What does delisting mean and why is it bad for parks?

November 6, 2020
By: admin

What does delisting mean and why is it bad for parks?

Published [post_published]
CPAWS Northern Alberta

Delisting, deregulating, and removal from the parks system all essentially mean the same thing. Delisting a park means that the Order-in-Council made by the government initially creating the park is rescinded, effectively transferring the land from being managed under our protected areas legislation such as the Provincial Parks Act to the more general Public Lands Act.

Alberta’s protected areas legislation governs how public land is set aside for conservation or recreation purposes while prohibiting or restricting activities that may impair those purposes, such as industrial resource development (think mining, forest harvest, agriculture etc.). The Public Lands Act, in its most general sense, governs most of the approximately 60% of Alberta that is public land. The Public Lands Act only excludes private land, federal government lands, and provincial protected areas. Most of the province’s industrial activity occurs on public land, so parks that are transferred to the Public Lands Act would thus become available for industrial development.

The Alberta provincial government has still not stated that the 164 parks that they initially said would be delisted under the Optimizing Alberta Parks plan will be kept as protected areas under any type of protected area legislation.

Protected areas are a specific type of public land that has been established to conserve certain features on the land. The conservation goal could be to protect sensitive plants and animals, prevent industrial development in ideal recreation spots, or to maintain the land in a natural state for use by the public. Protected areas fall under the Provincial Parks Act or the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas, and Heritage Rangelands Act (WAERNAHRA), whereas public lands fall under the Public Lands Act. There are a wide range of activities that are generally permitted on public lands but are restricted or not allowed within protected areas. These activities can include industrial developments such as agriculture, mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction, and commercial forestry, but also extend to some recreational activities when those activities could negatively impact the values for which the site was established.

The parks on the list of sites to be delisted fall under one of two pieces of legislation: the Provincial Parks Act or the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas, and Heritage Rangelands Act (WAERNAHRA). If parks are delisted they would fall under the Public Lands Act.

Box: What legislation governs our public lands and protected areas?

The Provincial Parks Act
Description (from Government of Alberta):
Provides for the establishment, protection, management, planning and control of Provincial Parks, Wildland Provincial Parks, and Provincial Recreation Areas, for the preservation of Alberta’s natural heritage and ecological integrity, as well as for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations.

The Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas, and Heritage Rangelands Act (WAERNAHRA)
Description (from the Government of Alberta):
Governs the establishment of Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas, and Heritage Rangelands and provides a coarse level of direction for their management.

The Public Lands Act
Description (from the Government of Alberta):
Establishes the role of the Alberta government in managing public land. It sets out mechanisms so that rights in public land may be transferred by lease or sale. It provides for and defines the powers of the Minister and the Lieutenant Governor in Council with respect to establishing regulations to govern use and allocation of public land. The Public Lands Act and its regulations also control public land use through the establishment of public land use zones, recreation areas and trails. The Public Lands Act provides for appropriate use and management of public land and for the classification of the public land base in Alberta.

Parks and public lands do not have the same level of protection even if they are both managed by Alberta Environment and Parks.

Though lands under the Public Lands Act, Provincial Parks Act, or WAERNAHRA fall under the jurisdiction of Alberta Environment and Parks, they are not all created equal in terms of protecting environmental values. Both the Provincial Parks Act and the WAERNAHRA provide certainty of protection and prevent the sale or lease of the land for commercial or industrial purposes.

Public lands are meant to be managed and administered by the provincial government for a wide spectrum of different activities that take place around our province, including industrial development, whereas protected areas are meant to safeguard environmental values on the land that might otherwise be degraded under the more permissive Public Lands Act

There are a wide variety of environmental regulations that operators and land users must abide by on public lands; however, they are still able to operate within them. For example, a gravel pit can be dug on public land, as long as it has abided by the environmental regulation for that activity. Though environmental regulations that apply to activities on public lands do help to reduce impacts on the environment, they do not provide the same certainty or protections as protected areas legislation.

Parks can have partnerships without losing their protected area status.

A primary justification for the change to Alberta’s parks system is to seek partnerships for management of areas. However, removing protected area status is not required to allow for operational partnerships! For example, Riverlot 56 Natural Area, the Strathcona Science Park, JJ Collett Natural Area, and many others all have existing stewardship or user groups that collaborate with the government to manage these sites – all while still retaining their protected area status. These sites were originally created to protect a unique species, conserve stunning landscapes, or provide people with a place to access nature for hiking, skiing, or camping. We want to see these areas remain accessible, public, and protected. 

Examples of partnerships, such as Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park or the JJ Collett Provincial Natural Area Foundation, continue to prove that there can be parks partnerships with nonprofits to assist in management or operations without removing protected area status. JJ Collett Natural Area was even sold to the province for a small sum with the condition that it be preserved. Maintaining protected areas status gives the people of Alberta assurance of what activities can and cannot be allowed in the sites and ensures physical and financial access to these sites for all Albertans.

Until we receive clarity that these parks will not be delisted and reverted to public lands, we will remain concerned about the real issue of parks losing protection, and will continue to ask Albertans to defend Alberta parks.

You can help out by donating, volunteering, sending a letter, or requesting a lawn sign at defendabparks.ca.

Check out our new infographic for a quick share-able summary of why the differences between public lands and protected areas matter!

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