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Protecting Headwaters Creates Debate, Wins Praise in Alberta Legislature

The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society are applauding a private members motion passed in the Alberta Legislature on December 12, 2016.

December 13, 2016

The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) are applauding a private members motion passed in the Alberta Legislature on December 12, 2016. Written by Cam Westhead, MLA for Banff-Cochrane the motion reads:

"Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the Government to increase its efforts to conserve and manage public lands in Alberta’s headwater regions to optimize downstream water security for future generations of Albertans.” 

“Albertans love and respect their headwaters,” says Stephen Legault, Program Director for the Crown, Alberta and NWT for Y2Y.

“Alberta’s mountains and foothills provide clean, clear water not only for all of Alberta’s major cities but also for parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Ensuring those headwaters continue to provide water security in the future is a critical job of this government. Our headwaters are the key to our economic, ecological and culture future.” 

In a recent poll conducted for Y2Y, Edmonton-based polling company eNRG found that 83% of Edmontonians wanted the government to protect the Bighorn Wildland.

The Bighorn, an area the size of Jasper National Park, is south-west of the city and is where almost all of the Capital region’s water comes from. More than 9 in 10 supporting protection said it was to safeguard the city’s watershed.

“The Province has taken the first steps by beginning to protect the Castle watershed in south-western Alberta,” says Legault. “We’re anticipating further steps in the coming months to conserve other critical headwaters.” 

“Protecting headwaters means ensuring people and wildlife have access to safe water. Species such as Westslope Cutthroat trout and bull trout depend on clear, cold water to survive,” says Katie Morrison, Conservation Director of the Southern Alberta Chapter of CPAWS.

“Clean water comes from healthy landscapes. If our headwaters are clear-cut, or used as playgrounds for off-highway vehicles with little or no regard for the protection of our water, then both people and nature will suffer.” 

Morrison notes that watersheds upstream of Calgary have been protected in Banff National Park and in the Elbow Sheep Wildland Park, but more work needs to be done as clear-cut logging accelerates in other areas of Kananaskis, the Oldman River watershed and in the Ghost River watershed.

“Our watersheds are our most precious resource as a province,” adds Alison Ronson, Executive Director of CPAWS’ Northern Alberta Chapter. “Heathy headwaters provide nearly all of Calgary and Edmonton’s safe drinking water. And they provide habitat for caribou, wolverine and grizzly bears as well. People love to fish and boat in them. They are a provincial treasure.”

The groups congratulates MLA Westhead for his vision in introducing the motion, and for all those MLA’s who supported it.

“We would have liked to see it pass as unanimous,” says Legault. “I guess there are still those in the Legislature who haven’t caught up with the rest of Alberta when it comes to our province’s priorities.”

The groups have released a discussion paper called “Celebrating our Headwaters” that outlines 8 steps they are encouraging the Provincial government to take in order to provide meaningful action to ensure Motion 511 moves beyond debate on the floor of the legislature (see below).

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For further comment, contact:

Stephen Legault, Y2Y Program Director - Crown, Alberta and Northwest Territories
403-688-2964 | stephen@y2y.net

Katie Morrison, Conservation Director, CPAWS Southern Alberta Chapter
403-463-6337 | kmorrison@cpaws.org

Alison Ronson, Executive Director, CPAWS Northern Alberta Chapter
780-221-5041 | aronson@cpaws.org

 

Celebrating our Headwaters

The Legislature of Alberta has adopted Motion 511 to urge the Government to conserve the province’s headwaters: Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the Government to increase its efforts to conserve and manage public lands in Alberta’s headwater regions to optimize downstream water security for future generations of Albertans.

Here’s how we can do it!

Recommendations from the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society to protect our headwaters:

  • Implement new forestry ground rules for all Eastern Slopes headwater forests that focus on restoring and sustaining watershed health rather than producing a maximum sustained yield of timber. Replace all commercial logging south of the Ghost River with restoration of our forested headwaters; 
  • End new road building for industrial development in our headwaters; 
  • Create new protected areas in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and Lethbridge’s headwaters to safeguard their water quality and quantity, and to help Alberta reach its milestone to protect 17% of our natural landscapes; 
  • Stop new mining for minerals, coal and gravel near our headwaters and within key watersheds; 
  • Repair and revegetate eroding trails, gullies, soil compaction, mud bogs and other damage caused by motorized off-highway recreation, and provide a limited number of well-engineered vehicle trails outside of parks and other important conservation areas; 
  • Focus on developing economic opportunities that emphasis headwaters conservation like low-impact ecotourism with a focus hiking, biking, fishing, hunting and other sustainable activities; 
  • Address the impact of climate change on our headwaters by repairing riparian areas and restoring habitat for fish and wildlife species such as Westslope Cutthroat trout, bull trout and grizzly bear; 
  • Rename the ‘Forestry Trunk Road’ (also known as Hwy 734) Headwaters Trunk Road to honour and value the sources of our water.