News / Calgary

Alberta parks minister pledges ‘enhanced’ protection for Castle Wilderness Area

Alberta’s new environment minister confirmed Monday the NDP government will move to better protect the Castle Wilderness Area, as environmental groups have long been calling for, but could offer few details on precisely how or when.

“I can tell you we have rolled up our sleeves and have already begun important work on the details of what enhanced protection would look like as promised to Albertans in the election,” Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips said in an email to Metro.

Her comments came as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) released its annual report on wilderness protection, which included a specific call for Alberta to protect the Castle lands.

The area encompasses about 1,000 square kilometres of mountainous natural terrain in southwestern Alberta, just north of Waterton Lakes National Park. The former PC government designated it a “Special Place” in 1998 and then further protected it in 2014 under the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan.

But Katie Morrison, conservation director with CPAWS, said that latest level of protection is “not adequate” as it mostly covers rocky alpine areas and not lower-altitude portions where more plants and animals actually live.

“That plan protected about half of what we’ve been working to protect in the Castle but, unfortunately, it was mostly the top half,” she said. “So it was mostly the areas above treeline, with a few lower valleys in the south Castle.”

Given the biodiversity in the area and the fact that it’s a headwater for much of southern Alberta, CPAWS has been calling for the area to be designated as a full-fledged park.

Phillips wouldn’t commit to that Monday but said “strengthening environmental protection for Alberta’s pristine landscapes is a concern shared by our government.”

In its election platform, the NDP stated: “we will protect the Castle Wilderness Area.”

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