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Alberta, Do You Love Your Headwaters?

Alberta’s Bighorn Wildland filters clean, fresh drinking water for more than a million people downstream. It’s time to protect this vital headwater region.

Alberta’s Bighorn Wildland filters clean, fresh drinking water for more than a million people downstream. It’s time to protect this vital headwater region.

On the Alberta side of the southern and central Canadian Rockies, iconic parks like Banff and Jasper protect the high-elevation ecosystems that hug the Continental Divide.

As those icy, jagged peaks give way to the forested ridges and valleys of Alberta’s Eastern Slopes, the legislated protection stops. Left unprotected are some of the most important areas of intact wildlife habitat in the province’s headwaters.

Nestled between Banff and Jasper and encompassing more than 1.2 million acres (500,000 hectares) of prime wildlife habitat, the Bighorn Wildland is one such region—a vital landscape that filters clean, fresh water for more than a million people downstream, providing almost 90 percent of the drinking water for Edmonton, the provincial capital.

Thomson Creek Falls
Thomson Creek Falls. Photo: Adam Linnard

The heart of the Bighorn is still largely intact—free of the roads, pipelines, seismic lines and other forms of development that can fragment important wildlife habitat and degrade water quality—and home to abundant grizzly bears, wolverines and a host of at-risk species, including bull trout, lake sturgeon and whitebark pine trees.

Beyond its significant ecological value, the Bighorn also offers extensive recreational opportunities for locals and tourists alike, which is why local ecotourism operators argue the Province could diversify its economy by exploring the conservation-minded business opportunities in the region.

Bighorn Wildland
Ski touring in Bighorn Wildland. Photo: Marla Zapach

The Bighorn has everything, but it lacks protection. And that means it's currently threatened by industrial development, including forestry, coal and inappropriate recreational activities—especially unregulated off-highway vehicles, which can damage fish habitat and muddy the water that eventually flows through Edmonton’s taps.

That’s why, together with our partner CPAWS Northern Alberta, Y2Y has launched the Love Your Headwaters campaign—a timely call to the Alberta Government to protect the Bighorn as a Wildland Provincial Park.

The Bighorn provides free services that benefit all Albertans. It’s a recreational playground for experiencing the beauty and grandeur of nature first-hand; it protects residents from floods and droughts, and filters clean drinking water upstream, so that downstream municipalities save money on water treatment; and it’s a home for grizzly bears, wolverines and other wide-ranging wildlife that depend on inter-connected ecosystems for survival, especially in a changing climate.

You can help us protect Alberta’s Bighorn Wildland. Learn more at loveyourheadwaters.ca.