It’s conservationists vs. offroaders in a bid to create a protected area in Alberta

A stream in a forest Photo by Pixabay/alanbatt

What is the best way to get the most out of our wild spaces? This question is at the heart of a conflict between conservationists and recreational offroaders in Alberta.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has petitioned the province to turn the Bighorn Wildland region into a protected park larger than Banff National Park. This would protect the region from further industrial development.

It would also restrict offroad vehicle use in the area, something offroaders aren’t happy about. Offroading groups have opposed the bid, saying that the area is too important to them.

“This is where we enjoy nature; this is where we come out to get away from the city,” Sarah Wilson, the co-owner of a hospitality business in the town of Nordegg, told the CBC. Wilson says that quadding is an essential part of the culture in the region. “If you turn it into a wildland park, there’s a lot of restrictions that will be put in place and a lot of people will no longer be able to enjoy the area.”

ATVer on a forest trail

Offroaders worry that turning the Bighorn region into a wildland park will prevent them from continuing to use the area. [Credit: Tim Arnold]

However, CPAWS’ executive director in the region, Anne-Marie Syslak, says that the freedoms of offroaders may need to be de-prioritized in order to protect a vital natural area. “This is about creating more parks and protected areas and places that we love and that are part of our outdoor heritage,” she said.

The proposed park, which is west of Red Deer, would cover 6,700 square kilometres and protect the habitats of many wild animals, as well as drinking-water sources for the city of Edmonton.

People from all around the Bighorn region flooded a town hall meeting about the park recently, but there was very little solid information on the future of the region.

“We held the open house to bring people up to speed as to what has been going on in the Bighorn. There’s a great big unknown, that we don’t know what the government is going to do,” Cal Rakach, a member of the Bighorn Heritage ATV Society, told the Red Deer Advocate.

Wilson told the CBC that banning ATVs would harm tourism in the area and make some areas of the wilderness inaccessible. She also said that the conservationists have been using the few offroaders who don’t clean up after themselves as a reason to ban all quadders. “We’re hoping to fight it,” she said.

For her part, Syslak says that she understands that offroad users need places to ride, but that preserving Bighorn for future generations should be the top priority.

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