Battle for Bighorn
ATV users, conservationists spar as province looks at idea of new protected park
Nestled along the eastern borders of Banff and Jasper national parks lies a parcel of hotly disputed wilderness known as the Bighorn backcountry.
Conservationists want to turn the 5,000-square-kilometre parcel of land into a provincial park, saying it’s crucial to protect the mostly untouched area. ATV enthusiasts object, saying the possibility of extra restrictions is unnecessary. And the province, meanwhile, is taking heat from both camps as it decides what to do next.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m leaning towards a side,” said Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips. “I grew up west of Edmonton. I have great memories as a young adult spending time in the Bighorn backcountry ... (but in Bighorn) we have seen a lot of public land abuses over the years.”
The Bighorn area sprawls northwest of Rocky Mountain House, encompassing Nordegg and stretching to the southwest of Sundre, Alta. Though much of the vast expanse in the eastern slopes is alpine habitat, it also includes a significant portion of grassland, as well as the beginnings of the North Saskatchewan River — from which Edmonton draws the majority of its water supply.
The land is currently protected by an access management plan, formed in 2002, that allows some motorized vehicle use in certain zones. Though there are few roads, “industry and commerce are present in the form of trapping, oil and gas and hospitality services,” the plan notes. Several groups, like the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) and the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), have long pushed for the government to add the land to the provincial park system.
Follow the push to make Bighorn a provincial park at thestar.com
Consolation Lake in Banff National Park. Though much of the Rockies in Alberta are protected by national and provincial parks, the Bighorn region, east of Banff and Jasper, is not.