The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Southern and Northern Alberta Chapters are concerned about a blurry separation of ministerial responsibilities and overall lack of urgency to address the twin crises of climate and biodiversity loss in mandate letters to the Minister of Environment and Protected Areas and the Minister of Forestry and Parks. As of July 21, 2023, each Government of Alberta ministry has received a mandate letter outlining its objectives and priorities from the Premier.
“At a time where other provinces and countries are working to protect wildlife and improve the health of ecosystems, the ministry mandate letters do little to reassure us that Alberta will take the necessary actions to reverse biodiversity loss and address the climate catastrophe,” says Katie Morrison, Executive Director with CPAWS Southern Alberta.
“Neither mandate letter mentions increasing the number of parks or protected areas, supporting Indigenous-led conservation, or improving the plight of at-risk species.” These are actions that Alberta must urgently implement. In fact, polling shows Albertans are concerned about biodiversity loss and want more protection of nature for conservation and recreation.
The Forestry and Parks mandate emphasizes increasing campgrounds, trails, access, and infrastructure, without mention of creating new parks, or land management plans in which to host these increased recreational amenities. The letter also states that an expansion of public land use opportunities will be achieved by Alberta entrepreneurs and other organizations, which raises a concern over the privatization of public spaces and restricted accessibility – concerns CPAWS has previously raised related to the Trails Act and changes to parks management.
Albertans love our parks, and yes, they want more camping and recreation opportunities. New protected areas would help address this increasing demand. “It bears repeating that any type of development planning should occur within larger land use planning processes, and that protected areas are an important tool for land-use management.” says Kecia Kerr, Executive Director of CPAWS Northern Alberta. The Environment and Protected Areas mandate does include direction for land use planning and a review of existing plans.
Land use planning is sorely needed across the province to manage the cumulative effects industrial and recreational activities on our busy landscapes. Management frameworks for air, water and biodiversity have not been implemented in the two land use plans that are complete, let alone the 5 that remain to be completed. “We hope this means the woodland caribou sub-regional planning will continue to advance” says Tara Russell, Program Director for CPAWS Northern Alberta. “This is a process that must be completed if we are to have a chance at recovering this iconic threatened species.”
“Uncertainty and fears of coal development in the Rocky Mountains has been looming over us for the past 3 years and it has been kicked down the road to be resolved through land-use planning.” Says Morrison “The new mandate letters do not provide any further clarity on this process, with no mention of coal whatsoever.”
“Oil sands tailings urgently need to be addressed and seeing them as the first key priority in the Environment and Protected Areas mandate letter is indicative of the collective concern surrounding this massive environmental liability.” ” says Gillian Chow-Fraser, Boreal Program Director with CPAWS Northern Alberta. “Time should be taken to ensure a comprehensive tailings reclamation plan prioritizes the environmental outcomes and the concerns of impacted Indigenous communities.”
“We are also hesitant about the mandate to increase water licenses and allocations, especially where we know water is already over-allocated, and where Alberta’s headwaters conservation strategies are lacking.” says Morrison. “In light of the proposal for the single largest irrigation expansion in Alberta’s history, this is particularly alarming.”
The climate crisis gets only a small mention in the mandate for the Ministry responsible for addressing it, with a focus on investigating carbon sink capacity of landscapes in pursuit of carbon neutrality. While nature based-climate solutions should be a big part of a climate action plan, this will require permanent protection of carbon sink landscapes. In addition, the impact of land disturbance on carbon emissions must also be accounted for and reducing disturbance is not mentioned.
The Forestry and Parks mandate also fails to recognize the ways in which industrial land use can harm the land’s ability to store carbon and protect biodiversity. Forest management through forest harvest is not the answer to the climate and biodiversity crisis. This is especially true in wetland areas and the habitat of species at risk, including caribou and native trout.
The Southern and Northern Alberta Chapters of CPAWS are concerned over how these ministries will effectively address the urgency of conservation and its importance to Alberta’s landscapes and citizens with the gaps in their mandates. As polling has suggested, 95% of Albertans are concerned about the loss of wildlife and 77% are in support of increased protected areas to maintain important habitats and prevent further decline of wildlife populations. We need our environmental ministries to address the gaps in landscape level conservation and to join the movement to protect and restore biodiversity with clarity and purposeful action.