Wildlife Conservation Society Canada (WCS Canada) scientists said today that the draft South Saskatchewan Regional Plan released recently by the Alberta government falls far short of protecting vulnerable fish and wildlife populations and headwater sources of precious water that are cherished by southern Albertans.
WCS Canada senior scientist Dr. John Weaver compiled and synthesized the latest scientific data collected by Alberta biologists to map key areas for iconic species that are vulnerable to industrial land uses and/or climate change -- bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, grizzly bear, wolverine, mountain goat and bighorn sheep. Expanding resource extraction and practices over the past 50 years have been rough on these native fish and wildlife of the Eastern Slopes of southern Alberta. Once-abundant populations have been diminished in many areas ... habitats have been lost, connectivity has been fractured, and genetic integrity compromised.
Based upon its scientific assessment, WCS Canada identified a 'Headwater Haven' area of 2,570 square kilometres that provides 66 percent of the most important habitats for these species on just 40 percent of the land base. It would protect 47-81 percent of the key areas for the various species.
Many important areas are not protected in the Alberta government's draft Regional Plan, which would establish about 633 square kilometres of new Wildland Parks, or just 25 percent of the Headwater Haven area. In fact, the government's plan would only protect a small portion of each species' vital habitat: bull trout 2 percent, westslope cutthroat trout 9 percent, grizzly bear 17 percent, wolverine 46 percent, mountain goat 41 percent, and bighorn sheep 44 percent.
Upon analysis of the Alberta draft plan, Dr. Weaver concluded that
"In many areas, the new parks proposed by government would only protect a narrow strip of rock 'n ice less than 5 km wide. Moreover, many of the more productive habitats along the upper river valleys and higher basins of the headwater haven were excluded from protection. Although these additional Wildland Parks represent a commendable step in the right direction, clearly they are woefully inadequate to protect the last best places for these vulnerable fish and wildlife."
To protect more of Alberta's wildlife heritage and treasured headwaters, WCS Canada recommends that vital habitats in the following areas should be designated as larger Wildland Provincial Parks or Conservation Areas with stronger conservation standards: valleys of upper Castle and West Castle River, and headwater basins of Carbondale, Oldman, and Highwood River watersheds.
Nestled between Banff and Waterton parks, the Southern Canadian Rockies in Alberta has been overshadowed by these two iconic national parks. Yet this area contains spectacular landscapes, supports one of the most diverse communities of big animals in North America, and is a stronghold for the six vulnerable species that have been vanquished in much of their range further south.
"Protecting these headwater havens with larger and better connected Wildland Provincial Parks or Conservation Areas will help ensure that these remarkable treasures of native fish and wildlife and precious water will be enjoyed by people today and generations yet to follow," said Weaver. "It would be a smart, effective investment toward a more resilient future in a changing world. Today is not too late, but tomorrow may be."
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