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the bighorn: 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 and irrigation for agriculture along the way.

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one of the last tracts of intact wilderness in Alberta

The same landscape that provides fresh, clean drinking water to over one million people also provides high-quality habitat for Alberta’s most iconic and troubled species, like grizzly bears, wolverines, bighorn sheep, bull trout, and whitebark and limber pine. The towering peaks, clear-flowing waterways and abundant wildlife that define the Bighorn’s ecological value also make it an appealing outdoor recreation and tourism destination. You can find amazing opportunities for hiking, camping, climbing, paddling, 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 Ĩyãħé Nakoda (Stoney) First Nations, whose members reside on the Big Horn Reserve west of Nordegg, but also has significance to Niisitapi (Blackfoot), Cree, Tsuut'ina, 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 vulnerable to resource development and under-regulated recreational use

As Alberta’s population has grown, so too have the pressures of expanding industry and recreation on the Bighorn’s landscapes.

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. 

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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 of the Bighorn would improve habitat connectivity for the animals who need it, and help prevent future degradation of the region’s valuable headwaters landscapes.


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.

Our map represents one configuration of protected areas that could accomplish these conservation goals.

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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 provide 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?

Here are a few things you can do to help protect Alberta headwaters and share your support for greater protection of the Bighorn.