The Livingstone – Porcupine Hills region encompasses mountains and foothills of south-western Alberta north of the Castle Parks and south of Kananaskis Country. This area includes large portions of Alberta’s montane and foothills fescue ecosystems, is home to world famous trout streams such as the Oldman and Crowsnest Rivers, and overlaps all or part of wildlife management units 303, 304, 305, 306, 308, and 402.
The Livingstone and the Porcupine Hills have always been important places for hunters and anglers. Canadian wilderness icon Andy Russell called this area “a land of guns and fishing rods…wild, free country laced together by crystal streams between the low, folded ridges buttressing the feet of the mountains”.
For those hunters and anglers lucky enough to take advantage of the many opportunities that the Livingstone and Porcupine Hills present, there is no doubt that this part of the province is worth protecting. But the wild places described by Andy Russell have diminished. Over the years, the intensity of use on the 1,790 km2 of public lands in the area has increased dramatically. For example, trail density in the southern portion of Porcupine Hills is now greater than 2km/km2 over 3 times what is sustainable for species like bull trout and elk to thrive. This high density of roads and trails can lead to sedimentation of streams, habitat fragmentation, stress to wildlife and changes in vegetation. Hunters, anglers, campers, OHV enthusiasts, hikers, and equestrian users all vie for space that is also allocated to ranchers with grazing permits. To preserve the integrity of this unique ecosystem and the backcountry experiences BHA members seek, unlimited access and use cannot continue.
What is the Alberta Government Proposing?
The Alberta Government is asking for comment on a proposed Land Footprint Management Plan (LFMP) and a proposed Recreation Management Plan (RMP), both of which will expand upon direction provided in the 2014 South Saskatchewan Regional Management Plan. The LFMP and RMP were developed with input from a full range of stakeholders, including: ranchers, landowners, municipalities, scientists, conservation organizations, OHV clubs and other recreation groups. Alberta BHA contributed to these plans as part of the Southwest Alberta Recreation Advisory Group which met several times to help government planners refine their approach.
Public Land Use Zones (PLUZ) will be established for both the Livingstone and Porcupine Hills to provide the regulatory and enforcement authority necessary to implement the LFMP and RMP.
Key points in the proposed plans:
- Road and Trail Density: The LFMP limits road and trail density depending on the ecological value of the area. For high-value landscapes (classified as Zone 2 in the LFMP) the density of open motorized access is limited to 0.4 km/km2. Open motorized access in ecologically less sensitive areas (Zone 3) and restricted industrial access in Zone 2 and 3 is limited to 0.6 km/km2. Near stream motorized access (i.e. riparian areas with erodible soils) is limited to 0.04 km/km
These open motorized trail density thresholds are derived from an exhaustive review of relevant peer-reviewed science studies that identified levels at which sensitive species like elk and grizzly bear are displaced or habitat for bull and west slope cutthroat trout becomes impaired.
- Trail designations: The RMP designates specific trails for motorized use, with seasonal trails specified along the Livingstone Range. Designated trails will be designed to address environmental concerns and bridges and culverts will be constructed over all water bodies. However, the RMP does not identify a concrete timeline for bridge and culvert construction.
- Proposed trails: The RMP proposes several locations for future motorized trails. While trails can only be constructed if the density remains below the LFMP threshold, these thresholds should not be considered a goal to achieve but rather an impact threshold to be avoided. In particular, the proposed motorized trail system in the Livingstone Area and the proposed motorized route at the north end of the Porcupine Hills Recreation Management Unit are likely to reduce habitat security for elk and other wildlife and should be removed.
- Camping and Day Use: The RMP designates specific Rustic Camping Zones along with other proposed facilities such as equestrian staging areas and day use areas. These zones are extensive and include sensitive riparian areas along streams, fescue grasslands and other wildlife habitat. Although the plan says camping will not be allowed in such sensitive areas there is no detail or timeline for when rustic camping will be shifted to less sensitive sites.
How Will This Proposal Affect Fish and Wildlife?
Managing human impact using science-based thresholds is a critical step towards protecting and improving fish and wildlife habitat in the Livingstone – Porcupine Hills region. The LFMP sets thresholds for motorized access and spatial human footprint by limiting the trail density and the RMP designates trail locations and camping areas.
Trail proliferation and use has detrimental affects on both fish and wildlife. For ungulates, high levels of human use in an area can cause stress, increase vigilance, decrease foraging time and force changes in habitat selection patterns. Relieving the expansive human pressure on ungulates in the Livingstone – Porcupine Hills region by designating trails and Rustic Camping Zones as well as reducing trail density will create refugia away from human use for the benefit of elk, deer, moose and bighorn sheep populations.
Alberta BHA has already been vocal about the need to improve habitat protection for our native fish populations. The rivers and tributaries in the Livingstone – Porcupine Hills region are important spawning habitat for westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout. Trails that cut across streams and through riparian areas increase sediment load and diminish the viability of streams for trout populations. Decreasing trail density and designating trails and camping zones away from sensitive riparian areas will improve the quality of headwater streams. Additionally, designating the area as a PLUZ will give fisheries managers tools they need to regulate access around sensitive habitats.
How Will This Proposal Affect Backcountry Hunting and Angling?
Improved fish and wildlife habitat resulting from the protections afforded under a PLUZ and the reduction in motorized trail use and proliferation will improve fish and wildlife populations, increasing opportunities for hunters and anglers. Reducing the density of motorized trails will also provide additional opportunities for quality backcountry experiences in the region. Properly designed motorized trails with bridges and stream approaches that divert runoff will greatly reduce sediment loading to native trout streams, helping threatened populations to recover. Hunters and anglers will again be able to enjoy stalking elk or casting for trout away from areas dominated by heavy human use — at least in some parts of the planning areas.
What Can You Do?
Alberta BHA supports improved recreation and land use management in the Livingstone – Porcupine Hills region. You can add your voice of support and your thoughts by sending the following letter to Minister Phillips. You can also comment directly on the LFMP and RMP by participating in the two Alberta Environment and Parks surveys available at the following link: Livingstone – Porcupine Hills Footprint and Recreation Planning.
Please make your voice heard by 4:00 pm, Thursday April 26, 2018.