that others are claiming it to be. I do think that OHV users should have a place to recreate where it's appropriate, but obviously a protected area is not that place. It's clear that from Mr. Tweedie's article that this has been a multi-generational lack of action and that has led to a false sense of superiority among some, glad to see that something is finally being done.

  4. Charlie Russell22/2/17

    Why do people commenting on important local and provincial issues not tell us their name? And why would not the minister of the environment not be please that James Tweedy and others support her unpopular with OHV user’s decision to finally put aside some land that is off limits to wheels and noise machines. I am a pilot and I tell you that when you fly north from here to the NWT there is hardly a mile that you are not looking down on a road. Many places, even far from the nearest town, there are seismic lines every couple hundred meters. Clearly, as James says, industry has had the run of the province for the last 6o years. Please let’s be sensible. Everyone in Alberta should be friends of Minister Phillips. Finally, an Environment Minister is doing their job!

    1. Anonymous28/2/17

      Mr. Russel, I have a lot of respect for your work, but not everybody is getting paid to make these comments, as some of you are. Listing their names will mean consequences, as many who speak on your side of this are very reactionary and unforgiving of other opinions, and will do things only an idealist, in the worst sense of the word, would consider appropriate.

      There needs to be balance, and to achieve that you need money. There is room for all users and wildlife, with proper management. Have an ATV area, and charge to use it. Have a wild area and charge to use it. Charges should represent demand, fines used for misuse. Government can't go it alone, there needs to be private industry involved. All people need to be represented, not just ATV users, environmentalists or First Nations. This is the biggest fault of this government, and a fault that comes up frequently. Some will count for more than others, by virtue of uses, but it needs to be based on present and future uses, not past uses. There are many examples all across the world (some of the best are here) of where it was done right and where it was done wrong, and this government is doing it wrong.

  5. Gordon Petersen22/2/17

    As Mr. Tweedie suggests, we’ve known for decades that the Castle is a unique and important area that needs and deserves effective protection. Numerous consultations since at least 1993 have come to the same conclusion. We’ve also seen that “education and enforcement" hasn’t been enough to halt the decline in the Castle’s ecological health, and there’s no reason to think that “education and enforcement" will be enough in the future. The difference now is that this government is prepared to make the hard decisions, and to do the right thing, by establishing the Castle Parks.

  6. Phil Burpee22/2/17

    Short answer - three million Albertans today - six million projected within twenty years. Nature is on the run. Of course it is time - past time - to exercise due controls. The old days are over.

  7. Janet Barkwith23/2/17

    Fascinating to see Anon #1 sneering at "environmentalists" as if they've crawled out of a noxious pit of slime somewhere, with the express purpose of interrupting his "fun". Anon #1 presumably would like to see the wildlands, good clean water, and clean fresh air surviving for his children and his grandchildren to enjoy? Without some kind of brake on the devastation and destruction caused by wheeled motor vehicles in the parks and wildlands of southern Alberta, he'll be lucky if the wildlands even last his own lifetime, let alone his descendants. What many people don't seem to realise (and too many evidently don't even care about) is that everything in nature is unavoidably interconnected: destroy one part, and the rest eventually collapses. The converse is therefore true: look after our wildlands in a careful, thoughtful and sustained way, and it will last pretty much forever, supplying water, clean air, abundant wildlife and even recreational possibilities for everyone.


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