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Field Trip to Mustang Hills & the Peter Lougheed Visitor Centre

This past fall I had the rare opportunity to escape the routine of office work and head out to Kananaskis with some of Alberta’s foremost experts on forest management, land-use planning and protected areas. The team from Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Southern Alberta organized a trip out to the Mustang Hills and the Peter Lougheed Visitor Centre for a few local funders. While I have to admit that the prospect of playing hooky on a day of work was my initial motivation for signing up (sorry Pat), I was also looking forward to spending a day outdoors and learning a bit more about land-use planning. It struck me that while I spend a great deal of time sifting through applications and connecting with grantees, it’s often done over the phone or in a board room rather than out on the landscapes I’m reading about and that we’re all working so hard to protect and preserve.

 

The day started with a snowshoe through the Mustang Hills, which are nestled in between Elbow Falls and Forget Me Not Pond. This area is home to a herd of wild horses (which we weren’t lucky enough to see). As we trudged up the hills in our snowshoes we stopped periodically to learn more about the area and the complexity underlying forest management. We learned that the area attracts over half a million visitors a year, a fact that was hard to comprehend on a quiet Thursday afternoon. The area is home to sheep, grizzly and westslope cutthroat trout, the latter of which are listed as threatened under the Alberta Wildlife Act. Most startling to discover was that the very trees we were walking through, many of which were well over 100 years old, were slated to be clear cut this December. The clear cut was a decision that the local community had only learned about a short while ago and is something they are desperately trying to intervene in. You can learn more about what the community and CPAWS are doing here.

After the snowshoe we took a bus over to the Peter Lougheed Visitor Centre where we were met by a bear conflict biologist from Alberta Environment and Parks. We may have missed the horses in the Mustang Hills, but the Peter Lougheed Visitor Centre did not disappoint. We were treated to a view from across a field of a female grizzly and her three cubs grazing. It was a surreal experience to be listening to a grizzly bear expert while we watched four of them in their natural environment. It’s important to note for any worried about my, or more importantly the bears, safety that the family was a quite a long distance away (we needed binoculars to see them), we were equipped with bear spray and there was an electric fence between us and the family. These electric fences have been shown to be an effective preventative measure to reduce incidents. There are a lot of great resources you can access to learn more about how we can better coexist with bears and Alberta BearSmart is a great place to start.

 

All in all, it was a fantastic day spent interacting with the spaces and seeing the wildlife that make Alberta such a beautiful province. I must admit that land-use planning still remains somewhat opaque to me, and grizzly bear encounters an ominous thought. But while the minutia of regional planning, policies and frameworks or bear biology and wide ranging mammal conservation may be difficult for all but the most engaged to wrap their head around – clean air, clear water and healthy wildlife are not. I am eternally grateful we have such knowledgeable and caring folks at CPAWS and in the environmental nonprofit sector working to make this knowledge more accessible and to keep Alberta’s ecosystems healthy and thriving.

 

If you’re interested in learning more I would highly recommend reading about the Southern Eastern Slopes Conservation Collaborative or get out and volunteer with a local environmental nonprofit!

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