Something big is missing from the mandate letters for both the Ministry of the Environment and Protected Areas and the Ministry of Forestry and Parks, say two conservation groups.

“These ministries have massive amounts of responsibility for most of Alberta’s public land, if not all of it, for the environmental health of our lands and our wildlife, and yet they’re really marked by what they’re lacking,” said Tara Russell, program director for the Northern Alberta chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).

“We are facing a biodiversity and climate crisis; both of those crises need urgent actions. These letters do very little to reassure us that they’re going to take any of the necessary actions to address those crises.”

Russell described the situation as concerning, noting how she was hoping to see the mandate of a priority to address the severe state of Alberta’s ecological health.

“We’re seeing no commitment to increasing the number of parks or protected areas, to supporting Indigenous-led conservation, or improving the state of our species at risk in the province.”  

CPAWS and the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) have both stepped forward with their concerns about the two mandates.

“I think we would have really liked to see a way stronger focus on environmental conservation and just prioritizing environment. The Ministries of Environment and Protected Areas and Forestry and Parks really should have that as a top priority. Without prioritizing that, environment falls to the back seat and you get degradation of these important wilderness spaces,” said AWA conservation specialist Devon Earl.

“Those are things that Albertans value: getting out to see those wild spaces and having a healthy environment, so if we don’t prioritize environmental conservation, which we haven’t been, then I can only see that getting worse.”

Examining the bullet point lists for each ministry, economic and industrial concerns take precedence over those which could be considered purely protection- or conservation-based.

“It certainly feels like they’re focusing on how to make the lives of industry better versus what I feel those ministries should be focusing on: how to improve the state of our environment to better support Albertans,” Russell said.

“Parks and protected areas play an absolutely critical role in habitat protection and nature conservation. They help us mitigate the impacts of climate change, and we know that this is something that Albertans want and value.

“The polling that CPAWS has done says that 95 per cent of Albertans are concerned about the loss of wildlife, and 77 per cent are supportive of protected areas just to maintain those important habitats and prevent further declines of wildlife population. And yet, we see none of those desires of Albertans reflected in these mandates.”

Earl said that the AWA was especially disappointed in the lack of emphasis on conservation and environmental values in the Forestry and Parks mandate letter.

Since Parks was split off of the Ministry of Environment and added in with the Ministry of Forestry, there has been a growing concern that Alberta’s parks are being reframed as recreational commodities.

In the Forestry and Parks mandate, the minister is tasked to create 900 new campsites. New parks to house those sites, however, are not mentioned. Neither are land management plans.

“The Provincial Parks Act states that parks are for the preservation of Alberta’s natural heritage primarily,” Earl said, highlighting how the theme of conservation and protection looms larger than recreation opportunities.  

“I think given the government’s interest in expanding recreation opportunities, I think it would be a great idea to create new parks. Where is the discussion about that? Parks would not only conserve the environment, but also provide opportunities for people to go out and explore. I think that would also be a win-win, and that’s something that is missing.”

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 10, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta

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