The devil will be in the details but it appears as though the Alberta government may have backed down from its plans to delist or close 175 of Alberta’s provincial parks.
Albertans from all corners of the province have rightfully feared that delisting parks and re-classifying them as crown land would remove environmental protections from the land and almost certainly lead to it being sold away to the highest bidder.
I will approach this announcement with caution and skepticism and will wait for more information, but it is very clear that growing public pressure forced the United Conservative Party to make this announcement.
Alberta conservation and environmental groups mounted an aggressive public advocacy campaign called Defend Alberta Parks in support of provincial parks after Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon unilaterally announced the changes without any public consultation earlier this year.
The campaign was arrogantly dismissed by Premier Jason Kenney who casually accused it of being run by “foreign special interest groups” and “green left organizations.” But if you take a drive through almost any neighbourhood in Alberta you are bound to spot green and white Defend Alberta Parks lawn signs.
Here is the press release from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association in response to the announcement:
“The good news Albertans needed”: Provincial government announces 175 Alberta parks sites will no longer be delisted or closed
December 22, 2020
CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta Chapters are happy to see the Government of Alberta’s announcement that all parks included in the February “Optimizing Alberta Parks” plan, which stated that 175 parks sites would be delisted or closed, will now retain their current designations and associated protections.
“This is the good news Albertans needed as we say goodbye to 2020,” says Katie Morrison, Conservation Director with CPAWS Southern Alberta. “After months and months of fighting to keep these parks from losing their protection, we can celebrate the recent announcement from the Government of Alberta.”
The announcement states that “All sites will maintain their parks designations, regardless of whether they have confirmed an operational partnership. All sites will remain protected in law, and are accessible to Albertans for recreation and enjoyment.”
While the release states that there are now 170 parks partnerships, this list includes all the previous Facility Operating Agreements and partnerships, and thus it is unclear exactly how many new partnerships have been found.
“We look forward to transparent operating agreements between all partners and Alberta Environment and Parks to ensure that high standards of conservation and responsible recreation are upheld within all of these sites,” adds Chris Smith, Parks Coordinator with CPAWS Northern Alberta.
While the plan announced in February will not go forward, there is still risk that these areas could lose protection as legislative changes to Alberta’s parks system are expected under the province’s new Crown Land Vision. Our teams will be working to ensure that all of these areas and the entire provincial parks system maintain equivalent or stronger protections under any proposed changes to park legislation.
We encourage all Albertans who believe in the importance of a strong parks and protected area system to take this opportunity to share their opinion through the Government of Alberta’s public engagement on the Crown Land Vision. We encourage everyone to keep their Defend Alberta Parks lawn signs up and keep the pressure on to ensure that any changes only strengthen and improve the protection of Alberta’s parks.
But today, the more than 21,000 Albertans who wrote a letter to their MLA in opposition to the plan to delist and close parks have a reason to celebrate and should be proud that they stood up for their parks.
CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta Chapters, along with the Alberta Environment Network, thank the Alberta government for listening to Albertans and providing some much-needed clarity on provincial parks planning that has been called for over the last year. Our teams look forward to hearing further details on parks partnerships and the protections planned for these sites under the Crown Land Vision.