Time for parks & protected areas as an election issue

Press Release - Feb. 11, 2007
Sierra Club of Canada

Calgary - The Speech from the Throne acknowledged that Albertans are worried about the province's natural environment, so it's highly likely that the Sierra Club of Canada (SCC) is not alone in saying it's about time that the need for new protected areas and parks has been raised by the parties in the election; the most recent announcement being today's by the Progressive Conservatives.

"With the shortage of water, the looming adverse effects of climate change, the need for action on endangered landscapes and species, and the backlog of wildlands awaiting park protection, it's certainly time that parks and protected areas are an election issue," says Dianne Pachal, Sierra Club of Canada's Alberta WILD Director.

"It's good that the PCs propose to assist with the first phase of parks along the North Saskatchewan River between Devon and Fort Saskatchewan, but the commitment to parks over all as a tool for conservation and environmental protection is sadly vague in today's announcement," comments Pachal. "They had such opportunity before calling the election to release the Alberta Plan for Parks and establish three parks - Andy Russell-I'tai sah kóp, Bighorn Country and Mountain Park. Those three have already been recommended by previous hearings or review processes and they are known to be key for endangered species recovery and protecting water sources."

Sierra Club believes all parties in the race have an opportune time in the province's history to connect the dots between water supply, endangered species, tourism, environmental protection and quality of life by committing to completing a system of parks as a part of sound land-use planning and by getting the backlogged parks done.

For example, the world's top water scientists and policy makers concluded that establishing the Andy Russell-I'tai sah kóp Park, located on the north side of Waterton Lakes National Park, would pay for itself over and over again in the ecological services it would provide alone; being Alberta's premier source of water and its most biologically diverse area. UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has repeatedly raised alarms about threats to Jasper National Park due to the lack of protection for the proposed Mountain Park (located southwest of Hinton) and the critical grizzly bear habitat there. An Alberta Government appointed panel in 1993 recommended that the Bighorn wildland, located in the Red Deer River Basin west of Rocky Mountain House, become a park by the end of 1994.

The Liberal and NDP platforms make specific reference to the need for more parks, including in the Eastern Slopes (something the PC announcement doesn't) and the Liberals want to start by establishing the Andy Russell-I'tai sah kóp Park. The NDP also commit to ensuring the parks system has adequate examples of all of Alberta's natural regions. The Liberals want to strengthen the park and protected area legislation. The Wild Rose Alliance while stating it will recognize the value of parks to society is vaguer than the PCs, stating only that it will "establish balanced ecological reserves." The Green Party platform is about to be released.

Although protecting biological diversity is fundamentally important for buffering the adverse effects of climate change, the Alberta Government has yet to reach its own targets set in the 1990s for establishing parks and protected areas. Alberta is comprised of six natural regions, but four of Alberta's six natural regions - Grassland, Parkland, Foothills and Boreal - still do not have enough parks to maintain ecological integrity across the landscape, including maintaining biodiversity into the future.

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For more Information:

Dianne Pachal - 403 234 -7368 (Calgary), Sierra Club of Canada, Alberta WILD Director