Budget Ignores Albertans’ #1 Priority for Parks

Sierra Club Canada and CPAWS - Northern Alberta
2009-04-14
A harbinger of imminent Parks Policy?<br />
Edmonton: Albertans’ number one priority for investment related to parks and recreation makes no appearance in last week’s provincial budget. That is why conservation groups are looking to the government’s soon-to-be released new parks policy – Alberta’s Plan for Parks – to address this major shortcoming. This top priority is conspicuously absent from the provincial budget.

“The government has cherry picked and conveniently left the cherry tree out of the budget,” says George Newton with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. The budget mentions developing online access to campground reservations, accommodating larger trailers, and more trials for all terrain vehicles, yet gives no mention of Albertan’s top priority for parks: setting aside more land. “We fear this top priority will be absent from the Plan for Parks too.”

“A time of recession is a time to invest in the future, including setting aside enough lands as protected areas,” says Dianne Pachal of Sierra Club Canada.  “Protected areas are important for the $2.6 billion plus in economic activity that they annually generate. They are also the environmental key for balancing residential growth and industrial development.”

Sierra Club and CPAWS have created a simple checklist that Albertans can use to see how this budget, and new parks policy, measure-up against their expressed priorities. Are the following fundamentals stated?
1.    Is protection—“in an undisturbed state”—the priority within protected areas and parks?  
2.    Is the leadership role for establishing protected areas is given to the department responsible for managing them (i.e., for Tourism, Parks and Recreation)?
3.    Is there is a stated priority to establish enough parks and protected areas to sustain ecosystem health, meet the public’s demand for natural areas and wilderness, and fully represent Alberta’s natural diversity?
According to a government-contracted survey released in January, “Albertans feel the top priority for Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation is to set aside more land and leaving it in an undisturbed state.”

The provincial government has yet to meet the targets it set in the mid-1990s for protecting the full diversity of Alberta’s natural regions in parks and protected areas. Without the department responsible for managing protected areas also having the leadership role for establishing them—just as Alberta Energy has the leadership role for developing energy—it is highly unlikely that the province will meet its desired land-use planning outcome of “Healthy ecosystems and environment”.   

Also missing from the budget is Albertas’ priority of better enforcement related to environmental protection, regulation infractions and disturbance of visitors. When released on April 20th Alberta’s Plan for Parks will set a 10-year direction for parks in the province. It will also determine the extent to which enough protected areas will be established before development forecloses these options forever.

For more information contact:
George Newton, CPAWS – Northern Alberta, phone 780 433-7904
Dianne Pachal, Sierra Club Canada, phone 403 234-7368.

Background

The Tourism, Parks and Recreation Minister, Cindy Ady, consulted last fall with a select list of MLAs and stake-holders regarding the proposed policy for protected areas and parks.  However, it was not made available for the general public to comment on, and did not go through the Alberta Legislature or its committees.

Purpose of Protected Areas

Protected areas and parks have been the only sites in Alberta where protection of the natural environment has the higher priority. 

The Land Use Framework defines “conservation” as the responsible preservation, management and care of our land and of our natural and cultural resources.”  Protected areas and parks are the only provincial designation that provides for preservation.

Although the current vision statement on the government’s website (www.tpr.alberta.ca/parks/managing/flashindex.asp) sets protection as the priority within protected areas and parks, the draft policy proposed a “new approach” without protection specified as the highest priority.   It is a new approach the Minister and her colleagues proposed contrary to the Ipsos-Reid poll they had done which found 85% of Albertans agreed with the statement, “While both are important, protecting the natural environ-ment should be a higher priority for Alberta’s parks than providing recreation.”  The Minister also found similar results in detailed surveys released this January.

Ipsos-Reid Survey

In the telephone survey of Albertans 85% of provincial park visitors and non-visitors strongly agree or somewhat agree that, “While both are important, protecting the natural environment should be a higher priority for Alberta’s parks than providing recreation.”

83% of visitors and 71% of non-visitors agree “Alberta should create more parks to balance residential growth and industrial development in the province.”

Provincial Budget Excerpts

Significant Opportunities & Challenges
[In this section, there is no mention of an opportunity to establish new protected areas and parks to meet the demands of a growing population.]

Increasing and Changing Demands for Recreation Experiences
A growing population creates new pressures on the landscape, and Alberta’s parks are feeling the strain. Exist¬ing park facilities were developed for a much smaller population, and many are unable to meet the increasing and changing demand for recreation experiences. In addition to an increase in population, the kinds of park ex-periences that people seek are changing. For example, Albertans want more campgrounds that accommodate larger trailers and designated trails for the rapidly increasing number of all-terrain vehicles. (p. 283)

Strategic Priorities 2009-12
[No mention in this or the next section of any priority for establishing new protected areas and parks, and completing a system that meets the environmental needs and the public demand for pro¬tected natural areas.]

1. Alberta’s Plan for Parks  
Implement Alberta’s Plan for Parks to ensure Alberta’s parks remain protected yet accessible and support Alberta’s Land-use Framework. The plan will provide a blueprint for decision-making over the next 10 years that aligns with the government’s strategic direction set out in the Land-use Framework and sets out priority actions that include developing an online campsite reservation system and refining the parks classification system. (p. 286)

Core Business 2: Parks

Goal:  The provincial parks system provides opportunities for outdoor recreation and tourism and con-serves Alberta’s natural heritage.  (p. 288)

   

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