New report: more work needed to protect the Castle Park

A new report released earlier this month by Global Forest Watch Canada raises concerns about land-use in the new Castle Wildland and Provincial Parks. The report suggests more work is needed to conserve and restore this treasured place. While the new Castle parks announcement was a big step (finally excluding commercial logging), this new information shows that cumulative land-uses over the past fifty years have damaged this ecologically significant area.

The report indicates human footprint and habitat fragmentation in the Castle is higher than previously thought, particularly within the boundaries of the provincial park. Disturbances to the land have grown considerably since 2000. Less than half of the entire Castle, and only two per cent of the new Provincial Park is considered “intact forest,”; intact meaning that it has big enough areas of forests (without roads and motorized trails) to support grizzly bears and other species over the long term.
Additionally, the study reports a loss almost 40 square kilometres of natural habitat in the Castle from 2000-2015 through disturbances to the land such as clear-cut and salvage logging, motorized recreation trails, and oil and gas development.

As the government drafts the management plan for the new parks, it will be very important to consider the current state of the area and include plans for restoration and road and trail closures. We need to take a thorough look at land uses within the Castle, such as off-highway vehicle use, and make some hard choices if we are to limit and reverse the damage we are seeing.

While the state of the Castle is troubling, it also creates an opportunity to work on restoring the area for water, wildlife and people in Southern Alberta. We can learn from positive models of a restoration economy in similar landscapes in the northwestern United States, such as the Southwest Crown Collaborative, where people are being put to work restoring damaged areas.

In the Southwest Crown Collaborative, the government worked with the forestry sector, community groups and the conservation community to guide the region from one dependent on a declining forestry industry to one based on a diverse economy that includes tourism opportunities and restoration employment.

Despite the extensive habitat loss and fragmentation, the proposed Castle protected areas will safeguard some of the last remaining intact forests in the Southern Alberta foothills. Restoring and protecting this area is more important than ever.

View the Global Forest Watch Canada report here.