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020 Castle Park Announcement, Whirling Disease Updates, Shocking Grizzly Stories, and Frigid Pine Beetles

In this episode I introduce you to the Castle Mountain Wilderness and provincial park. There is also some important news regarding the status of whirling disease in Banff National Park followed by a shocking story about our local grizzlies. Finally we’ll look into the effects of this winters cold snap on the expansion of the Mountain Pine Beetle.

Story 1 – Castle Parks are Expanding

Whenever we hear about new parks being established, it’s great news – and this January, we got a double whammy as the Alberta Government finalized the boundaries of Castle Wildland and announced the creation of Castle Provincial Park on January 20, 2017. These two parks protect more than 1000 square kilometres or almost 400 square miles of the southern Alberta Rockies known as the crown of the continent. They provide a critical habitat that encompasses the spine of the Rockies which is one of the most diverse ecological areas in the entire Rocky Mountain chain.

Bordered on the south by communities like Missoula and Great Falls Montana, it follows the Rocky Mountain Ridge northward to Alberta’s Kananaskis Country. These newly established parks will provide more consistent protection along the Rocky Mountain Ridge and extend all the way from Waterton Lakes National Park to the Crowsnest Highway, or Highway 3, in southern Alberta. The Wildland Park focuses more on low-impact access and contains the most critically sensitive landscapes in terms of headwater protection, wildlife movement corridors and critical plant and animal habitat. The provincial park has more frontcountry development and includes former Provincial Recreation Areas like Lynx Creek, Castle Falls, Castle River Bridge, Syncline, and Beaver Mines provincial Recreation Areas.

Story 2 – Whirling Disease Updates

Just this week, aquatic specialists with Parks Canada announced plans to remove all the fish from Johnson Lake. Parks is planning to use nets and electrofishing this spring to begin the removal process. They’ll pack it in for the summer months between Canada Day on July 1 and the end of the Labour Day weekend in September. The lake will be open for visitation this summer, but all watercraft will remain banned. This includes stand-up paddleboards as well. The spores are just too easily spread by watercraft and all too often the boats are not cleaned well enough to make sure they are spore free.

In the fall they’ll continue to collect fish and also lower the water level using pumps in order to make it easier to force the fish into a smaller area and facilitate their capture. It’s also a better time to lower the water level as park biologists are worried about the local amphibian population and they’re more prevalent in the lake during springtime.

Story 3 – Shocking Bears

As part of a recent study undertaken by Parks Canada in coordination with Canadian Pacific Railway, park officials are continuing to investigate the use of electrified mats or electromats along with electrified fencing in areas that have become hotspots for bear fatalities. The mats are still in the experimental phase and the heavy snowfalls that occur in the mountains still provide limitations to their effectiveness.

A number of different solutions are being investigated and many different solutions may eventually be incorporated to reduce the number of bears fatally struck by trains passing through the mountain parks.

Story 4 – Pine Beetle Updates

The past 2 decades has seen our mountain media full of stories of the mountain pine beetle. This tiny beetle has decimated pine forests through the mountain west for the past 10-20 years. Pine beetles are barely the size of a grain of rice, yet they are the most damaging insect pest in North America.

The odd thing is that they are not some introduced pest from Europe or Asia, but a natural part of the mountain forest ecosystem. Every species is a reflection of its habitat as reflected in the climate, landscape, and plant communities. The mountain pine beetle has always been a part of this larger ecosystem, but in the last 20 years, it has exploded in numbers and in many ways overwhelmed the forests that it has called home.

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