Alberta Government Could Learn From Ranchers

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An editorial from the July 21 Globe and Mail

In its report on the state of Canada’s parks, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society praises the success of ranchlands in Alberta in terms of environmental protection. In contrast, the report finds that the natural integrity of the Castle Crown Wilderness Area, which falls under the direct auspices of the Alberta government, is not being protected. Why, then, does it urge the Alberta government to “expand the parks system?”

Ranchers in Alberta have long been at the forefront of environmental protection in that province, fighting extraction industries to protect fragile ecosystems such as the Whaleback in southwestern Alberta. Insofar as the province has seen fit to assist private landowners and leaseholders, such as through the Heritages Ranchlands Act, there have been some notable successes.

Last fall, Alberta announced that one of the largest areas of native grassland in the province, on the historic OH Ranch, will be preserved through a heritage rangeland designation and conservation agreements initiated by the ranch’s owners, the Seaman family. Some 10,200 acres of public land under grazing leases held by the OH are involved, to make sure traditional ranching practices continue to protect the area’s native prairies. Conservation easements on the privately held OH lands will protect them for future generations.

The Castle Crown Wilderness Area, however, is a case of governmental negligence. A critical link between Canadian and U.S. wildlife populations, declared a “protected area” by Alberta in 1995, the Castle wilderness is anything but. The Crown lands are being mismanaged by Alberta’s Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development. According to the CPAWS report, “The area is suffering from rampant unchecked motorized recreation and off-trail camping. In addition, clear-cut logging is slated to begin this winter.” Such activities can only degrade neighbouring Waterton Lakes National Park, and the report says the ecological integrity of the Castle wilderness is at serious risk.

In this context, it should be a source of relief, not concern, to the environmental organization that Alberta has no specific plans to complete or expand its parks system. The Alberta government could stand to learn some lessons in environmental protection and sustainability from its ranching community.

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