Minister’s decision to withdraw Bill 29: an encouraging step for Alberta’s Parks & Protected Areas

(Calgary, AB) The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is applauding Cindy Ady, Minister of Parks Recreation and Tourism, for withdrawing the new Provincial Parks Act (Bill 29) from the spring session of legislature. Since November, thousands of Albertans and Canadians have written the Minister stating strong concerns with the Bill and its potential impact on Alberta’s most precious protected areas.

“We are encouraged by the commitment of the Minister to further consult with Albertans to ensure Parks legislation addresses their concerns,” says Sarah Elmeligi, Senior Conservation Planner for CPAWS Southern Alberta Chapter. “Strong legislation that protects our parks and provides opportunities for Albertans to connect with our wilderness is essential.”

During the extensive public consultations for Alberta’s Plan for Parks, 70% of Albertans said the first priority for the Ministry of Parks, Recreation and Tourism should be to set aside more land in an undisturbed state as parks.

“We hope the Minister will consider the need to strengthen Alberta’s network of parks and protected areas to better conserve Alberta’s ecological diversity and to ensure that the integrity of protected areas is not compromised by various activities,” says Katherine Thompson, Executive Director for CPAWS Northern Alberta Chapter .

Although there are over 500 parks in Alberta, the majority of those are provincial recreation areas, which provide a very low level of protection. Currently, only 4.2% of provincial lands are protected. In Southern Alberta less than 1% of total protected areas are in the foothills or grassland natural regions.

“In Southern Alberta, some of our most endangered ecosystems remain sorely under protected,” says Elmeligi. “With the South Saskatchewan Plan rolling forward, we have an opportunity to address the concerns of Albertans and increase the legislated protection of our foothill and grassland ecoregions on crown land. The Castle Special Place is one such example of a biodiversity hotspot lacking the legislated protection required to sustain its ecological health over the long term.”

In Northern Alberta, the Little Smoky area is home a caribou herd that is under immediate risk of extirpation due extensive industrial use. “The Little Smoky area, Kakwa area, and the Bighorn Forests have been identified by scientists and environmental organizations as the last best chances of protecting the Foothills natural region in Northern Alberta”, says Thompson. “If the Alberta parks network is to be representative of its natural regions and subregions, the parks network to be completed. Creating new parks and/or expanding existing ones are the key to achieving a complete Alberta parks system.”

 “We look forward to working with the Minister to create legislation that guarantees the protection of magnificent landscapes, protects their biodiversity, and provides opportunities for Albertans,” says Elmeligi and Thompson. “But we also look forward to working with the Ministry of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to address the top priority of Albertans, and that is to create more parks.”

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