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?
- Is protection–“in an undisturbed state”–the priority within protected areas and parks?
- Is the leadership role for establishing protected areas is given to the department responsible for managing them (i.e., for Tourism, Parks and Recreation)?
- 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.