Cumulative Effects of Land Use in the Ghost River Watershed, Alberta, Canada. Phase II. Beneficial Management Practices

Executive Summary

The watershed of the Ghost River lies in the upstream shadow of the burgeoning metropolis of Calgary and its surrounding bedroom communities. The Ghost River watershed possesses an exceptional abundance of natural resources, including forests, grasslands, rivers, diverse flora and fauna, and majestic scenery. It also hosts an abundance of consumptive natural resources including wood fiber, livestock forage, hydrocarbons, and huntable wildlife. During recent decades, a rapid increase in intensity of several landuses has occurred, as the landuses of forestry, livestock grazing, oil and gas extraction, rural residency, hunting, and non-motorized and motorized recreation all have grown to satisfy increasing regional demand.

The historical management paradigm of the Government of Alberta for the East Slopes is best described a “multiple use”. This strategy has at its core the belief that multiple overlapping land uses can co-occur without meaningfully compromising the performance of key ecological, social, and economic indicators. Increasingly, quantitative and subjective assessments by the scientific community and the public in general have shown that the laissez-faire nature of the government’s “multiple use” formula is no longer serving society well. In 2011, a Phase 1 report examining the cumulative effects of “business as usual” land uses within the Ghost River watershed identified a number of challenges to maintaining acceptable levels of performance of ecological, industrial, and recreation indicators. Projections using the ALCES landscape simulator ( quantified past and potential future declines in water quality, recreation potential, fish and wildlife indicators, and potential challenges for forestry sustainability. The Phase I report can be downloaded from

The Ghost Watershed Alliance Society received funding from the Alberta Ecotrust Foundation and the Calgary Foundation to explore and assess beneficial management practices (BMP) that have the potential to improve performance of indicators relative to the Business as Usual (BAU) practices explored in Phase 1. Through a series of four independently facilitated workshops, the GWAS sought to engage local and regional communities, recreationalists, and government representatives in exploring potential solutions to enhance sustainable land stewardship for the watershed. Information obtained from these workshops was augmented with data obtained from other relevant projects examining the interface between BMP and ecological goods and services in Alberta’s east slopes.

Based on guidance obtained from BMP workshops and other studies (Southern Foothills Study, Upper Bow Basin Cumulative Effects Study, South Saskatchewan Regional Plan), the following issues and BMP were explored for the Ghost River Study:

<o:p></o:p>Issue: High level of landscape fragmentation
BMP: -Accelerated rates of reclamation of linear features such as seismic lines, minor roads, inblock forestry roads, and non-designated off-highway vehicle trails


Issue: High levels of vehicle accessibility
BMP:  -Restriction of off-highway vehicle activity to an engineered and designated OHV trail system that minimizes adverse effects on erosion and wildlife and provides safe and enjoyable OHV activity.<o:p></o:p>-enforcement increased to minimize off-highway vehicle use on non-designated trails and contain use to a designated vehicle trail network

: High Level of Watershed Discontinuity
BMP: Increased Replacement of “Washed Out” or “Hung: Stream Culverts

Issue: Loss of Riparian Habitat, Forest Structure, Wood Security
BMP: -Reduction of Current Annual Allowable Forestry Harvest commensurate with increased in-block retention of trees, and increased buffers along watercourses and ephemeral streams

Issue: Reduced Water Quality from Elevated Nutrient Runoff
BMP: -Increased Protective Buffers along streams found within cutblocks and in croplands<o:p></o:p>-Restrictions of Livestock from Streams through Off-Stream Watering and Salting<o:p></o:p>-Accelerated Reclamation of unvegetated Trails that are not part of the Designated Trail Network<o:p></o:p><o:p> </o:p><o:p></o:p> 

Issue: Reduced Water Quality caused by human waste
BMP: -Provision of Sanitation Facilities at trail heads and designated campsites
Installment of advanced septic field technologies at rural residential sites


Relative to the “business as usual” simulations, the simulated adoption of beneficial management practices in the Ghost River Watershed improved all ecological indicators. Landscape level improvements in ecological indicators included a decrease in Grizzly Bear Mortality index, an increase in the Index of Native Fish Integrity, an increase in water quality, an increase in recreation potential of the watershed, and a level of forest harvest that is less likely to experience a future “fall-down”.


<o:p></o:p> The results of this study highlight the significant opportunities to government agencies, land use sectors, and various recreational groups, to minimize loss of ecological goods and services and improve the sustainability of the Ghost River Watershed. Justification for adopting these practices are equally defendable from social, economic, and ecological perspectives. This work by the Ghost Watershed Alliance Society is intended to catalyze a new conversation about sustainable management of the Ghost River watershed based on full cost accounting of a comprehensive list of performance indicators. The take-home message of this project is decidedly pro-landuse, but one in which land-use decisions functionally consider a full suite of socio-economic and ecological indicators.<o:p></o:p>Although this Phase II report is written with the intent that it is a stand-alone document, stakeholders are encouraged to read the Phase I report as it contains additional information relating to the Business as Usual scenario. <o:p></o:p>