The Alberta government’s proposal in January to phase out the use of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) in the Castle area sparked immediate province-wide protests. It was enough to push back the public consultation period by 30 days to April 19.
On Tuesday, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the feedback has been pouring in.
“Thousands of Albertans have talked to us about the value that they place on camping and fishing and hiking and other activities in southwest Alberta, throughout southwest Alberta, not just in the Castle region,” she said.
Phillips said it will now be another month before rules are set in stone, as the government still has to consult with First Nations.
“The next step is to review the input obviously and talk to the communities a little bit… make sure our enforcement is in place for this upcoming camping season and being really clear on what the rules are in the first year going forward,” Phillips said. “Then the next step is to finalize the management plan after the First Nations consultation period ends.
The province said the plan to phase out OHVs was part of a plan to make sure about 1,000 square kilometres of mountains and foothills in the Castle area will be preserved.
Some scientists and environmental groups say OHVs are to blame for damaging the land, watershed and wildlife habitats.
But many OHV users have accused the government of taking away their way of life, punishing an entire community for the acts of a few.
Phillips says her government has shown it’s willing to listen, but it will ultimately come down to what’s best for the land.
“That space is beloved for a reason,” she said. “It is also a prized ecological region for its headwaters and for its contribution to our trout habitat and those are really important pieces going forward and important considerations for the government that all Albertans for generations (can) come can enjoy the area.”