Blairmore – After more than 40 years of pressure from local business, advocates and community members, the remainder of the Castle Special Place has been protected as a Provincial Park and Wildland Provincial Park in Alberta, completing the protection of more than 1000 square kilometres of important wildlife habitat in Alberta.
“This announcement puts Alberta back on the map in terms of international conservation success stories,” says Wendy Francis, Interim President of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
The Castle Special Place is located just north of Waterton Lakes National Park and is part of the internationally celebrated Crown of the Continent ecosystem. It’s an important core area for wildlife habitat in southern Alberta, but also an extremely important linkage zone for roaming animals moving between Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which straddles the US-Canada border, and Banff National Park and other protected areas to the north.
“This is a great day for Albertans who love wildlife, clean water and wild places,” said James Tweedie, President of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition. “The completion of the protection of the Castle is a conservation success that has been decades in the making.”
Alberta residents and businesses are also celebrating the announcement, since it will be a boon for the local area, by bring new tourism opportunities to the region. “Places like the Castle are vital to our local economy,” says Jacques Thouin, owner of the Beaver Mines Store. “The certainty that comes with park status will help create jobs and tourism business opportunities in the communities that surround the Castle Special Place.”
Alan Brice, with Alberta Fly Fishing Adventures, adds: “Protecting the Castle is an important part of my business. People come from all over the world to fish on world-class trout streams in the Castle, and in the Crowsnest Pass. This is a good news story for business in Southwestern Alberta.”
Conservation groups have been arguing for full protection of the Castle for decades, given its ecological importance for wildlife habitat and connectivity, and also because it’s a headwater region that ensures clean drinking water for millions of people downstream. “The Castle is the source of 30 percent of the water for the Oldman River basin,” says Katie Morrison, of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Southern Alberta chapter. “Protecting these headwaters is essential to ensuring clean water for downstream communities such as Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.”
The announcement is also giving conservationists reason to hope for the future in terms of ongoing provincial land-use planning. “Conservation groups look forward to working with the government to address broader regional issues, like logging and off highway vehicle use, through the sub-regional plans that will come out of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan,” says Sean Nichols of the Alberta Wilderness Association. “We are optimistic about meaningful public participation in the development of management plans for the Castle that will support new economic opportunities while protecting this significant ecosystem.”