Friday, 19 January 2018 11:04

Castle Area study causes some waves

Written by  Demi Knight
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A study conducted for the Castle Area sparks controversy as it looks at eliminating human activities to protect the land.

A report recently conducted on the castle region of Southwest Alberta has stirred up some controversy in regards to its summary on the effects human activities have on the regions ecosystem.
Based on both technical reports and over one-hundred and fifty peer-reviewed journal articles, the study came to find that limiting these human activities such as the use of off-highway vehicles (OHV’s) would ultimately be beneficial to the environment within the area. Although many agree with the findings and the science behind it, there are some who don’t quite share the same opinion.
“It's pretty clear that roads and motorized trails are having an impact on our water, wildlife and environment and it’s not appropriate to keep going that way,” says Communications Director with Canadian Parks and Wilderness society (Southern Alberta Chapter), Katie Morrison.
“We’re really happy to see this study released, because when you’re looking at castle and all of these similar protected areas this science needs to be the foundation of protecting them.”
 The castle region which is home to ecologically diverse landscapes and varying wildlife, soil and vegetation that is imperative to the ecosystem is also however, home to supporting 1,700 kilometres of unofficial trails, a slew of recreational, agricultural and industrial activities and 1,600 stream crossings.
With these facts in mind the eighty-eight-page study, conducted by the Government of Alberta, worked to sift through these activities, investigating the need, patterns and disturbance rates that they offer the area as well linear footprints and proposing some solutions to help the ecosystems flourish in the future years to come.
“When making decisions about how we want to see the area in the future. Data tells a story...and whether or not that data aligns with our values, we should use that data to help us be more informed,” says Andrea Hlady, President of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition.
“We are all responsible for how we recreate in the area. Positive change and restoration for the area would include limiting what we can do in the parks.”
With one main topic on the agenda, the study proposed a more detailed look at OHV’s and the problems that blazing along these trails can cause on different aspects of the land they ride upon.
The study did this by examining the loss of vegetation for OHV related soil compaction and erosion, the increased soil erosion and disturbance of water life causing sediment input into aquatic ecosystems and the link between wildlife mortality due to negative encounters with humans.
“Off-roading is a great way to live unconsciously, but you don’t connect with land when you are tearing across it. When you put these heavy wheels on land you damage vegetation, wildlife and more and this study established that.” says Kevin Van Tighem, landscape ecologist and retired park superintendent.
“The best way not only for the area’s health, but for ours as well is to get out there on our feet, walk around, see it and take it all in.”
However, the study which suggested limiting the use of OHV’s on the Castle land may not be a popular opinion for all, and there are some within the immediate community who will be more affected than others and hope they can share their voice on the subject as well.
“We’re coming up on our twentieth anniversary this year of the Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad,” says  Director of the Quad Squad Board, Joe Lumley.
“But we’ve seen vast improvements in the areas over the years of being active on these trails. We’ve put in 50 bridges, so nobody is driving in the creeks, we’ve moved trails away from creeks and as a volunteer group we’ve done everything possible to improve the trails and the system of maintaining the land.”
The Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad is just one group within the area that are seeing the repercussions of this study, and after being active for many years within the region are left failing to see the need to take away their pastime.
Although, group members do agree with the negative impacts that quading can have on the environment if done incorrectly, they further suggest that better enforcement can be brought to light to keep these areas in the best shape, and believe those following the rules and taking caution to help conservation efforts shouldn’t be penalized in the way the study suggests.
“I do believe that there is some room for enforcement for the ones that violate laws and the environment, but not to the extent where they throw everyone out,” says Lumley.
“The  percentage of offenders are quite small and if the people in charge fined those offenders in the correct way then I don’t think this would have occurred.”
 With the study that was published late in December of 2017 posing some interesting problems and solutions to the issue of maintaining the environment while looking at Castle Wildland Provincial Park and Castle Provincial Park to see what activities should and should not be allowed, many were quick to jump on board with something to say on the issue.
The final decision however, on the fate of OHV’s within the area will be ultimately fall upon the government in the near future.
“I think people will have different opinions on what they want to be doing on these landscapes, but science isn’t an opinion, its not a want or desire,” says Morrison.
“We hope the government will take the study seriously when making a decision on what activities should be allowed in the park and the value of the study and risks that it proposes.”

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