Energy Exploration in Alberta's Castle Wilderness Would Threaten Wildlife

Conservation Groups Call on Provincial Government to Legislate Protection

WASHINGTON (April 15, 2003) -- Shell Canada's plan to survey for gas reserves in southwest Alberta would threaten wildlife and could open the region to further drilling, according to a coalition of Canadian and American environmental groups. The groups today called on the Alberta government to pass a law protecting the Castle Wilderness, a critical link in the Yellowstone-to-Yukon wildlife corridor for bears, wolves and other large mammals.

Shell made the announcement that it plans to begin the seismic gas survey on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains in today's edition of the Pincher Creek Echo, a weekly newspaper in Pincher Creek, Alberta. The company said it plans to start the survey this summer on land zoned for prime protection and critical wildlife in the Front Range Canyons. Shell also said it would not drill in a limited number of specific places, but it did not rule out development in many sensitive areas.

"Shell would have the public believe that it can expand its activities in this area without threatening the environment. It's just not so," says Dave Poulton, executive director of the Calgary/Banff Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. "What the area requires is a law that would protect the region."

The Castle Wilderness contains some of the richest mix of biodiversity in Alberta. It lies on the northern edge of the U.S.-Canadian border "Crown of the Continent" ecosystem, providing a bridge for wildlife migrating between this region and the Central Rockies ecosystem to the north, and between Alberta's eastern slopes foothills to the Flathead Valley to the west of the Great Divide. (Click here for a map.)

"The value of the Castle Wilderness as a North American wildlife pathway cannot be overestimated," said James Tweedie, campaign manager at the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition. "Grizzly bears travel through the South Castle and West Castle valleys and the region is on a major migration route for bald and golden eagles, providing an abundance of nesting habitat."

Both Canadians and Americans are concerned about the fate of the Castle Wilderness. "Since March, our supporters have sent more than 4,000 letters asking Shell to support a wildland provincial park in the Castle," said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, a senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), a U.S.-based environmental group. "NRDC recently named the area an international BioGem." (Click here for more information about NRDC's BioGem campaign.)

The coalition of Canadian and American conservation groups, including Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-Calgary/Banff Chapter,, Sierra Club of Canada and NRDC, are proposing that the Alberta government protect the Castle Wilderness as a "wildland provincial" park. A wildland park would allow non-motorized recreation -- fishing, hunting, dogsledding and hiking -- but ban industrial development.

"The Alberta government has received thousands of letters requesting legislated protection of the Castle," said Nadine Raynolds, campaign coordinator with, host of the Castle Action Centre. "It is time that the government listened."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition is a Canadian non-profit organization located in Pincher Creek, Alberta concerned about the future of the Castle region. For more information, visit CCWC's website.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is Canada's grassroots voice for wilderness. With thousands of members from coast to coast to coast it is dedicated to the preservation of Canada's native biodiversity and wilderness in a network of parks and similar protected areas. The Calgary/Banff Chapter of CPAWS is responsible for this work in southern Alberta. For more information, visit CPAWS-Calgary/Banff Chapter's website. is a Canadian non-profit organization working to protect wildlands and wildlife by combining grassroots outreach with sophisticated on-line action tools. For more information, visit's website.

Sierra Club has been active in Canada since 1969, working on matters of public policy and environmental awareness. The organization has local chapters and working groups across Canada, including the Sierra Club Chinook Chapter in southern Alberta. For more information visit Sierra Club of Canada's website.

Related NRDC Pages

NRDC BioGems: Castle-Bighorn