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Report supports protection of key Alberta headwaters region

Report provides compelling scientific support for the protection of the Alberta's Bighorn Backcountry, a key headwaters region.

MEDIA RELEASE
JUNE 15, 2017

Today Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) welcomes the June 14 release of a Wildlife Conservation Society Canada report with compelling scientific support for the protection of the Bighorn Backcountry, a key headwaters region on Alberta’s Eastern Slopes. Y2Y supports this report and its recommendation for increased provincial protection for this sensitive region.

The 148-page report titled Bighorn Backcountry of Alberta: Protecting Vulnerable Wildlife and Precious Waters assesses the conservation value of approximately 10,000 square kilometres of unprotected wilderness for four vulnerable wildlife species: grizzlies, wolverine, bighorn sheep and bull trout.

The report also examines how climate change is likely to affect the quantity and quality of water in the North Saskatchewan, a river that provides drinking water to one in four Albertans.

The study concludes that provincial lands west of the Forestry Trunk Road (Hwy 734), west of Rocky Mountain House provide a high concentration of critical habitat for the species investigated. The rivers and waterbodies in the region also have the greatest potential to provide cooler refugia — key for sensitive species such as threatened westslope cutthroat trout as the climate warms.

As a result of these findings, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada recommends 6,900 square kilometres of public lands west of the Forestry Trunk Road be designated as a Wildland Provincial Park.

“The Bighorn is a water tower for most of central Alberta. Edmontonians connect directly with the Bighorn every time they turn on their tap, as it provides 88 per cent of the Capital Region’s drinking water,” says Stephen Legault, Y2Y program director for Crown, Alberta and Northwest Territories.

“We endorse the recommendation to protect the core region of the Bighorn as a Wildland Park, and look forward to working with First Nations and community members to determine where protected areas in the forested foothills of the North Saskatchewan can advance Alberta’s commitment to conservation and economic diversification,” he says.

“WCS’ report provides a strong scientific rationale for permanent protection of the Bighorn. They’ve clearly shown it has high conservation value for species with a wide range of habitat needs,” says Hilary Young, Y2Y’s Alberta program manager. “But the report also shows 100 years from now, the majority of the region’s coldest streams — those vulnerable fish like westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout need — will be located on the Bighorn’s slopes. The Alberta government is committed to making science-based decisions that consider climate change, so we’re hopeful that this report will help secure a protected designation for the Bighorn.

“It’s worth noting that the Government of Alberta has identified a number of environmentally sensitive areas within the foothills and boreal forest natural regions east of the Bighorn. These lands also need to be managed in a way that protects ecological values and helps lower-elevation species to thrive,” says Young.

Y2Y looks forward to advancing the science-based conversation about the future of the Bighorn, and other Eastern Slope headwaters in the coming weeks through new online media, and face-to-face outreach in Edmonton, Calgary and in many headwater communities.

For further comment, please contact:

• Stephen Legault, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative program director for Crown, Alberta and Northwest Territories, 403-688-2964 |

• Hilary Young, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative Alberta Program Manager, 403-609-2666 ext. 104 |

Background:

Read the entire WCS report Bighorn Backcountry of Alberta: Protecting Vulnerable Wildlife and Precious Waters