Dry Island Buffalo Jump Park’s campgrounds are to be closed under an Alberta Parks plan. Photo from MAMTA LULLA/Advocate staff

Dry Island Buffalo Jump Park’s campgrounds are to be closed under an Alberta Parks plan. Photo from MAMTA LULLA/Advocate staff

‘We’re losing what makes the Parkland so distinctive,” conservation specialist says

The Lacombe district will lose two sites with provincial park status: JJ Collett and the Narrows

The Parkland region is the most settled region in Alberta. The land has been used extensively for agriculture purposes since the late 1800s. This region is also the least environmentally protected region in the province.

On Sept. 15, the government announced $43 million dollars will go to provincial parks to update and repair facilities. This announcement follows a government decision to remove over 164 park sites from the provincial park system back in March. The province has no plans to reverse the removal of those 164 parks from the parks system – despite recent surges in park usage – and environmentalists are concerned.

Grace Wark, a conservation specialist from the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), is perplexed how and why this decision was made.

“There’s been a real lack of transparency and a lack of justification behind this decision. We still haven’t seen the usage numbers come out of these park sites. We still haven’t seen the assessment that all of these sites went through in order to determine, ‘Ok, these 164 sites are not being used enough. We don’t consider them in having strong enough conservation value, that’s why we are taking them out of the system,’” said Wark. “We haven’t seen the data backing that up.”

In a February press release, the government stated they had assessed the sites and the ones chosen for removal were small and under-utilized. But things changed this summer with lockdowns, the inability to travel outside of the province and a need to social distance.

“It’s especially curious right now because our park system has been flooded with use this past summer so it’s really telling a different story than the one that we’ve heard out of our government to justify these park cuts and to remove these sites from the system,” Wark said.

The Central Parkland Natural Subregion stretches from Calgary to Edmonton and east to the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. There are three Parkland regions in Alberta and the Central Parkland subregion is 88 per cent of the Parkland region mass and covers an area of 53,706 km2.

There are 13 sites set to be removed from the Parkland region and two of them are in the Lacombe district: JJ Collett and the Narrows.

“The Parkland is the least protected natural region in Alberta. Only 0.9 per cent of its entire land base is protected. That’s why losing these sites is particularly impactful for this region,” Wark said.

It is estimated that only five per cent of the natural vegetation remains in the area, according to an Alberta Parks document. This is because it is the most densely populated and the most productive agricultural subregion in the province.

At a press conference on Sept. 15, Minister for Alberta Parks and Environment, Jason Nixon, said the parks will remain open and protected for Albertans.

“Delisting a provincial park from the provincial park system is not closing the park,” said Nixon. “The reality is the majority of our special places inside this province are actually protected and managed through the Public Lands division of Alberta Environment and Parks and the smaller amount is actually managed through the park system.”

In their assessment of parks sites the government has said the 164 sites are “proposed for partnerships.” The Optimizing Alberta Parks webpage said these changes would account for less than one per cent of the land base and would not impact areas managed for conservation.

There were 17 additional campsites that were to be closed or partially closed this summer, but those plans were put on hold because of how busy the parks were this summer. Those parks are now being transferred to the public lands division for better management.

“It’s a three hour round trip for provincial park officers to get there to manage that campground and meanwhile the whole area around it is protected underneath the public lands system and is managed by our public lands officers and in some cases, it makes more sense for us to be able to use those officers to manage that system going forward,” said Nixon.

“At the end of the day though these facilities are not closing they remain protected, they remain open to Albertan’s to utilize.”

Wark said having these parks under the Provincial Park Act helps to protect them.

“What these parks are able to do is help to prevent the conversion of native Parkland landscapes into other land uses and that’s something that is really important under our Provincial Park Act and under having “parks” status,” said Wark. “Hopefully that’s something that we’d be able to retain instead of stripping away with a decision like this.”

Even though these sites are small they are still important to wildlife for stopover habitat and connectivity, Wark added.

“The Parkland is an endangered landscape,” she said. “Essentially, we’re losing what makes the Parkland so distinctive and so special… our Parkland deserves more protection into the future, so we should really be strengthening that protected network.”

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Most Read