Y2Y is working to ensure Alberta’s headwaters are kept intact for clean water provision, habitat for at-risk species, and sustainable recreation opportunities.

Our current efforts are focused on:

  • The Bighorn region, where most of the North Saskatchewan River originates
  • Kananaskis Country and the Ghost Watershed, which holds the unprotected portion of the Bow River’s headwaters
  • Livingstone-Porcupine Hills, an area that feeds the Oldman River
  • The Castle region, which houses the headwaters of the South Saskatchewan River

What is the threat?

Headwaters are the source of all rivers or streams. This includes glaciers, streams, tributaries and more.

Alberta’s mountain headwaters:

  • provide 90% of Alberta’s water, serving millions of people throughout the prairies
  • help with flood and drought control
  • provide critical habitat for wildlife
  • link wildlife with nearby protected areas and parks via vital corridors
  • support Indigenous communities who practice traditional ways of life
  • offer abundant recreation opportunities

While some of our headwaters and surrounding habitat are protected, much is not. Poor management practices over many decades mean that some mountain watersheds are no longer healthy and intact. Across the Eastern slopes cumulative impacts from activities continue to threaten our water, wildlife and recreation values.

One such example is metallurgical open-pit coal mining. This is a serious threat to more than 53,000 square kilometers (20,400 square miles) of mountains and foothills in Alberta’s headwaters. More than 900 active coal lease applications put essential drinking and irrigation water for millions of people at risk.

The eastern portions of our headwaters in particular are often crisscrossed with forestry access roads, OHV trails — both regulated and unregulated — and seismic lines.

Many assume it is fully protected, but nearly half of Kananaskis is threatened by commercial logging. Forestry is not currently permitted within Bighorn Public Land Use Zones, either. However, some companies have forest management agreements with the province on neighboring land with high conservation value.

Westslope cutthroat trout in Alberta's headwaters
Westslope cutthroat trout is one of the highly threatened species in Alberta’s headwaters. Photo: Shutterstock

Where are we seeing progress?

In Alberta’s Castle

Following 40 years of pressure from hunters, ranchers and other Albertans, in September 2015 the Government of Alberta announced the creation of a new Castle Provincial Park and expansion of the Castle Wildland Provincial Park.

On January 20, 2017, Castle Parks passed an order-in-council. The park boundaries were officially set, and a draft management plan covering both parks was released outlining permitted activities, including a three- to five-year phase-out of off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation in both parks.

It also outlines co-management potential with the Piikani Nation.

What are we doing?

Along with our partners, we are engaged in initiatives to influence land-use planning to safeguard the headwaters within the Yellowstone to Yukon region.

We bring together key stakeholders to jointly develop a conservation vision for each region.

Y2Y expresses this conservation vision:

  • to the government through public comment opportunities
  • to the public through public events and outreach

“Wherever you live in Alberta, nearly all of your water comes from the mountains and foothills. Your family, your pets, your houseplants, your favorite fishing hole or swimming spot, the wildlife you love — they all benefit from healthy headwaters.”

— Adam Linnard, Alberta program manager

Who are we working with?

Our headwaters are important to all Albertans, including you.

We also work with numerous stakeholders, community grassroots groups, governments, and non-profits concerned about headwater health throughout Alberta’s Eastern slopes.

These groups include Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Northern AlbertaCanadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Southern Alberta and Alberta Wilderness Association.

Latest news and updates

Header photo: Ross Donihue