As we approach the potential announcement of a Bighorn Wildland Park West of Rocky Mountain House, I can’t help but wonder how we get this far without any studies specifically examining the sustainability of the Bighorn Public Land Use Zones (PLUZ) as they are currently managed. As far as I can tell, this hasn’t been done.
There is no report indicating that OHV use and random camping are not sustainable at current levels, there is no report on deteriorating water quality and there are no reports presented that indicate fish and wildlife populations in this area are declining. What I see are feel good statements about preserving nature from conservation groups like CPAWS, Y2Y and Alberta Preserves. Of course, I want to see nature preserved, but I’m concerned that by pushing through the Bighorn Park current users are going to be displaced when they don’t need to be, nor deserve to be.
If you look at the way these lands are managed under the current Bighorn PLUZ regulations they are highly restrictive. There has been a steering committee in place for more than 15 years that has debated conservation measures to ensure the sustainability of these lands. In fact, this has worked so well that conservation groups, such as CPAWS, have outright indicated the Bighorn is a “relatively intact landscape.”
I am not completely against the creation of a Wildland Park, but I believe it’s unnecessary given how well the PLUZ regulations have worked and I am concerned that well-meaning individuals with little attachment to the social fabric of the region will determine regulations that affect long-term local users. My greatest concerns and I believe the concerns of most local users are that random camping and OHV use will be discontinued. The current system has worked well and with minor modifications can be improved to ensure long-term sustainability.
Random camping in the Bighorn is a big part of the magic of this area. Where else can you camp at the foot of the mountains and be enveloped in nature and solitude? Under current regulations, a family only needs to pull up to a vacant area of the forest and set up a trailer or pitch a tent. I’m concerned that regulations could look like Kananaskis where “random camping is not permitted within 1 kilometre of a road.” Not only is this inconvenient and potentially hazardous for families with young children, it is a deal breaker for myself and numerous Albertans that have physical limitations which make packing camp one kilometre off the road virtually impossible. There has been a lot of talk about backcountry huts for people with physical limitations. This is not remotely the same thing as spending time alone with your family. Losing random camping in this area is unnecessary and takes quality time away from families.
OHV use in the Bighorn is highly regulated and trails have been maintained by the Bighorn Heritage ATV Society since 2002. Trails are generally in good shape and the vast majority of users are respectful of the environment and other users. The current government has been eliminating many OHV trails in areas like the Castle, Livingstone and Porcupine Hills. Much of this debate has been centered on sustainable use. OHV use in the Bighorn has a long history and the users themselves have took it upon themselves to upgrade trails to build sustainability. The areas aren’t perfect and they need assistance (designated funding) to ensure appropriate trail design and upkeep, but they are more than willing to put in the effort to ensure their chosen recreational activity has a future.
As an Albertan who has enjoyed random camping and OHV use in the Bighorn since I was a child I hope that current and future governments recognize the social value and include these activities in whatever land use designation they decide on. These activities molded me into the person I am today. I care about these lands and how they are managed and I strongly believe that if opportunities to interact with nature are lost, we lose people who care. There is a middle ground that allows for multi-use and preservation - I think we’ve already found it with the Public Land Use Zone designation.
Dean Baayens - Red Deer
EDITOR'S NOTE: The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of rdnewsNOW or the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group. Column suggestions and letters to the editor can be sent to [email protected]
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