Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Comment: In favour of sustainable recreational use of Porcupine Hills/Livingstone Range

The Porcupine Hills Coalition held a press conference/stakeholder presentation on April 10 at the Helen Schuler Nature Centre in Lethbridge to "highlight the diverse support for the plans and process" of the recently released draft Linear Footprint Management Plan and Recreation Management Plan for the Livingstone-Porcupine Hills. Presented below are the written texts of presentations from Crowsnest Pass landowner Carol Ostrom and retired provincial Fish and Wildlife biologist Lorne Fitch.

Carol Ostrom 

Carol Ostrom is a landowner in the Crowsnest Pass and has lived in the Pass for 50 years. Carol is an outdoor enthusiast participating in hiking, horseback riding and hunting. 

Living and recreating the CNP for the last fifty years, I have observed whats happening to our public lands and I am gravely concerned. It’s become harder and harder to find a quiet space that is not degraded by a OHV activity. I go outdoors to explore , to replenish my soul and to pause for a time of silent reflection and to connect with the very earth that sustains me. Instead my soul is grieved at what I find occurring on our shared lands.

Too often what I find is a maze of old and new OHV trails plowed through any space they can get them through. Running over trees, tearing up wetland areas and exposing tree roots. Trenching up natural drainages seems to be a common practice. I see this happening from the valley bottom to the rock face at the height of the mountains. Nowhere seems off limits.

Up until now we have all enjoyed unfettered access to our public lands. Its been an open space for all of us to play without a lot of rules imposed on us. We could hunt, fish, hike, camp,ride motorbikes and quads, camp in our favourite nook., all for free and with a sense of freedom.

This used to work, the numbers of people and equipment were manageable, watersheds could maintain themselves, not any more. Today more than ever, people want to get away from the noise, hustle and bustle of the urban environment and out into the wilds to enjoy their leisure time. They come by the droves, to the Porcupine Livingston and CNP areas, what comes with them is a city of trailers which sprawl through the bushes where they set up camp. The generators fire up, the OHVs roll,the fireworks go off and this is the nature many experience. When the season is over and the people are gone, so is the grass, the clear streams and the wildlife. What is left is the garbage, feces, new trails and fire rings for next year and forever unless there is change.

The current practices are unsustainable and need to be modified and managed. Unfortunately we cannot count on peoples common sense and good nature because those are not that common or good. When its a few people scattered over a large area, the impact is manageable with a few rules, but as the numbers of people have increased so does the need for more management and rules to protect a limited resource. This is how societies work. We collectively agree upon what is int he best interest of all and we make rules, in hopes that the bullies won’t take more that their fair share.

I am a bit of a rebel and I don't like having rules imposed upon me any more than anyone else. I have had 50 years of playing in the Crowsnest Hills with an unappreciated freedom. I know now that my use, like everyone else needs to be assessed and if need to be regulated. I have to be willing to give up my favourite camping spot, keep my dog on leash or stay on a designated trail, but we all have to do our part to protect the whole.

The place to start is at Talk AEP. The government has asked for your feedback, I have heard inflammatory statements made by OHV enthusiasts which claim that the government only wants to hear from you if you agree with their plan. They further suggest the government is selling out to commercial tourist ventures where Albertans with have to pay to use the public lands. Having reviewed the draft of the Recreation Plan I do not see this to be true, Instead I see an open call from Alberta Environment and Parks for all Albertan s to get involved and speak their minds.

There are many people who do not think this is relevant for them as they do not enjoy the outdoors and camping sounds like punishment. Regardless each time those folks turn on a tap hoping for clean water it becomes relevant. Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast or not, we are planning for your public lands, your wildlife , your water source, your forestry. You have an opportunity to have your say. I encourage everyone to take a couple of hours to educate yourself and speak up for your Public Lands.

Lorne Fitch, P. Biol.

Lorne Fitch is a Professional Biologist, a retired provincial Fish and Wildlife biologist and an adjunct professor with the University of Calgary. He has 47 years of experience in fish and wildlife conservation work. He has called Lethbridge home for almost four decades.

Limits and the Livingstone-Porcupine Hills

These draft plans are about setting limits, limits that should have been set years ago.

The L-PH, like the remainder of our Forest Reserves are not infinite landscapes that can endlessly absorb multiple, overlapping land uses, everywhere, all the time, any time.

In fact, we’ve exceeded key ecological limits to the point all species of native trout are categorized as “threatened”.

It is human nature to react negatively to limits, especially if you have had a free run at your favorite pursuit for years.

But, the L-PH is public land and we have to learn to share it more equitably, in ways that don’t damage it, and if there is damage, to repair it.

We can choose to ignore limits, at our peril, and at the expense of future generations, who I’m sure will still need clean water delivered from healthy headwaters, with ecological assurances of health indicated by the presence of native trout, grizzlies, mountain sheep and elk.

There is a recognition of the need to reduce and set limits on road and trail access as well as restore erosion-prone ones to improve water quality, protect fish and wildlife and improve landscape resilience.

Recent University of Alberta research on the relationship between roads and grizzly bears indicated that areas with road densities greater than 0.6 km/km² had fewer bears. Areas with quality habitat and fewer roads had the most bears. Clayton Lamb, the principle researcher summarized the work with: “Not only do bears die near roads, bears also avoid these areas making many habitats with roads through them less effective.”

Roads and native trout don’t mix well either. All linear features, roads, trails pipelines, skid trails and the like, intercept runoff, capture and redirect it downhill, increase erosion along the way and then dump excess water and sediment into a watercourse, to the eventual dismay of trout. Fisheries biologists generally agree that the best road density to protect trout is zero roads/km². Impacts begin to show at 0.2 km/km² and anything over 0.6 km/km² means the population is threatened.

The current road and trail density is 2.25 km/km², with portions of the planning area exceeding 5.0 km/km². This equates to over 4000 km of roads and trails with 3990 stream crossings, most of which are unbridged, with no sediment control features present.

With trail closure and restoration that will reduce the linear density to below 0.6 km/km², many fish and wildlife species at risk will see improved habitat conditions that will hasten population recovery, both a provincial and a federal government priority. These include bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, grizzlies and wolverines.

Trails for motorized recreation are still conceptual, although the routes are indicated. Other improvements, like trail relocation, bridges over water courses and erosion control features are not yet indicated. All these trails will require review by fisheries and wildlife biologists to ensure fish and wildlife populations (especially those in a “threatened” category) are not impacted by Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) traffic.

Industrial access roads will add to the linear features densities, but there is no suggestion of methods to keep this additional road density network below ecological thresholds (e.g. mitigation by restoring comparable amounts of existing roads).

There need to be specific standards for industrial road construction, maintenance and restoration, to signal industry what requirements are expected, to decrease erosion, sediment transport and restrict public access.

Too many wants compete now with too few remnants of wild places and wild things. Because, in the past, we did not want to think about or engage in limits we have landscapes replete with consequences and complications. The L-PH draft plans provide a measure of maturity to a culture drunk on the illusion of plenty, impatient with restrictions, determined to wring more from a landscape than can be done sustainably.

These plans may not be perfect, there is still work to be done to fine-tune many aspects and much of the devil is in the details. What these draft plans do indicate is the recognition of a very busy landscape, one that requires better management, controls on many aspects of land use, a shift in recreational use patterns and restoration of some of the land use footprint.

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