Bighorn Country, a mix of wildland provincial parks, provincial parks, public recreation areas and public land use zones, was proposed by the provincial government on Nov. 23, 2018. Public comment on this new proposal is open until Feb. 15, 2019. It is important to provide input to ensure your voice is heard!
The Bighorn backcountry and adjacent public lands that make up Bighorn Country are a priority conservation area for Alberta Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
Understanding the landscape
The jewel of Bighorn Country is the Bighorn backcountry. Located along the central east slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, the Bighorn backcountry consists of over 5,000 square kilometers of mountains and foothills bordered by Banff and Jasper National Park to the west, the Red Deer River to the south, the Brazeau River to the north and the Forestry Trunk Road to the east.
The Bighorn backcountry is rugged and wild. Unlike most of Alberta’s eastern slopes, the Bighorn backcountry is not heavily fragmented by linear features (like roads, trails and seismic lines), industrial development, agriculture or forestry. Hunters and anglers can venture into the Bighorn and anticipate a true wilderness experience.
Management of the Bighorn backcountry has been through several iterations since the 1970s with the intent of multiple provincial governments to afford the area permanent protection. Currently management in this region is limited to the six public land use zones, or PLUZ, that make up the Bighorn backcountry.
Problems with past management
Current management of the Bighorn backcountry leaves it open to threats from industrial development, habitat fragmentation and wildlife displacement and habitat loss by unmanaged motorized access. In addition, high recreation use in certain areas has created problems with random camping, trash and human waste. Enforcement resources are limited, as are funds for basic infrastructure, such as outhouses and trail signage that would help alleviate some problems
Alberta Backcountry Hunters & Anglers believes that the Bighorn Country Proposal is needed for the conservation of wilderness and recreation opportunity in the Bighorn backcountry and surrounding area.
A snapshot of the Bighorn Country Proposal
- The Bighorn Country Proposal would establish a Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park, three provincial parks and four provincial recreation areas and would designate two public land use zones.
- The Bighorn Country Proposal maintains most hunting and angling opportunities.
- Hunting is permitted in all of the proposed provincial parks (David Thompson, North Saskatchewan, Ya Ha Tinda) with a discharge permit.
- Hunting is not permitted in the four small front-country public recreation areas (Bighorn Dam, Shunda, Snow Creek, Hummingbird). These will host a variety of automobile-accessible campsites and tourist-driven businesses.
- The Bighorn Country Proposal retains the established summer and winter motorized trail network in the Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park on trails designated by the stakeholder-led Bighorn Standing Committee.
- The Bighorn Country Proposal creates a PLUZ for the public land east of the Bighorn backcountry. Called the West Country PLUZ, this designation will lead to the development of a recreation management plan.
- Provincial investment of $40 million in Bighorn Country.
BHA suggestions for improving the Bighorn Country Proposal
- Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park and the proposed provincial parks should be managed with the intent of maintaining wilderness. Tourism hubs should be built in or immediately adjacent to surrounding towns, and development should be minimized in the parks.
- The use of unmanaged or irresponsible motorized off-highway vehicles anywhere in the wildland park or development of new trails should not be permitted. Off-highway vehicle trails in the wildland park that negatively impact wilderness recreation values or fish and wildlife habitat should be removed.
- Hunting with dogs: Provide provisions in the plan to allow bird and cougar hunters to hunt with off-leash dogs in the Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park and provincial parks.
- Develop recreation and land use management plans for both the West Country and Kiska-Willson PLUZ. These plans should include science-based limits on motorized roads and trails, management of random camping, protection of threatened native fish species, comprehensive habitat fragmentation analysis of all human activity, and creation of additional areas of non-motorized use.
- Designate funding for habitat rehabilitation and enforcement. A proportion of the $40 million promised by the provincial government needs to be specifically designated for habitat rehabilitation and enforcement to ensure that habitat and quality of experience is improved and not degraded by the proposed changes.
You can read all of the concerns the Alberta Chapter has raised with the proposal and Minister Phillip's responses to each here.
Bighorn Country is a win for hunters and anglers in Alberta
As a hunter or angler invested in maintaining quality backcountry adventure areas and wildlife habitat, you have an opportunity to make your voice heard! It is critical that the Bighorn Country proposal receive support from Alberta’s public. If not, the Bighorn will move again to the planning back burner and this important area will face increased pressure from unmanaged recreation and industry. Speak up for the Bighorn. Take just a few minutes and complete the Bighorn Country survey. We have created a comment guide to help you along the way.
Finally, write or call the minister of environment and parks and your MLA and let them know your thoughts on the Bighorn Country Proposal. The Alberta Chapter has written a letter to Minister Phillips and she has responded. Your efforts matter. Together, we can keep Alberta wild.
The Alberta chapter is united in the belief that our freedom to hunt and fish depends on wilderness habitat and the bounty that it provides. It is our goal to deliver this wilderness to the next generation of hunters/anglers, and as such, much depends on our shared voices, efforts and actions to protect it. With our members, who possess a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, we are excited to step forward and meet this challenge.
Please contact us to learn how you can get involved with Alberta BHA!