Tuesday, April 4, 2017

57 scientists support elimination of OHVs from the new Castle Parks

press release - Fifty-seven scientists sent an open letter today to Hon. Shannon Phillips, Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Parks urging the government to maintain the proposed phase-out of recreational off-highway vehicles (OHVs) from the Castle.  A draft management plan for the Castle Provincial and Wildland Provincial Parks, released in January, proposes a five-year phase-out of motorized recreation from the new Parks. The plan also creates opportunities for quiet, low-impact recreation.

While there has been backlash from motorized user groups to the elimination of OHVs from the Castle, the letter states that the science is clear on the damages caused by motorized trails, even under controlled circumstances.

Dr. Jon Mee, Associate Professor at Mount Royal University, helped write the letter. “It is important for the government and public to understand that there are very real impacts to natural areas from motorized trails and use. The letter outlines these impacts on the land, water, plants and animals. As scientists, we commend the government for using strong science in the decision to phase off-highway vehicles out of the park.”

“The Castle is part of the Crown of the Continent which is internationally important for fish and wildlife, especially as the climate changes.” says Dr. Jason Fisher, past president of the Alberta Chapter of The Wildlife Society. “This connection of habitats across boundaries allows wildlife to move safely across the landscape. We need to ensure the Castle is properly managed if we want wildlife to be able to survive and thrive now and in the future.”
The scientists are largely from institutions in Alberta and western Canada who are experts in biology, ecology, water resources, soils and climate change adaptation.

“Recreation using heavy, powerful, noise producing machines seems inappropriate in ecologically sensitive wilderness areas such as the Castle” says Dr. John Spence Professor of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta. “Such rich and sensitive natural systems ought to be managed so as to minimize unnecessary disturbance. There are alternative spaces for those interested in such recreation, leaving the Castle ecosystem to function with minimal human disturbance, both as a continentally important corridor region and as a natural baseline reference for montane ecosystems.”

“It is most important that the Castle protects water for downstream communities and habitat for wildlife” says Dr. David Schindler, Professor Emeritus at the University of Alberta. “I have had three hip replacements on two hips and own ATVs, yet I still support the removal of this land-use as I understand the impact that even a small amount of noise and disturbance has on water and on sensitive wildlife. If there are areas where I cannot walk, so be it, protection for water and wildlife first!”

An Open Letter to Minister Phillips on the Protection of the Castle Parks

Dear Minister Phillips

As scientists with expertise in biology, ecology, hydrology and climate change, we commend the Government of Alberta for its commitment to science-based decision making in the management of the new Castle Provincial and Wildland Parks.

As part of the Crown of the Continent, the Castle is an internationally important area. It supports aquatic ecosystems including rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and groundwater systems as well as upland areas that support our headwaters.

The Castle also provides critical wildlife corridors that allow the movement of large animals between the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, British Columbia's Flathead Valley and Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. The importance of these corridors will be amplified with the increased pressure of climate change on our ecosystems, as some species are forced to migrate further north.

The area contains habitat for many of Alberta’s iconic species and species at risk including core grizzly bear habitat, threatened cutthroat trout, and endangered species such as limber and whitebark pine. Protection of this area also provides the opportunity to recover these species.

The Castle will continue to be important in the future as it is internationally recognized as an area of critical importance for ensuring human and wildlife communities successfully adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Along with the elimination of commercial forestry, mining and oil/gas development, the decision to remove off-highway vehicle use from the Castle and restore damaged areas will contribute to the conservation of native vegetation, fisheries, wildlife, soil and community water supplies. The science is clear that motorized use, even under controlled circumstances has a negative impact on these natural features.

Peer-reviewed literature indicates that motorized recreation has a number of key impacts on ecosystems.
  • Removal of vegetation and compaction of soil increases runoff and soil erosion. Soil compaction also decreases the ability of the area to support vegetation in the future.
  • Increased erosion leads to increased sedimentation and turbidity in watercourses. This impacts water quality and habitat for fish and other aquatic species.
  • Habitat fragmentation can reduce the ability of plants and animals to move and disperse on the landscape potentially leading to altered population dynamics and reduced potential for recolonization.
  • Motorized traffic and noise can cause wildlife to avoid areas, causing increased stress and altered behaviors and changes to distribution or dispersal patterns. These changes can lead to reduced survival which can negatively affect population size.
  • Motorized access increases the permeability of back-country areas to humans, which increases direct mortality to protected species such as grizzly bears.

In conclusion, given the strong evidence of the impacts of off-highway vehicles and the ecological importance and sensitivity of the new Castle Wildland and Provincial Parks, we recommend the government maintain the proposed phase-out of off-highway vehicles in the Castle to allow for protection of this internationally important area.


Clayton Apps PhD, RPBio
Aspen Wildlife Research Inc.
John Bain PhD
Emeritus professor of Botany and Director
of the University of Lethbridge Herbarium
University of Lethbridge

Mark Boyce PhD
Professor Science, Biological Sciences
University of Alberta
Theresa Burg PhD
Associate Professor, Biological Sciences
University of Lethbridge

James M Byrne PhD
Professor, Department of Geography, Water
and Environmental Science Building
University of Lethbridge
Lu Carbyn PhD
Adjunct Professor, University of Alberta
Retired Research Scientist, Canadian Wildlife Service, Department of the Environment (Federal).

Ralph Cartar PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Biology
University of Calgary
Scott X. Chang PhD
Professor of Forest Soils and Nutrient
University of Alberta

Anthony P Clevenger PhD Research Wildlife Scientist, Western Transportation Institute
Montana State University
Peter H. Crown PhD
Professor Emeritus in Land Resource
Science, Department of Renewable
University of Alberta

Andrew E. Derocher PhD Professor of Biological Sciences University of Alberta
Jason T. Fisher PhD
Past-President, Alberta Chapter – The
Wildlife Society; Adjunct Professor–
University of Victoria

Lorne Fitch P.Biol. Adjunct Professor University of Calgary
Lawrence B. Flanagan PhD Professor of Biology, Department of Biological Sciences
University of Lethbridge
Cameron Goater PhD
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
University of Lethbridge
Kim C Green P.Geo., PhD Senior Watershed Geoscientist Apex Geoscience Consultant Ltd

Andreas Hamann PhD
Department of Renewable Resources
University of Alberta
F. Richard Hauer PhD
Professor and Director Center for Integrated
Research on the Environment
University of Montana

Mark Hebblewhite PhD
Wildlife Biology Program
Associate Professor of Ungulate Ecology Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences College of Forestry and Conservation University of Montana
Stephen Herrero PhD Professor Emeritus University of Calgary

Dorothy Hill PhD
Associate Professor Department of Biology
Mount Royal University
Geoff Holroyd PhD
Research Scientist (retired)
Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment
Canada, Edmonton

Chris Hopkinson PhD
CAIP Research Chair in Terrestrial Ecosystem
Remote Sensing
Vice President IAHS International
Commission on Remote Sensing
Associate Professor, Department of Geography
University of Lethbridge
T. Andrew Hurly PhD Professor Emeritus University of Lethbridge

Patrick M. A. James PhD
Associate Professor
Département de sciences biologiques
Université de Montréal
Hester Jiskoot PhD
Associate Professor of Physical Geography
and Glaciology
University of Lethbridge

J. Derek Johnson MSc.
Retired Botanist, Canadian Forest Service,
Natural Resources Canada
Stefan Kienzle PhD
Professor and Chair, Department of
University of Lethbridge

Robert Laird PhD Associate Professor University of Lethbridge
Clayton Lamb
PhD Candidate and Vanier Scholar
University of Alberta
Peter Lee MSc
Executive Director (retired)
Global Forest Watch Canada
Matthew G. Letts PhD Department of Geography University of Lethbridge

Robert Longair PhD
Dept. of Biological Sciences
University of Calgary (retired)
M Derek MacKenzie PhD
Assistant Professor Pyrogenic Ecosystems
and Restoration Ecology (PERE) Lab, Department of Renewable Resources University of Alberta

Dave Mayhood MSc
Aquatic Ecologist
FWR Freshwater Research Limited
Mary Ann McLean PhD Associate Professor, Biology St. Mary’s University

Greg McDermid PhD Associate Professor, Geography University of Calgary
Jon Mee PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Biology
Mount Royal University

Marco Musiani PhD
Dept. of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science;
and Veterinary Medicine
University of Calgary
Scott Nielson PhD
Associate Professor, Alberta Biodiversity
Conservation Chair, Department of
Renewable Resources
University of Alberta

John Pomeroy PhD
Fellow AGU, FRGS
Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and
Climate Change
Director, Centre for Hydrology
Director, Canmore Coldwater Laboratory Chair, International Network for Alpine Research Catchment Hydrology
Shane Porter PhD
Land Resources and Environmental
Lethbridge College

Greg Pyle PhD
CAIP Chair in Aquatic Health
Professor of Biological Sciences
University of Lethbridge
Michael Quinn PhD
Associate Vice President, Research,
Scholarship & Community Engagement
Mount Royal University

Melanie Rathburn PhD Department of Biology Mount Royal University
K. E. Ruckstuhl PhD
Associate Professor, Biological Sciences
University of Calgary
D.W. Schindler PhD, OC, AOE, FRS, FRSC
Professor Emeritus
University of Alberta
Fiona Schmiegelow PhD
University of Alberta

Richard Schneider PhD Department of Biological Sciences University of Alberta
Elizabeth Schultz PhD
Associate Professor, Department of
Biological Sciences
University of Lethbridge

Dave Sheppard PhD
John R. Spence PhD
Professor of Renewable Resources
University of Alberta

David Sauchyn PhD
Senior Research Scientist, Prairie Adaptation
Research Collaborative; Professor of Geography
University of Regina
Keith B. Tierney PhD
Associate Professor & Associate Chair
(Research) Department of Biological Sciences
University of Alberta

Ross W. Wein PhD Professor Emeritus University of Alberta
Cherie Westbrook PhD
Centre for Hydrology, Global Institute for
Water Security; Department of Geography and Planning
University of Saskatchewan

Steve Wiseman PhD
Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair
(II) in Aquatic and Mechanistic Toxicology, Department of Biological Science
University of Lethbridge

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