Bighorn Wildland: The missing piece

If you look at a map of Banff and Jasper National Parks, it’s easy to spot the Bighorn region. It’s the missing puzzle piece between these two large protected areas. 

The Bighorn is 6,717 square-kilometres of mountains, foothills, grasslands, rivers and lakes along the Eastern Slopes of the province — just a little bigger than Banff National Park.

This area lies west of Rocky Mountain House, and three hours southwest of Edmonton. It forms the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River, which ultimately runs through Edmonton and into Saskatchewan, providing drinking water to hundreds of communities along the way. The provincial parks east of the Forestry Trunk Road were chosen based on a collaborative case study for protected area design and evaluation that considered forestry and conservation values. While Love Your Headwaters would like to see more important foothills habitat protected to help Alberta achieve effective headwaters protection, these areas represent one of many choices for good representative conservation outside the Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park.


one of the last tracts of intact wilderness in Alberta

The same landscape that provides fresh clean drinking water to downstream communities provides high-quality habitat to Alberta’s most iconic and troubled species, like grizzly bears, wolverines, bighorn sheep, bull trout, and whitebark and limber pine. 

The area is just as beautiful as nearby national parks, but attracts a fraction of the tourists. You can find amazing opportunities for hiking, camping, climbing, hunting, fishing, and horseback riding.

The Bighorn also includes many sites that are important to different Indigenous nations because of their cultural, spiritual, and livelihood values. It is a particularly important landscape for the Wesley Band of the Ĩyãħé Nakoda (Stoney) First Nations, whose members reside on the Big Horn Reserve west of Nordegg, but also has significance to Niisitapi (Blackfoot), Cree, Ktunaxa (Kootenay), and Secwepemc (Shuswap) nations. The Bighorn includes portions of Treaty 6, Treaty 7, and Treaty 8 lands, and straddles Zones 3 and 4 of the Métis Nation of Alberta.


the bighorn is threatened by resource development and inappropriate motorized recreation

Metallurgical coal mining in the Bighorn is a serious threat and affects the flow and cleanliness of nearby rivers and water. The east end of the Bighorn is crisscrossed with forestry access roads, OHV trails — both regulated and unregulated — and seismic lines. 

Forestry is not currently permitted within the existing Public Land Use Zones of the Bighorn, but some forestry companies have forest management agreements with the Province on neighbouring land with high conservation value.

Protection would improve habitat connectivity for the animals who need it and help prevent future destruction of the land.  


the Bighorn should be protected as a Wildland Provincial Park, with a series of adjacent Provincial Parks

We are working hard to inform the public and decision-makers about the Bighorn region’s significance and the need to protect the source of our drinking water. We are urging the Government of Alberta to designate a Wildland Park with boundaries based on science that make sense for wildlife and human needs.

It is also important that high-conservation value areas east of the Forestry Trunk Road are protected to safeguard the sensitive lands within the North Saskatchewan River watershed and the species that depend on them.

Support our efforts to protect one in four glasses of Alberta’s drinking water by signing our petition. Our map represents one configuration of protected areas that could accomplish these conservation goals.

WHAT IS A WILDLAND PROVINCIAL PARK?

A Wildland Provincial Park designation would support hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and other land-based job and recreation opportunities. It would also protect the landscape from extractive industries and providing a viable framework for managing recreation.

If the Bighorn became a Wildland Provincial Park, the designation would also open the door to co-management with Indigenous nations that would support sustainable economic opportunities and reconciliation.

Water flows through Bighorn Creek at the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch, which would be surrounded by the proposed Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park. Photo credit: Stephen Legault.

Water flows through Bighorn Creek at the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch, which would be surrounded by the proposed Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park. Photo credit: Stephen Legault.


What can you do?

There are many things you can do to help protect Alberta headwaters.

  • Sign the petition (below) urging the protection of the Bighorn as a Wildland park

  • Sign up for updates on headwaters conservation in the province.

  • Donate to Alberta headwaters conservation

  • Call 403.310.0000 and ask for your MLA. Let them know that protecting the Bighorn as a Wildland Park matters to you!

  • Write Shannon Phillips, the Minister of Alberta Environment and Parks, and let her know that her Ministry did a great job of protecting the Castle, and that the next logical step is to protect the Bighorn.

  • Are you a photographer? Submit your professional-level photos celebrating the Bighorn for a chance to be published in a coffee table book.

  • Speak up! Follow us on social media, and like, comment and share our news stories. Remember to use #loveyourheadwaters when you do.


SIGN THE PETITION

Dear Premier Rachel Notley and Minister Shannon Phillips,

I urge you to protect the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River by designating the Bighorn region west of the Forestry Trunk Road as a Wildland Park. This designation would allow Albertans to continue to visit and recreate responsibly in the area, but would prevent industrial disturbance to our precious headwaters. Please also protect high-conservation value areas east of the Forestry Trunk Road to safeguard the sensitive lands within the North Saskatchewan River watershed and the species that depend on them.

Signed,

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(optional) Leave a message for Premier Notley, Minister Phillips, or tell us what you love about the Bighorn.