Having secured or maintained partnerships, the Alberta Government has stepped back from delisting 170 parks and public recreation areas across the province.
“Many Albertans, including myself, love, and value our parks and wild spaces," states Alberta Environment and Parks minister Jason Nixon. "With more Albertans than ever staying in the province, now is the ideal time to ensure we all have access to these spaces and that they remain protected. I am grateful for the hard work of our parks partners and look forward to keeping our parks system sustainable for future generations.”
While seen as a positive step by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the organization continues to have concerned for what the future may hold for many Alberta parks and ask supporters to remain vigilant.
CPAWS Southern Alberta conservation officer Katie Morrison believes Nixon's announcement was influenced by the outcry of Albertans in response to the delisting announced in the Alberta Government's spring budget.
CPAWS launched its "Defend Alberta Parks" campaign upon the announcement. Lawn signs were made available, many of which can be seen scattered throughout Cochrane, and it also encouraged Albertans to contact their MLAs to express concern.
"Since we launched the lawn-sign campaign, we know that more than 17,000 Albertans across the Alberta put up lawn signs, more than 23,000 Albertans have written to their MLAs through our tool alone, and we expect many, many more sent direct emails, so we know that Albertans have been really concerned about their parks and really concerned about this plan."
She says are still are questions that need to be answered, but this is a step in the right direction.
"I think it is a good step and I think it is good news," says Morrison. "I think it shows that all the thousands and thousands of Albertans who have been fighting to have their voice heard on this issue have made an impact and have made a difference on parks in Alberta."
"We encourage all Albertans who are supportive of our parks to celebrate this little win, that they did make a difference, that they have at least stopped, or stalled, the plan that was released in February but to remain vigilant and to stay engaged to make sure that any changes to our park system coming actually strength conservation and allow for low-impact recreation in these areas."
She says clarification is still needed on the partnerships referred to by the province. There is also expected to be some changes to follow the government's review of Crown Land legislation that is currently underway.
"As part of this, they have said they will be updating park legislation and so I think there still is the risk that under the Crown Land Vision and the updated parks legislation that these areas could still lose protection."
She says should the status of a park change to public land it opens the door for other uses.
"Public land allows industrial activity, it allows commercial development, it allows for different recreational uses other than parks. So, I think the parks are under real threat if they lose their protective area status, and I think that we do have to be concerned about our protected area system."
As part of its 2020 budget, the Alberta government decided to develop partnerships to continue operating a number of provincial park facilities across the province. These sites were identified for partnership by Environment and Parks operations staff, who have knowledge of the needs of each area and where partner operators would be most appropriate.
Alberta Environment and Parks says it has successfully engaged with many of these organizations to operate their local campgrounds and day-use areas, including more than a dozen sites that previously did not have operating partners.
In the coming months, Alberta Environment and Parks officials say they will be working with other interested organizations in the coming months.
Alberta Crown Land Vision
Crown land legislation is currently being modernized and is expected to enhance partnerships.
Public engagement on sustainable recreation on public lands is currently underway as part of the process.
To participate in the current sustainable recreation survey of the Alberta Government go here.
Feedback is being accepted until Jan. 15, 2021.