Alberta group worries new cabinet could threaten environmental protections for parks

Click to play video: 'Environmental groups concerned with splitting of Alberta ministries'
Environmental groups concerned with splitting of Alberta ministries
WATCH ABOVE: (From Oct. 28, 2022) Environmental groups are raising concerns for parks management and protected areas after the recent shuffle in Alberta’s cabinet divided one ministry into two. Jaclyn Kucey explains. – Oct 28, 2022

An environmental group warns last week’s changes to the governing United Conservative Party cabinet could threaten protections for Alberta’s parks and wildlands.

In her first cabinet since becoming premier, Premier Danielle Smith divided responsibility for parks and so-called “protected areas” between two different ministries.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society says the changes mean that almost 94 per cent of Alberta’s parks, recreation areas and wildland parks will be managed by the Ministry of Forestry, Parks and Tourism.

Alberta Environment will manage protected areas — only five per cent of the lands it used to.

“When you’re putting the vast majority of the land base we call parks and protected areas in with forestry and tourism, it could change the management intent of those places,” society director Katie Morrison said Wednesday.

Story continues below advertisement

“It could shift it away from the protection of ecological values to potential industrial or inappropriate activities.”

Smith has said the rationale behind the decision is to give forestry, a major economic driver for Alberta, the prominence it deserves. She added it is the way to open up parks to activities like ATVing, camping and backcountry use.

Ruiping Luo, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association, said protected parks are not meant to have industrial disturbances in them.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

“We’re hoping that this is us overreacting a little bit,” Luo said. “But, again, what we’ve been hearing seems like they’re prioritizing development, forestry, tourism and that sort of thing over protection.”

Morrison said creating a distinction between parks and protected areas makes no administrative sense.

Click to play video: 'Alberta planning 8 new parks for land protection and recreation'
Alberta planning 8 new parks for land protection and recreation

A spokesperson from Forestry, Parks and Tourism did not return a request for comment.

Story continues below advertisement

Chris Smith, a conservation analyst with CPAWS, said parks have been managed under forestry in the past.

“But what really has caused a lot of the contention is that back then all of the parks and protected areas were kept together, and in this case they’ve been separated,” Smith said.

The department, under new minister Todd Loewen, now has responsibility for the Provincial Parks Act and Willmore Wilderness Park Act. Those pieces of legislation and the protections they contain haven’t changed.

However, Morrison pointed out that under the government’s red tape reduction efforts, the regulations that implement those protections can now be altered on ministerial whim without public notification or consultation.

She added that the United Conservatives, under former premier Jason Kenney, have already tried unpopular reforms to the province’s parks. Former environment minister Jason Nixon proposed privatizing management of some parks and removing a large number of others from the provincial list.

The government backed away from those proposals after a public outcry.

“We’ve seen this government try to remove some of these protections from some of these parks. Albertans really rose up against that,” Morrison said.

Story continues below advertisement

“We are going to be watching very closely.”

–With files from Jaclyn Kucey, Global News

Click to play video: '‘Piled in heaps’: Large amounts of garbage found in Kananaskis by parks officials'
‘Piled in heaps’: Large amounts of garbage found in Kananaskis by parks officials


Sponsored content