No cuts to parks in new provincial budget, but future of Alberta’s environment still uncertain

February 26, 2021

CPAWS Southern and Northern Alberta Chapters have a mixed reaction to the Government of Alberta’s new provincial budget. Our teams provided recommendations to the government to invest in economic diversification through a Green Recovery to COVID-19, fund the creation of new protected areas and the management of existing ones, invest in land use planning, and allocate funding to develop new legislated land-use plans to replace the rescinded Coal Policy, with comprehensive public consultation. The new budget addresses some of these concerns but falls disappointingly short on others. 

There’s still room for improvement to effectively protect our wilderness 

We are disappointed to see that there is no funding for increasing parks and protected areas, and there is no longer any mention of meeting targets to increase our protected areas. In the previous budget the government had aimed for a goal of 17% protection by 2020. This year, a goal for increasing protected areas is absent, and the province has still not met its 17% protected areas commitment. Increased parks and protected areas are a wise investment for our landscape’s resiliency and for our economic recovery post COVID-19. It is necessary that this government invest in responsible management of parks and public land to reflect Albertans’ values. The budget documents reaffirm the government’s commitment to its new Crown Land Vision, and we remain concerned about the implications of this plan for the conservation of our lands and waters. 

We are gravely concerned about Agriculture and Forestry’s business plan to increase forest harvest by 33%. Our forests are already over-allocated, and there is no space left on our landscape to accommodate this further disturbance. 

Encouraged to see the budget for parks maintained  

Our teams are happy to see that the provincial budget for Alberta Environment and Parks will not see cuts again this year. It is clear from the significant public opposition following the March 2020 ‘Optimizing Alberta’s Parks’ announcement that Albertans value our provincial parks and want to see them stay protected. However, we are still concerned that the Government of Alberta plans to rely on third-party partners and camping fee increases to maintain protections and access for our provincial parks. We believe any provincial budget should offer stable and sufficient public funding to ensure a thriving and sustainable parks system in Alberta. 

The David Thompson Corridor area, including the Bighorn Backcountry, saw recreational use skyrocket in 2020. We are encouraged to see that the Alberta government recognizes the need to better support responsible use of the area. They will be supporting this need with an $8.4 million investment to support increased recreational infrastructure and enforcement. This budget maintains the government’s commitment to double tourism by 2030, and parks and wilderness areas, such as the Bighorn Backcountry, are an essential part of Alberta’s tourism and recreation industry. 

Lingering questions about the future of Alberta’s landscape and species at risk 

The budget maintained last year’s funding levels for the land-use planning process, which is not sufficient to move forward with this important process. Given the recent concerns over industrial development such as coal in the Eastern Slopes, it is clear that increased investment in land use planning is needed. 

The budget documents are unclear about the changes to allocated funding towards caribou recovery. We look forward to more details on how third-party administration will accelerate momentum made on caribou conservation in the past year. We hope to see continued work on sub-regional planning to achieve naturally self-sustaining caribou populations in Alberta’s boreal forest.  

We will continue to seek clarity on how the plan outlined in the 2021 budget will uphold the integrity of Alberta’s environment and parks. Minister Toews states “we will be transparent – even in the midst of uncertainty.” Our teams look forward to this promise being upheld and seeing the trust with Albertans being re-built as we move forward. We will continue to push for protection of Alberta’s parks and wilderness to benefit our environment, communities and economy. 

For more information contact: 

Katie Morrison
Conservation Director, CPAWS Southern Alberta

Tara Russell
Program Director, CPAWS Northern Alberta