Little_fish_lake_Alberta

The UCP’s Alberta Parks cuts are a big — and dangerous — mistake

The province's decision increases risks to some of Alberta’s least protected natural regions, which are rich in biodiversity and home to a number of endangered species

Through language such as “optimizing” and “modernization,” Alberta Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon may have thought he had a political winner when he made his announcement back in March to remove 164 sites from the Alberta Parks system — an ambition that might have been furthered by the promise to save taxpayers a bit of money. Instead, he’s had to endure an avalanche of criticism. 

Much of that criticism has flowed from the passion that Albertans have for public parks and spaces where they can get out into nature. Nixon’s decision proved to be so unpopular that, instead of proudly displaying all the under-utilized areas he was targeting, the list of parks quietly disappeared from the government’s website.

Parks are much more than just places to play. Whether large or small, parks are refuges that protect valuable, often rare, landscapes. This government decision to cut parks increases the existential threat to some of Alberta’s most endangered and least protected natural regions: the Parkland, Grassland and Foothills. More than half the sites losing their protected status fall within these regions. Nearly 90 square kilometres of protection (about half the size of Elk Island National Park) will be lost.  

Given Alberta’s size, some might argue this reduction is inconsequential. But these regions are already at great risk: less than two per cent of Parkland, Grassland and Foothills have been designated for protection; they aren’t in a position to afford losses.

Take a closer look at the Grassland, which provides critical habitat for over three-quarters of Alberta’s species at-risk. As of 2018, only 1.25 per cent of its landscapes were protected through government-recognized parks and conservation areas. This new “optimization” will strip away five per cent of that existing protection.

At least three locations that are up for removal (Little Fish Lake, Gooseberry Lake and sites along Buffalo Lake) contain important habitat for piping plover, a recognized endangered species under the federal Species at Risk Act. Ghost Airstrip Provincial Recreation Area, meanwhile, contains critical habitat for westslope cutthroat trout, another at-risk species.

These sites will either be turned over to third-party partnerships or will become vacant public lands. Either way, the cost and responsibility to manage local species and ecosystems will fall into new hands. And, to date, no assurance has been provided by the provincial government on how third-party partners will respect the conservation objectives these lands had as part of the Alberta Parks system. 

The damage this decision will do to protection is rooted in the likelihood these lands will no longer be governed by Alberta’s Provincial Parks Act. Under the act, sites are managed for two primary purposes: conservation and accessible recreation. A designated site is about more than just being a point on a map — it’s a form of targeted investment into infrastructure, ecosystem management and long-term planning. Other laws, such as the Public Lands Act, lack the conservation focus.

The need for sound parks management, education and enforcement is growing ever more apparent as public lands see a rise in popularity among Albertans during the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of this, we face unprecedented global declines in biodiversity, including in Canada. Now is the time to strengthen — not weaken — our networks of parks and protected areas, especially in Alberta’s most endangered natural regions.

Alberta’s renewed bet on coal: what Kenney’s policy shift means for mining, parks and at-risk species

We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

But here’s the thing: just two per cent of The Narwhal’s readers step up to keep our stories free for all to read. Will you join the two per cent and become a member of The Narwhal today?
We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

But here’s the thing: just two per cent of The Narwhal’s readers step up to keep our stories free for all to read. Will you join the two per cent and become a member of The Narwhal today?

Highway 413 threatens more Ontario conservation lands than publicized

The Ontario government’s proposed Highway 413 would cut through not just one but three parcels of land set aside for conservation, according to an internal...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Support investigative journalism you won't find anywhere else
Support investigative journalism you won't find anywhere else
We’re tripling our Prairies coverage
The Narwhal’s newly minted Prairies bureau is here to bring you stories on energy and the environment you won’t find anywhere else. Stay tapped in by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism.
We’re tripling our Prairies coverage
The Narwhal’s newly minted Prairies bureau is here to bring you stories on energy and the environment you won’t find anywhere else. Stay tapped in by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism.