A push to provide provincial protection for the Bighorn Backcountry area has been renewed as a conservation group is taking aim at the Alberta government.
The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation initiative has a Love Your Headwaters campaign, which wants to protect the area, starting with the headwaters of both the Red Deer and North Saskatchewan Rivers. Both rivers supply a significant amount of drinking water for Edmonton and Red Deer.
“If we don’t take care of where our water comes from, then we’ll have less water for municipalities,” said Stephen Legault, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation program director. “The cost of maintaining that water will rise exponentially.”
Some area off-highway vehicle users, however, are “not impressed,” saying they put a lot of work into environmental protection while enjoying the area.
“We’ve worked extremely hard to address the land and water issues that have been put forward and we’ve worked in compliance and in support of the Bighorn Backcountry Access Management plan of 2002,” said Calvin Rakach, member of the Bighorn Heritage ATV Society.
He estimates volunteers have spent at least $1.3 million in time, equipment, energy and materials building bridges, trails and toilets in the area over the last 15 years.
“We do that on weekends, we take our holidays,” said Rakach. “We do that for all Albertans, with the goal of environmental protection. We want to protect the water, we want to protect the land.”
Bighorn Backcountry, located near Nordegg, is one of three areas the Love Your Headwaters campaign is pushing to get protected. The Castle wildland provincial park, which was announced in 2015, and the Kananaskis Country and Ghost watershed, which has a portion of the Bow River’s headwaters.
Love Your Headwaters has both a petition on its website and a letter writing tool, aiding their campaign to make Bighorn Back Country a wildland provincial park.
“What we’ve found is the area where the mountains and the foothills sit along the eastern slope is incredibly important,” said Legault.
Legault said these debates often become polarized because off-highway vehicle users feel like they are being targeted.
“We’ve proposed to work collaboratively with the off-highway groups and the government to identify places OHV use is possible,” he said. “In the Bighorn region, probably an emphasis on the areas to the east of the Trunk Road (Hwy 40).”