Scientists are joining the battle over a plan to phase out the use of off-highway vehicles in two parks in southwestern Alberta.
Last January, the province announced the Castle Wildland Provincial Park and Castle Provincial Park will preserve just over 1,000 square kilometres of mountains and foothills.
Since then, groups that represent people who drive ATVs, trucks and jeeps have protested against the plan that would ban them from these areas within five years.
On Tuesday, 57 scientists sent an open letter to the Alberta government urging the province not to back down.
The scientists say the area includes important ecosystems that support animals, plants and sources of water that need protection.
One of the scientists says they wrote the letter to counter the backlash by motorized user groups against the plan.
“The area contains habitat for many of Alberta’s iconic species and species at risk including core grizzly bear habitat, threatened cutthroat trout, and endangered species such as limber and whitebark pine. Protection of this area also provides the opportunity to recover these species,” the open letter reads.
“The Castle will continue to be important in the future as it is internationally recognized as an area of critical importance for ensuring human and wildlife communities successfully adapt to the impacts of climate change.”
Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips’ press secretary responded to the issue by saying “a million people moved to Alberta in the past decade, leading to incredible pressures on southwest Alberta.”
“We’re taking steps to ensure the Eastern Slopes are better managed to protect livelihoods, recreation and conservation,” reads a statement attributed to the minister.
“Science-based decision-making will inform our plans for the Castle parks and surrounding areas. We will invest in infrastructure so off-highway vehicle users can still enjoy less sensitive areas. And we will work to protect biodiversity, drinking water and the natural beauty of the Castle area for future generations.”
With files from Global News reporter Quinn Campbell