The Alberta Wilderness Association is not happy with the provincial government’s decision to remove 164 of 473 sites from the Alberta Parks system.
In a letter to Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks, Conservation Specialist, Grace Wark from AWA says the move has crossed a line that will compromise the intrinsic values Albertans associate with the parks system and threaten the integrity of Alberta’s protected areas network.
“We firmly believe that closing provincial parks won’t save money, benefit Albertans, or improve tourism,” she said.
However, the government claims the move, which includes the full or partial closure of 20 parks this year, will save money and pave the way for partnership opportunities.
Although a press release stated ‘through prospective sale or transfer to First Nations or entities such as a municipality or non-profit, these sites could continue to provide important economic and recreational benefits to local communities,’ Nixon said the changes do not mean the government is selling crown land.
“All 164 park spaces to be removed from the park system will remain wholly as crown land,” he added.
“Alberta have expressed an interest in taking a more active role in the operation of some areas traditionally run by the province,” he said. “In order to facilitate this, and to renew our commitment to our ‘crown jewel’ destinations, we will be offering Albertans, non-profits and First Nations the opportunity to work with our government and with parks societies on exploring these important partnerships.”
But Wark said the move is in direct contradiction to the government’s promise to protect 17 per cent of the province by 2021.
“It is irresponsible to be removing parks and protected areas from our network. And it came out of the blue. There was no public consultation.”
Miranda Rosin, MLA for Banff-Kananaskis said (on Jason Nixon’s facebook page) the campsites identified for closure were operating at a loss of between $4.5 million to the taxpayer, had visitation of only 20-40 people per year and were completely run down in many cases.”
But Wark said the claim that 164 sites are mainly underutilized provincial recreation areas buries the plan to remove nine natural areas and 10 provincial parks which provide critical ecological and recreation values.
“In fact many of these sites are well-loved and incredibly popular,” she said.
But Nixon said practises like flying in firewood to the backcountry by helicopter and having parks staff drive long distances to change trash cans at locations that saw 22 users last year are simply not sustainable.
“We reject the idea that it is only government that is able to provide quality services at parks day use and camping areas.”
But Wark said there is little or no information as to how the sites to be removed will be managed.
“Protected areas operate under a legislated framework to conserve their natural heritage and provide recreation opportunities where compatible with environmental sustainability. The government’s decision provides no indication these vital principles for protection will be honoured in this plan.”
“Parks and protected areas are an investment in the health and well-being of Albertans,” she said, adding that there has been no financial accounting provided for these projected a savings. A true cost/benefit analysis would have considered the potential impacts to municipalities, economic losses to gateway communities and the loss of mental and physical health benefits provided by outdoor recreation, she noted.
Rimbey area resident Florence Stemo also has concerns about the closing the parks and the ensuing changes which she fears could mean inconsistencies, staff cuts and adverse affects to tourism.
“This is our money. These parks belong to the people of Alberta.”
The full list of areas proposed for removal can be found at https://www.alberta.ca/assets/documents/ep-optimizing-alberta-parks.pdf