What’s threatening Alberta’s protected areas? The law, actually…


Update:


Since posting this story just hours ago, we’ve learned that Bill 29, the proposed “Alberta Parks Act“, has been officially withdrawn from debate. Cindy Ady, Alberta’s Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation, has also agreed to conduct a public consultation on the proposed legislation, responding to urgent requests from concerned citizens and conservation organizations, alike. You can read more in the Edmonton Journal and in the Sierra Club of Canada’s related press release.

We thank all Canadians – particularly Albertans – who spoke out in favour of the province’s iconic protected areas system! We look forward to results of upcoming public consultations and hope that conservation remains the number one priority in Alberta’s protected spaces!

Image of a ramOn Tuesday, Nature Canada, the Sierra Club of Canada (SCC) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) submitted a joint letter to Alberta Premier, Ed Stelmach, asking him to immediately withdraw Bill 29, the proposed “Alberta Parks Act”. This Bill threatens to redefine the management priorities in Alberta’s parks and will reclassify the province’s existing Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves and Wildland Parks. These and other changes could threaten the ecological integrity of 1 existing and 1 nominated World Heritage Site in Alberta, in addition to risking new external pressures on 2 other World Heritage Sites in the province.

In a substantial step backward for the province’s protected areas system, Bill 29 proposes to “balance” conservation objectives with recreation and tourism. In our view, conservation should be prioritized over other activities in a system that effectively “…conserves unique and representative land within Alberta’s natural regions for present and future generations…” (cited from s.2(1) of the Bill).

Astonishingly, there was no public consultation on Bill 29 prior to members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly debating and voting on it. As detailed in a joint press release issued November 23rd by Nature Canada, the Sierra Club of Canada and CPAWS,

The [Bill] removes prescriptive laws specifying what can and cannot happen inside parks, opens all parks to tourism development and off-road motorized recreation, and leaves all decisions between development and protection inside parks to Ministerial opinion. That includes Dinosaur [Provincial Park], Áísínai’pi [Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park], and the parks contiguous with Wood Buffalo, Banff and Jasper [National Parks].

Image of flowers in a fieldWhat’s more, if Bill 29 passes into law it could affect the ecological integrity of numerous Important Bird Areas (IBAs) that coincide with provincially protected areas throughout Alberta. As BirdLife International’s Canadian co-partner in implementing the IBA program, alongside Bird Studies Canada, we’re concerned about what this could mean for birds and their habitats – especially Alberta’s grassland birds. Nature Canada estimates that the proposed changes to Alberta’s protected areas system would affect 5 nationally significant IBAs, 4 continentally significant IBAs and 35 globally significant IBAs. Visit the IBA Canada website to learn more about these and other IBAs across Canada.

Bill 29 has already passed its second reading by members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and could rapidly become law after its third reading. But the government of Alberta needs to hear what Albertans and Canadians think of this draft Law before it’s too late!

Our colleagues at CPAWS and the Sierra Club have organized letter-writing campaigns to help the public voice concerns over Bill 29 and the way it has proceeded. You can find them here:

Alberta’s new Parks Act puts parks at risk
and
Alberta’s Parks Need You

Help to safeguard Alberta’s protected areas – for current and future generations of all Canadians.

Photo 1: Bighorn Sheep, Alberta’s provincial mammal
Photo 2: Suffield National Wildlife Area, SE Alberta (A. Teucher)