Media Statement: Alberta Parks Closures and Privatization

Media Statement
March 5, 2020

For over 50 years CPAWS Southern and Northern Alberta chapters have been collaborating with industry, government, Indigenous partners, communities, and like-minded organizations to protect our invaluable parks and wilderness areas and connect Albertans to nature through sustainable outdoor recreation. We are very concerned with the recent announcement from the Government of Alberta on a drastic change to our parks and recreation areas.

While the Alberta Parks news release has recently been amended to remove the mention of sale of parks*, we continue to be concerned with the massive changes to the parks system without transparent decision making or consultation with Albertans. The changes, including the full or partial closure of 20 sites, where full closure is stated as “entire site will be closed to public access,” and the removal of 164 Parks from the Alberta Parks System results in the loss of the protections to conservation values and quality of recreation experience that are provided through a parks designation.

The news release also stated: “Sites removed from the parks system would have their legal park designations removed, and could be open for alternate management approaches. This includes potential Park Partnerships through [sale or]* transfer to another entity such as a municipality, so that sites could continue to provide important economic and recreational benefits to local communities. Some of the sites could also stay open under a public lands management model or revert back to vacant public land.”

Despite the recent wording changes, the minister has reiterated his intent to remove 164 sites from the parks system and transfer management to non-government organizations and private interests. This opens the door for uses that are not currently permitted within our parks. Private operators are not accountable to Albertans or to maintaining conservation values and quality outdoor experience.

We do not think that Alberta’s parks should be managed for profit, and fear that this move will result in decreased service quality, increased costs and the commodification or loss of areas that offer Albertans an improved quality of life, access to nature, ecosystem services, and habitat for fish and wildlife.

Public lands management, and vacant public land-use do not adequately protect fish and wildlife or recreation values and could be leased for industrial resource extraction or commercial development. Additionally, it may be difficult to find private partnerships for areas that, as the minister stated, are not economically viable, leading to deterioration of parks and recreation sites or further closures.

We are also very concerned about the additional 20 sites that according to government release will become inaccessible to the public. “Twenty parks will have full or partial closures in 2020. Some of these will be full park closures, where the entire site will be closed to public access. Others will have partial closures, where either their campgrounds or specific facilities are closed to public access, with the remaining park areas open, but non-serviced.”

It is inappropriate to be barring Albertans from using park lands, and in direct contradiction to the promises made by the Minister of Environment and Parks to provide access to Alberta’s wilderness.

We do not support keeping Albertan’s out of parks that were established for their use or removing these sites from the public protected areas system. Most of the parks that will see full closure, where the “entire site will be closed to public access,” in 2020 are in smaller communities. Preventing access to these parks penalizes Albertans that do not live in large urban areas, by removing recreation opportunities close to home.

We have great concerns with the impact of this massive change to our parks system including the impact on conservation values, the closure of sites without partnership and the decrease in services and increase in fees of privately managed parks and recreation areas. The fact remains that this short-sighted decision was made without consultation with Albertans. Our parks are our natural heritage and should be kept in trust for all Albertans to enjoy through a properly managed public parks system.

If you too are concerned about this loss of Alberta Parks, please click here to send a letter.

*Original News Release on February 29 and March 2 stated that Park Partnerships will be through sale or transfer. The news release was changed to remove the word sale on the evening of March 4. It now solely refers to “transfers” though there is little clarity on what that could entail.