Adjacent to the eastern boundary of Banff and Jasper National Parks lies the Bighorn Country. The Bighorn Backcountry includes mountains, river valleys, and foothills with boreal forest. This watershed provides nearly 90% of the water that flows from our headwaters, which feeds the North Saskatchewan River, bringing fresh water to our communities. This area provides habitat for vulnerable species such as Grizzly Bears, Wolverines, Bighorn Sheep and Bull Trout. The Bighorn Country has long been an area for indigenous people to hunt, fish, and gather.
The area is important for all people today, providing us with opportunities to hike, camp, explore, hunt, and fish. However, Bighorn Country is currently under threat by human activity, including off-highway vehicle use and encroaching resource extraction. This area needs to be protected to conserve important ecosystem services, including providing the City of Edmonton with drinking water, providing critical habitat to vulnerable species, and as a place humans can connect with nature.
Many conservation organizations, including CPAWS, AWA, and Y2Y, have been involved in urging our government to take action in protecting and stewarding this intact area before damages become widespread and irreparable. In November, 2018, the Alberta Government made an announcement that they were consulting Albertans on a Bighorn Country Proposal, to create a mix of protected areas, provincial recreation areas and public land use zones.
A survey is open to Albertans until January 31, 2019. Without placing enough importance on conservation outcomes, the Bighorn Country is at risk of degrading sensitive habitats including stream beds and river banks. Off-highway vehicle use leads to erosion and sedimentation which can cause flooding and poor water quality downstream.
A recent study demonstrated that male and solitary female Grizzly Bears were more likely to avoid trails with higher motorized vehicle activity and that the bears also moved faster when using these trails. Female Grizzlies with cubs tended not to avoid these areas (needing to stay away from male Grizzlies) but did show the highest rates of increased movement speed when using trails with motorized activity. The study concludes that restricting motorized recreation would benefit our threatened Grizzly Bears. An earlier study suggested that restricting motorized recreation would allow Grizzly Bears to maximize foraging opportunities, especially in late summer and fall when they are preparing to den. Learn more about Grizzlies in EALT’s Species at Risk in AB Guide.
The Bighorn Country provides high quality Grizzly habitat and by protecting this crucial habitat you also protect Edmonton’s headwaters and many other vulnerable species, not to mention offer other recreational activities for all of us to connect with nature in a stunning landscape.
You can help protect this important area by taking time to provide your input to the Alberta Government by filling out the online survey: https://talkaep.alberta.ca/. CPAWS has even created a handy Bighorn Country Survey Guide to assist you in answering the questions to ensure the conservation of this unique region.