By Shari Narine
PINCHER CREEK, Alta.
Piikani Chief Stanley Grier says he will ensure “that our interests are entrenched” as management plans move forward for the Castle area in southwestern Alberta.
Castle has significance for the Piikani, who gathered sacred and traditional items on the land for ceremonies, said Grier.
Premier Rachel Notley, along with Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Philips, made the trip to Pincher Creek on Friday, Jan. 20, to announce the boundaries for 103,000 hectares set aside in two parks: the Castle Provincial Park and the expanded Castle Wildland Provincial Park.
While both parks protect the environment, Notley said the wildland provincial park limits recreational activity to low impact forms in order to better safeguard headwaters, wildlife corridors and the eco-system.
“One hundred and three thousand hectares of irreplaceable land is safe from disturbance and development,” she said. “Our plan is founded on the idea Castle needs enhanced measures to keep its beauty intact.”
Forty-four new jobs will be created in order to oversee and maintain the parks. Along with employment income, the parks will also act as a source of economic diversification, bringing in more tourists and creating more jobs, said Notley.
Now attention turns to the draft management plan.
“We will work with Indigenous groups to explore how the parks can be managed cooperatively,” said Notley.
Grier said he expects “meaningful dialogue” with the province.
“Consultation as I see it will flesh out everybody’s interest to see how we can work together to achieve the usage of that land,” he said.
Protection of the Castle parks area will mean transitioning off-highway vehicle recreation use out of the new boundary.
Existing off-highway trails will be assessed for ecological risks to the area and non-designated trails will be rehabilitated.
The region is an important source to the Oldman River Basin headwaters. The Castle area is home to more than 200 rare or at-risk species located on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in southern Alberta, near British Columbia and Montana.
Additional work in the region includes the development of a regional tourism strategy and the completion of priority planning for Porcupine Hills and Livingstone Range vacant public lands adjacent to the Castle parks’ boundaries.
The province is launching a 60-day online consultation period to get input before finalizing the management plan, which was drafted through public consultation.