Conservation groups launch Save Our Parks Week

and say "back to drawing-board" on new parks act

Edmonton, Red Deer & Calgary—  At press conferences today in Alberta’s three largest media centres, Alberta’s conservation groups announced that the government’s proposed new parks legislation is so regressive and harmful to Alberta’s parks that they are launching November 15-20 as Save Our Parks Week.  They want the Bill withdrawn by the Tourism, Parks and Recreation Minister and are calling on Albertans to save their parks by emailing and faxing their MLAs and Premier Stelmach, with copies to the opposition parties, starting first thing Monday when the Bill is scheduled for debate late that day in the Legislature.  The groups expect that once the public realizes passage of the Bill will pull the le­gal teeth out of their existing parks legislation and make it the law that protection is no longer the pri­ority in any of their parks, such public action can stop the Bill as it did a similar one in 1999.

“If Bill 29 isn’t stopped, Save Our Parks Week will need to be an annual event throughout Alberta,” explains Dianne Pachal of Sierra Club Canada.

In the proposed legislation, there is no requirement that resource development allocations such as for logging and oil and gas are to be expeditiously phased out when a new park is established. Based on the Minister-of-the-day’s opinion, the Minister can approve tourism developments such as resorts and recreation developments like off-road vehicle trails at any place in any park.  That includes Wilderness Areas and Ecological Reserves, such as the Kootenay Plains, which by law under the current legisla­tion are sanctuaries for wildlife and people and closed to development.

“For the Minister to claiming that the new legislation makes it simpler for the public makes no sense,” observes Dorothy Dickson of the Stewards of Alberta's Protected Areas Association.  “It does make it far simpler for a Minister to approve more development in the parks, even though Albertans said they wanted more parks instead. Changing everything into one class of park will be totally confusing, whereas Wilderness Area, Ecological Reserve and Provincial Recreation Area currently give an indi­cation of the level of protection and types of uses, which anyone can then supplement with specifics from the government website and maps.”

“Instead of legislation providing for protection of parks in perpetuity for wildlife, our kids and grand­kids, it will provide for development at the discretion of the Minister in perpetuity,” sums up Sarah Elmeligi of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

Pending the success of Save Our Parks Week, the Bill could pass into law within a week after the Legislature resumes on the 15th.  The Minister’s consultations in 2008 to develop Alberta’s Plan for Parks contained no information on the proposed legislation and its implications.  There was only a web-based survey on concepts for the legislation last summer. 

For more information:

  • Dorothy Dickson 403 347-6012, Stewards Of Alberta's Protected Areas Association (Red Deer)
  • Dianne Pachal 403 234-7368 (Calgary); Sam Gunsch 780 885-5624 (Edmonton), Sierra Club Canada
  • Sarah Elmeligi, 403 688-8641(cel), Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society
  • Philip Penner, Federation of Alberta Naturalists (Edmonton) 

Background Information

The conservation groups are asking that Bill 29 be: (a) withdrawn by the government before it passes 2nd reading and that the Minister after consulting with the public, come back in spring with a new Bill; or failing that, (b) Bill 29 be sent to a Standing Committee before it passes 2nd reading – the Committee being comprised of MLAs from all parties, having the authority to hear public submissions on the substance of the Bill and the direction to table a revised Bill in the Spring 2011 session of the Legislative Assembly.

They are asking that a new or revised Bill:

  • Sets preservation of the natural ecosystems as the priority for all classes of parks, except regarding Provin­cial Recreation Areas where tourism and recreation development is balanced with protection.  
  • Legislates a mandatory and expeditious process of removing resource development dispositions.
  • Does not set up the privatization of trails within parks, and future fees for trail use through delegating au­thority for trail development and management to non-government bodies.
  • Keeps intact the already existing, effective legislation for Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves and Heri­tage Rangelands, and
  • In the legislation, rather than through discretionary zoning, provides for Wildland Parks as roadless wild­lands similar to Willmore Wilderness Park.

Bill 29 sets Alberta back more than four decades and dismantles a parks system supported and built by Alber­tans.  In 1932, at a time when wilderness was not just a few remaining fragments as it is today, the first Provin­cial Parks were establish; protecting natural environments for outdoor recreation.  Then, through public pres­sure, a parks system began to develop with the Peter Lougheed Government passing the Wilderness Areas Act in 1972; adding wilderness preservation to the parks system.

“In my view… a considerable number of our citizens now think that the time has come for us to set aside wilderness areas which will not in any way be disturbed by way of resource development.  The Progressive Conservative M.L.A.’s … feel that this is a good policy for the people of Alberta.”

A petition from thousands of Albertans was the catalyst for the addition of Ecological Reserves legislation.  Then Natural Areas and during the government’s Special Places 2000 initiative and extensive public consulta­tion and action at that time, public interest lead to expansion of the system with the addition of Wildland Parks.