Writer Urging Better Alberta Lands Protection
Editor's Note: The following story appeared in the Calgary (Alberta) Herald. It was written by Katie Morrison, conservation director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s southern Alberta chapter.
As Alberta struggles locally and internationally with its environmental record, it is also falling behind other provinces when it comes to protected areas.
Although protected areas cover 12.4% of Alberta’s land base, only 4.2% of our land is protected as provincial protected areas and the remaining 8.2% is in long established national parks. The percentage of protected provincial land in Alberta is lower than most other provinces in Canada.
As the government of Alberta is preparing the South Saskatchewan Regional Land Use Plan, set to be released this fall, we can look for inspiration to other provinces that are on the forefront of land use planning and environmental protection in Canada.
This month, the Nova Scotia government announced that it will protect huge swaths of the province for conservation. In total, approximately a quarter million hectares of land will be added to the parks and protected areas system in Nova Scotia. This will raise the current level of protection from 9.4% to 13% immediately, and then to nearly 14% over the next few years as new protected sites are added.
Nova Scotia’s conservation success is something Alberta can learn from. Not only were the most ecologically important sites selected for conservation, but a meaningful process was used to identify the areas and to engage the public and stakeholders in the discussions.
Saskatchewan also recently designated a new protected area nearly two-thirds the size of Prince Edward Island. Manitoba’s new parks strategy commits to creating or expanding up to 10 parks in the province, and late last year, the Quebec government announced the creation of Canada’s biggest provincial park in northern Quebec.
Protected areas are a vital part of conserving natural areas and biodiversity as populations grow and resources become scarcer. Establishing and managing protected area systems remains a principal and effective approach for conserving lands and water, the wildlife dependent on them and vital environmental services. Protected areas offer opportunities for recreation and spiritual renewal, protection of ecosystem services, such as drinking water, and protection of the genetic potential of wild species.
Protected areas are also economically important and play a vital role in contributing to people’s livelihoods, particularly at the local level.
South of the border, in the western United States, regions with large areas of protected land have enjoyed three to four times the economic growth over the past two decades as have regions without protected areas.
As part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada has committed to protecting at least 17% of lands and inland waters by 2020 to conserve biodiversity. This target is far above Alberta’s protected areas targets, which range from 1.3% to 7.1% of our 16 natural sub-regions.
In many natural sub-regions in southern Alberta, even these minimal targets have not been met. It is up to both federal and provincial governments to contribute to Canada’s protected areas systems.
Until now, Alberta has had a free ride on protecting our lands and waters because of our federally protected parks. With the upcoming South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, the government of Alberta has a real opportunity to be an environmental leader in Canada and internationally.
There are very important sites in the grasslands, foothills and mountains of southern Alberta that we can legally protect under the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, including the Castle Special Place, the Livingstone Range, the Porcupine Hills and the Ghost Watershed.
In southern Alberta, we are blessed by our natural areas. Our way of life depends on clean water, our open rangelands and being surrounded by spectacular parks and wilderness. These natural assets support our way of life and our ways of making a living.
However, Alberta is growing and changing rapidly. To protect our way of life and our prosperity, we need to plan ahead as we grow and manage our resource development. We need a strong regional plan to be good stewards of our water, wildlife and wilderness.
It’s time Alberta showed the kind of leadership we expect and takes bold actions in conservation and protected areas.