The spectacular scenery of the Castle wildlands in southwest Alberta has long been recognized, yet securing appropriate protection has been elusive. On September 4, 2015, however, the Government of Alberta finally designated ̴1080 km2 known as the ‘Castle Special Place’ as a Provincial Park and Wildland Provincial Park.
Wildlife Conservation Society Canada played an important role by providing a conservation blueprint that solidified the scientific case for protection of this internationally-significant area. In July 2013, Senior Scientist Dr. John Weaver published a Conservation Report entitled:
Protecting and Connecting Headwater Havens: Vital Landscapes for Vulnerable Fish and Wildlife in the Southern Canadian Rockies of Alberta
Dr. Weaver synthesized the latest scientific data (generously provided by Alberta biologists) and mapped critical areas for 6 vulnerable species: bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, grizzly bear, wolverine, mountain goat, and bighorn sheep. He also mapped key wildlife-crossing sites along busy Highway 3 north of the Castle, which are vital for connecting the larger landscape of the Southern Canadian Rockies. Based upon this spatial data, Dr. Weaver recommended protection of nearly all of the Castle area as a Wildland Provincial Park – accompanied by a detailed map.
From 1914 to 1921, the Castle wildlands were part of Waterton Lakes National Park, only to be withdrawn to a Forest Reserve. Since 1958, conservation groups and citizens have been advocating for increased protection of this area that lies immediately north of Waterton Lakes National Park. In 2014, the Government of Alberta released a regional plan that would establish a Wildland Provincial Park in a limited portion of the Castle area. Conservationists decried the proposal as too small and ecologically fragmented, as it excluded the major valleys.
The detailed information and maps in the recent WCS Canada report provided a strong ecological rationale for the location and boundary of the newly-created parks. Moreover, our recommendations helped strengthen the resolve of conservationists to advocate for full protection of the Castle watershed and not settle for a fragmented version proffered by the previous government.
Dr. Weaver said: “The Castle wildlands comprise one of the most ecologically-diverse watersheds and important wildlife areas in Alberta, as well as a strategic part of the international Crown of the Continent Ecosystem. These new parks will help protect this vital area as a significant conservation legacy.”
Photo credits: Banner | William Halliday © WCS Canada