In Southern Alberta we are blessed by our amazing 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 and protect our most significant places.
Recent science indicates that we need to protect and connect at least half of our lands and waters to maintain ecosystem and biodiversity services essential for both human health and species conservation.
Protected areas are a vital part of conserving natural areas and biodiversity as populations grow and resources become scarcer. 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.
Alberta’s provincial parks contribute to our network of parks and wilderness on the landscape. There are currently eight distinct designations of protected areas in Alberta, emanating from three different statutes, with dual objectives of providing recreation and ecological protection.
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 part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada has committed to protecting at least 17% of lands and inland waters by 2020 in order to conserve biodiversity. This target is far above Alberta’s protected areas targets. In many of our natural ecological subregions, less than two per cent of the lands and waters are protected despite the fact that southern Alberta contains 80 per cent of the province’s species of many of at risk. It is up to both federal and provincial governments to contribute to Canada's protected areas systems.
Although small steps were made in Alberta’s recent South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP), overall the plan failed to put protection in place to ensure we maintain the important natural functions of this region, protect our species at risk and care for our valuable headwaters.
CPAWS SAB has long pushed for protection of the entire Castle wilderness. The SSRP added parts of the Castle to the protected areas system, however, approximately half of the area was left unprotected and most of the protected area lay in the highest elevations above tree line. The recent announcement of the government’s intention to amend the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) to protect the Castle as a Wildland and Provincial Park is an integral step to preserve clean water for downstream communities, safeguard our province’s biodiversity and provide habitat to important wildlife such as grizzly bear and cutthroat trout.
The SSRP consistently designated only areas above tree line in the new protected areas created in the Eastern Slopes. Additionally, other than the successful new Pekisko Heritage Rangeland, no new grasslands areas were protected.
It can also be a challenge to balance environmental protection with tourism and recreation opportunities while ensuring that the protection of ecological integrity is the priority. Even established Alberta parks are facing numerous threats and pressures including industrial activities in parks, unregulated motorized off-highway recreation, established parks are small and un-connected and there are insufficient resources allocated for park management
CPAWS works with Alberta Parks, local communities and with other conservation organizations to promote the importance of our provincial protected areas and encourage people to experience Alberta’s natural areas in sustainable ways. The CPAWS Southern Alberta outreach team attends events throughout the province promoting connection to nature and stewardship of parks and wilderness areas.
We consistently work to encourage the Government of Alberta to designate more provincial parks and protected areas and manage these areas for nature values, including the managment of the new protected area in the Castle Wilderness. We are also currently working on having new protected areas designated under the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan.
We also work to ensure that park legislation and management prioritize conservation of nature and promotion of sustainable nature-based recreation. In 2011, CPAWS Southern Alberta, along with other conservation organizations, was instrumental in stopping the Province from undermining current parks legislation through revisions to the Parks Act (Bill 29).
CPAWS Southern Alberta has a classroom and outdoor education program called Discover Parks! designed to engage students in hands-on, curriculum-linked activities to discover, experience and become stewards of park ecosystems.
We need to recognize the importance of protected areas in southern Alberta and promote legislated protection of our most valuable resources - clean water, a diversity of species, open rangelands and spectacular wilderness areas – through the creation and management of protected areas.
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