Bat­tle for Bighorn

ATV users, con­ser­va­tion­ists spar as prov­ince looks at idea of new pro­tected park

StarMetro Calgary - - LOCAL - EMMA MCINTOSH

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

COURTESY LAURA CORISTINE

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.

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