A Shared Landscape
Our landscape, and especially our creeks and rivers, are an essential part of our region’s character and what makes living here so remarkable.
It is here that we connect with family and friends, build memories and enjoy the spectacular natural heritage that our landscape has to offer. For many Albertans, off-highway vehicles (OHV) and random camping are key ways we spend time in our backcountry, and find opportunities for activity, play, and adventure, as well as moments of quiet solitude in areas of natural beauty.
But our backcountry does much more than provide opportunities for recreation. Our creeks, streams and rivers, and the banks and areas that line our waterways, are an integral part of our watershed – the source of our drinking water as well as many communities downstream, and home to a rich diversity of plants, fish and animals.
While waterways and riparian areas naturally change over time, what we do in them and in the surrounding watersheds can speed up many of those changes. Sometimes the speed and degree of change is greater than the natural resiliency and healing rate of the landscape.
Over the past decades, development, recreation, and other land-and water-management choices, have impaired the critical functions of some areas of the Oldman watershed. Increasingly, stakeholders are recognizing the values and benefits of our headwaters, and are making efforts to integrate, protect and restore them.
It takes a community
But the Oldman Watershed Council cannot do this alone.
Strategic partnerships within the OHV community will be essential to translating ideas into action and realizing how we can both enjoy the richness of our landscape and natural heritage, while also protecting the source of our drinking water.
While there are many stakeholders in this complex issue, OHV recreationists and random campers play a vital role in helping protect the Oldman watershed. In many ways, they are perhaps the eyes and ears of all the activity happening within our watershed!
Where are we now?
Over the summer and fall of 2015, we focused our efforts on building relationships within the OHV community and on developing a better understanding of the concerns, barriers, and opportunities facing OHV riders and random campers. Our primary goal was to clarify what, if anything, we could do to support recreationists to steer clear of water.
As it turns out, we had a lot to learn!
Our activities included interviewing a number of recreationists and groups already active in OHV programming. Their voices and experiences will influence and inform our planning, and will give ground to how we approach programming and communications.
We also spent numerous weekends in the backcountry, listening and talking with more than 75 recreationists, campers and riders alike. Our time spent in conversation and sharing stories has helped us to see the common ground and collective connection to our shared landscape. For in our own way, we all care about the health and well-being of this watershed, whether we actively try to or not.
Our engagement interns also worked with the Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad, Government of Alberta and Lethbridge Coulee Cruzers to help build new bridges and improve the decking of several bridges. We hope to continue to build on these relationships and to champion the great work these clubs are already doing in this area. As part of our programming research, the interns also conducted a preliminary pilot to test the efficacy of steer clear of water signage, a likely part of future programming.
Finally, we hosted a restoration for recreation event with partnering organizations, including the Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad, Trout Unlimited, Spray Lake Sawmills, and Cows & Fish. More than fifty dedicated volunteers came out and contributed hundreds of collective hours of hard work. The groups built structural walls that encourage bridge use, as well as planted new willows and poplar trees. This work is critical to not only protecting our source of drinking water and supporting our native fish populations, but it also provides a important avenue for people to take action and strengthen their connection to the land.
We then turned our focus to developing programming for the 2016 season that builds on the deep sense of caring and connection recreationists have to this area. We welcome any support you may have to offer!
Where are we now?
The Headwaters Action Plan (HAP) is the reason why we are where we are now. The top 5 Priority Actions of the HAP were selected by a multi-stakeholder group, the Headwaters Action Team (HAT). These priority actions are:
- Complete A Linear Features Classification (completed)
- Complete fine-scale cumulative effects assessment of fish populations and habitat streams (underway)
- Assist Environment & Parks with the prevention of aquatic invasive species (ongoing) and
- Explore options for recreation user fees to fund enforcement, education and stewardship projects (underway).
- Education and awareness programs are tied into all the Priority Actions. These programs are required to build public understanding and support for projects aimed at improving watershed health.
For the summer of 2016, four new Outreach Assistants have been hired to build on the work done last summer. Ryan Bell, Thomas Porter, Nicola Spencer and Rob Taylor will be working on the Engaging Recreationists Project, engaging with OHVers and campers in the Dutch Creek area and beyond - conducting surveys, working on restoration and reclamation projects, educating on sustainable recreation and sharing stories.
In addition, the OWC has formed the Recreation Advisory Committee (RAC) - a group made up of OHVers from various organizations, individual riders and retailers that will help inform the OWC on how to educate OHVers on safe, appropriate and sustainable motorized recreation. In addition, the RAC will be working with the OWC to provide collaborative recommendations to the Government of Alberta on the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan's Linear Footprint Management Plans and the Recreation Management Plans currently underway for the Porcupine Hills and the Livingstone areas.
Media and Presentations
Province Invests in Natural Flood and Drought Protection
Main article here.
OWC Calls for "a collaborative approach when it comes to managing public lands"
Shannon Frank talks to Let's Go Outdoors - listen here.
SACPA Talk: Recreation or Wreckreation?The Challenges of Protecting Fragile ecosystems.
Anna Garleff, Communications Specialist, Oldman Watershed Council
Becky Cousins, Lethbridge Naturalists Society
ELC publishes Managing Recreation on Public Land: How does Alberta Compare?
Have you ever wondered if recreational use of public land is managed differently, and perhaps better, in places other than Alberta? Do you believe that the law is a factor in such differences?
Recreational use of public land promises the coveted “triple bottom line” of social, economic and environmental outcomes. However, the negative impacts of recreation are diverse and potentially profound. In many western jurisdictions, the impacts of outdoor recreation and related tourism are beginning to surpass those of the traditional natural resource industries. The challenge in responding has further increased with the growth in motorized recreation.
Over the past decade there have been numerous indicators that the challenge of managing recreation on public lands in Alberta is aggravated by our legal framework. New planning and regulatory tools have become available, yet the issues continue to escalate. It is time to revisit the potential need for reforms by taking a closer look at the law in other jurisdictions.
Our review compares the legal framework for managing recreation in Alberta to other Canadian provinces and American states facing similar challenges. Its findings can help improve recreation management in Alberta by identifying the most optimal features to be imported while deliberately avoiding the least optimal ones. This review should be in hand as land use moves back up the political agenda.