Campaign to save provincial parks set for closure, delisting swells in Alberta
By Noel Harper, News Editor
You may have seen them throughout your neighbourhood — the green and white lawn signs that are popping up in front yards across the city, not unlike campaign posters for a political candidate. These signs aren’t for an election, but in a way, they serve as a vote of non-confidence in the current provincial administration.
Defend Alberta Parks is a campaign by two local non-profits — the Alberta Environmental Network and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) — in response to a move from the Alberta government following an assessment of the province’s park system.
The proposal, first announced in February 2020, would see 164 park sites across Alberta removed from the Alberta Parks database, as well as 20 sites that would fully or partially close, for a total of 175 affected sites throughout the province.
“The goal of Defend Alberta Parks is to ensure the province’s parks remain within the Alberta parks system and remain protected,” reads the campaign’s website.
The difference between an official provincial park and any other recreational space within the province is the protected status of the former — under the Provincial Parks Act, last updated in 2017, more than 400 spaces are publicly managed and maintained by the government. These spaces include provincial parks, ecological reserves, recreation areas and natural areas, among others.
Once a site is removed from the Alberta Parks system, it may be placed under private ownership, or returned to crown land if an owner cannot be found. They may also be used for natural resource development upon losing protection from the province.
The Alberta government insists none of the parks that will be taken out of the system are going to be sold privately or used by industry, and will still be publicly accessible.
“No parks have been sold. No parks will be sold. If you’re getting that … you’re probably seeing NDP Facebook ads and ads run by foreign special interest groups,” Premier Jason Kenney said in a video posted to social media.
Other United Conservative Party MLAs are also defending the government’s decision to delist the parks. Calgary-Currie MLA Nicholas Milliken, adding to Kenney’s video response, tweeted, “If you have a defend Alberta parks sign, you can go ahead and take it down now.”
Any space that is not designated as a provincial park is managed differently from the 473 spaces that are — the possibility of a sale of these spaces remains, but the government will not directly be involved in the transaction, as they are no longer managing the park.
According to the campaign, this change will affect 37 per cent of parks in the province, as well as nearly 4,500 campsites. It also points out that removing parks from protected status will strain a federal commitment to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s land and freshwater territory by the year 2025.
Some Calgary-area parks set to be removed from the system include the Wildcat Island Natural Area, Highwood River Natural Area and Stoney Creek Provincial Recreation Area, as well as 53 different sites in the Kananaskis area. Bow Valley Provincial Park and Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park are among the sites that will close under the proposal.
The government says that $5 million will be saved annually by delisting or closing these parks. A $43 million investment into provincial park improvement was announced in September.