May 15, 2018
The backbone of conserving nature, protected areas provide large, intact spaces where wildlife can roam and we can learn and play for generations to come.
Alberta needs to complete a system of protected areas throughout all of Alberta’s diverse natural regions and the species at risk that live within them. Achieving representative protection is not only possible, but essential to our health and wealth.
“As of the end of 2016, Canada recognizes 10.6 percent of our land and inland waters as protected, an increase of only 1 percent since 2010; therefore, much needs to be done to achieve 17 percent by 2020.” – Canada’s Conservation Vision: A Report of the National Advisory Panel
Alberta is blessed with an amazing diversity of natural landscapes ranging from mountains, grasslands, boreal forests, to wetlands.
Healthy, protected ecosystems provide us with many services such as food, clean water, protection from natural disasters, and recreation opportunities. Protected areas provide direct and indirect benefits to overall physical and mental health (Equilibrium Research 2010; Sturm and Cohen 2014).
In addition to these ecosystem services, direct economic benefits from Alberta’s protected areas are significant; in 2009 visitor spending in National Parks amounted to 1.5 billion dollars (The Outspan Group Inc. 2011). The provincial government has also analyzed the contribution of parks to the economy and estimated that “parks and protected areas can contribute as much to the provincial economy per unit of land as other types of resource development, including agriculture or forestry.”
In 2015, Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments committed to conserving at least 17 percent of Canada’s lands and inland waters by 2020, otherwise known as Aichi Target 11 under the Convention for Biological Diversity:
By 2020, at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.
In keeping with this national and international commitment, the Alberta government has also committed to protecting 17 percent of Alberta’s landscape.
As of the end of 2016, 10.6 percent of Canada’s terrestrial areas and only 0.96 percent of its marine territory are protected. As Canada’s National Advisory Panel Report noted this is “an increase of only 1 percent since 2010; therefore, much needs to be done to achieve 17 percent by 2020.”
As of June 2018, 14.6 percent of Alberta is protected:
In order to meet the Aichi Target 11, protected area systems must protect each natural region, include areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystems, and be well-connected.
While some of Alberta’s natural areas, such as the Rocky Mountains, are relatively well protected, many of Alberta’s Natural Regions – such as Grasslands, Parkland and Foothills – are poorly represented in the current network. A lack of representative protection has caused widespread declines in wildlife. The Grasslands Natural Region is less than 2 percent protected and more than three quarters of Alberta’s species at risk rely on prairie habitats (Alberta Environmental Protection 1997).
Many of Alberta’s protected areas allow industrial development, which undermines their protection value. In addition, most provincial protected areas are small and isolated within a highly developed landscape. These areas will not support wildlife, viable ecosystems, or landscape-scale natural disturbances over time.
AWA is requesting that the federal and provincial governments commit to the following:
Over the years, AWA has identified important landscapes containing key Natural Region features and rare or special landscapes. We have worked to maintain the ecological integrity of these areas, keeping them wild. Some of these Wild Spaces are essential, containing regions and ecosystems that have not yet been protected, and that require protection to complete the provincial protected areas network. Other Wild Spaces may function as corridors or transition zones for species between other protected areas. Many Wild Spaces require sound management for working landscapes, where economic development can be sustainably integrated with conservation objectives.
The following principles guide AWA’s vision for protected areas:
Alberta contains protected areas which fall under federal and provincial jurisdiction.
National Parks – From Banff, Jasper, Waterton Lakes, Elk Island to Wood Buffalo, some of Alberta’s largest and most iconic protected areas are National Parks. Under the Canada National Parks Act, National Parks are established for “the benefit, education and enjoyments” of Canadians and must be managed in a way that leaves them intact for future generations.
National Wildlife Areas –Under the Canada Wildlife Act, National Wildlife Areas are “created and managed for the purposes of wildlife conservation, research, and interpretation.” Most are relatively small with the exception of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield NWA, which is significant for its protection of native prairie.
Migratory Bird Sanctuaries – can be established on private, provincial, territorial and federally owned land to protect and conserve migratory birds, both as populations and individuals including nests; Environment and Climate Change Canada are responsible for the protection of migratory birds and their nests. They are established under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
The term protected area is used in Alberta to cover eight distinct designations covered by three different legislative acts: the Provincial Parks Act; the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands Act; and the Willmore Wilderness Park Act.
Each of the eight designations is distinguished by varying restrictions on activities in the protected area; the following are the eight protected area designations in Alberta, beginning with Ecological Reserve, the designation with the most stringent protections down to Recreation Areas, the designation with the least restrictions. Source: Alberta Parks 2017
Ecological Reserve – An ecosystem containing representative, rare and fragile landscapes, plants, animals, and geological features that is protected for scientific research, education, and heritage appreciation. They are established with the strict intent to preserve natural ecosystems, habitats and features, and associated biodiversity. Surface disturbance is not allowed within an Ecological Reserve and can only be accessed by foot.
Wilderness Area – Established to “preserve and protect natural heritage while providing opportunities for non-consumptive, nature-based outdoor recreation”. Alberta has three wilderness areas – Ghost River, Siffleur and White Goat. Travel within these areas is restricted to foot access only and removal of any part of the environment (plants, rocks, fossils, etc.) is prohibited.
Willmore Wilderness Park –was established under its own legislation, the Willmore Wilderness Park Act, in April 1959 which states “The Park is dedicated to the use of the people of Alberta for their benefit, education and enjoyment, subject to this Act and the regulations, and shall, by the management, conservation and protection of its natural resources and by the preservation of its natural beauty, be maintained for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Wildland Provincial Park – “A type of Provincial Park specifically established to preserve and protect natural heritage and provide opportunities for backcountry recreation.” Wildland Provincial Parks are typically larger landscapes with lower levels of developments. Popular activities include equestrian use, backcountry camping, hiking and fishing. Some Wildland Parks have designated trails for off-highway vehicle use.
Provincial Park – Protecting both natural and cultural landscapes and features, Provincial Parks are distinguished from a Wildland Provincial Park by its greater range of outdoor recreation facilities, interpretive and educational programs, as well as generally more support facilities and infrastructure.
Heritage Rangeland – To protect and preserve represent Alberta’s prairies by the continuation of cattle grazing to maintain grassland ecology, while limiting other disturbances such as industrial development. Recreational use is generally limited to foot access.
Natural Area – Intended to protect special and sensitive natural landscapes of local and regional significance, while providing opportunities for education, nature appreciation, and low-intensity recreation. These areas are typically quite small and include natural and near natural landscapes. New Industrial development is not permitted.
Provincial Recreation Area – Often small areas established for outdoor recreation as the primary objective, these areas support a wide range of outdoor recreation pursuits, including motorized recreation, in natural, modified, or man-made settings.
Areas with Land-Use Restrictions
Provincial Recreation Area – Often small areas established for outdoor recreation as the primary objective, these areas support a wide range of outdoor recreation pursuits, including motorized recreation, in natural, modified, or man-made settings. Generally, no new industrial development is permitted although sites are typically heavily developed for recreation use.
Public Land Use Zone (formerly Forest Land Use Zone) – designated under the Public Lands Administration Regulation, it is an area of land to which legislative controls are applied to solve specific land-use problems, and better manage conflicting land use activities in sensitive areas. Generally little/no restrictions as to the types of land uses permitted. Previously, Forest Land Use Zones (FLUZ) were administered under the Forest Act for a similar purpose.
AWA’s primary concerns regarding protected areas are to ensure that they remain in perpetuity and are managed in a way that they actually are protecting the ecosystem values that they were established to protect in the first place. If activities that are harmful and damaging to the landscape and wildlife are allowed to take place, is an area actually protected?
Many of Alberta’s protected areas are lacking formal management plans, without which many individual small decisions produce cumulative effects that diminish the wilderness resources that parks were intended to protect.
A lack of enforcement in protected areas can cause extensive damages from activities such as poaching, garbage dumping and illegal off-highway vehicle (OHV) use.
Although recreation, and specifically non‐motorized recreation is indeed “critical to the quality of life we experience as Albertans” (Questions and Answers on the Proposed New Parks Legislation, 2010), Albertans also recognize that recreation is not, and should not be, the top priority within protected areas. The 2008 public survey found that 70.8% of Albertans believe the top priority for Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation should be to set aside more land and leaving it in an undisturbed state.
Threats to parks from recreation include:
AWA believes that it is crucial that any new recreation opportunities and facilities should only be developed in newly designated parks land, and not at the expense of existing protected areas. Turning existing protected areas into manicured playgrounds is not the way Albertans want to see the shortfall of recreation facilities being addressed.
March 1, 2018