Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to the common questions about “Optimizing Alberta Parks.”
The Government of Alberta’s decision to delist and close 175 provincial parks (the “Optimizing Alberta Parks” plan) has left many with more questions than answers.
Alongside Arc’teryx West Edmonton and Calgary locations, CPAWS Northern and Southern Alberta chapters hosted an Information and Action Night about this issue on November 5. A second Q&A was held by CPAWS Northern Alberta, CPAWS Southern Alberta and the Alberta Environmental Network on November 25. Watch the replays from both of these events.
These are the most frequently asked or most popular questions that were posed during the events, as well as several questions that we didn’t have enough time to answer.
Defend Alberta ParksQuestions about the Defend Alberta Parks campaign run by CPAWS and Alberta Environmental Network.
Who is behind Defend Alberta Parks?
Defend Alberta Parks is organized by the Alberta Environmental Network and the Alberta chapters of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). Hundreds of volunteers from across Alberta are helping to deliver lawn signs, deliver flyers and bring Defend Alberta Parks to more communities.
How is Defend Alberta Parks funded?
Defend Alberta Parks is supported by donations from individuals, small businesses and local non-profit groups from Alberta. Donations are collected by the Alberta Environmental Network and go towards lawn signs, flyers and sharing the campaign across the province. Hundreds of volunteers help by delivering signs, flyers and organizing Defend Alberta Parks.
What are the donations used for?
Donations to Defend Alberta Parks are collected by the Alberta Environmental Network and go towards lawn signs, flyers and sharing the campaign across the province. Hundreds of volunteers help by delivering signs, flyers and organizing Defend Alberta Parks.
Is Defend Alberta Parks any way affiliated with NDP?
No, Defend Alberta Parks is not affiliated with the NDP.
Defend Alberta Parks is organized by CPAWS and AEN, which are both non-partisan non profit organizations. CPAWS and AEN have worked with governments of all stripes for 50 years. We focus on policies not politics. We have worked collaboratively with governments, First Nations, industry, and other stakeholders to progress parks and conservation in the province. However when we don’t agree with policies we voice our concerns and support Albertans who share our concerns. CPAWS has been a stakeholder in many government land-use decisions for decades.
The entirety of the information we cite on the Defend Alberta Parks campaign comes from government sources, releases and statements. Part of our role is to help the government and Albertans understand the implications of those statements and decisions.
Do you have numbers on signs delivered?
As of November 25, over 16,000 lawn signs have been delivered across the province.
How many First Nations communities have been engaging with CPAWS or AEN?
Has there been any attempt by CPAWS and Defend Alberta Parks to work with other park user partners?
Is there any way to register our private letters with Defend Alberta Parks?
Questions about how to take action to keep Alberta’s parks protected.
What other actions do you suggest besides writing MLAs?
Ultimately, elected officials hold the power to alter or reverse the Optimizing Alberta Parks plan, so contacting your MLA and convincing them that this issue is important is the best course of action. If you have already written a letter, calling your MLA and/or arranging a meeting with your MLA are excellent next steps to ensure that the issue is advanced!
Beyond interacting with your MLA, there are so many ways to take action on this issue! Albertans have been working hard at the grassroots level on a number of initiatives related to the parks issue:
Show your support and help raise awareness
- Request a Defend Alberta Parks lawn sign and write your MLA
- Add a Defend Alberta Parks frame to your Facebook profile image
- Pick up Defend Alberta Parks pins and stickers
- Engage your network! Let friends, family and coworkers know about the issue, and share the defendabparks.ca website with them. Word of mouth is powerful!
- Volunteer to help deliver Defend Alberta Parks lawn signs
- Submit a photo and story to the Mapping Memories project (email Brooke at email@example.com)
- Adopt a park and log your parks visits through I Use Alberta Parks
- Participate in the CPAWS Environmental Action Challenge
How do lawn signs help?
Are there any Indigenous-led campaigns/groups that we can support or amplify?
We are not aware of any Indigenous-led campaigns opposing the provincial parks delistings. However, there are Indigenous-led campaigns opposing the Government of Alberta’s recent rescinding of the 1976 Coal Policy. The Niitsitapi Water Protectors are also running a campaign opposing the Grassy Mountain coal project, which you can learn more about here.
To learn more about Indigenous-led conservation initiatives in Alberta and Canada, we also recommend checking out the following organizations and initiatives:
- Indigenous Climate Action
- Land Needs Guardians
- Indigenous Leadership Initiative
- We Rise Together: the report of the Indigenous Circle of Experts on the importance of Indigenous-led conservation to fight climate change and improve biodiversity stewardship in Canada
Will there be demonstrations?
There is currently an in-person protest scheduled to take place at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton sometime this winter (https://www.facebook.com/events/200999047780639), although it is not being organized by Defend Alberta Parks.
At the moment we have suspended any in-person protests due to ongoing concerns around COVID-19. If conditions improve sufficiently, we will consider possible in-person protests again and are continuing to reassess our position on this as circumstances change.
How can I continue to stay engaged?
Has there been any feedback from the government from the letters that have been sent?
We believe that they have had an impact! Due to the public push back, the issue of parks has remained at the forefront in Question Period in the legislature, in the media and in conversation on social media. From the types of communication the government has been putting our way, we can see that they are recognizing that parks are an important issue to all Albertans.
Sale of parks was removed from the plan early on in March due to swift push back. 17 of the sites remained open for the summer, when they were planned to be closed. These small changes would not have happened without thousands of Albertans speaking up, this is a clear indication of the impact. We recommend that you keep it up. Send another letter or call your MLA and explicitly request a response.
What are the next steps that Defend Alberta Parks is planning?
We are not slowing down on our Defend Alberta Parks campaign. Every week we have been expanding to new communities, and we continue to encourage people to contact the MLA (even a 2nd or 3rd time). Keep your sign up, and stick with us.
Given the uncertain nature of the pandemic, and the risks that in-person gatherings pose, we will not be planning any demonstrations or gatherings. As public health risks change, we will re-evaluate our options.
Are there possible legal courses of action that can be/are being pursued to slow down the changes?
What specifically should I tell my MLA? Does the issue boil down to stopping the delisting proposal?
Watch the answer:
Does Defend Alberta Parks plan to do a campaign to overwhelm the phone line of the Environment Minister?
Watch the answer:
Optimizing Alberta Parks
Questions about the Government of Alberta’s announced changes to the provincial parks system.
Where can we learn which parks are being closed?
The Government of Alberta published a full list of the sites set to be delisted and closed in the spring of 2020. The page has since been taken down, but a cached version is available here.
Despite the page being taken down, no government announcements have been made to indicate that the plan for these sites has changed.
What specifically is the government's reason given for defunding and closing these parks?
Unfortunately it is not entirely clear. In March when the original plan was released, Environment Minister Jason Nixon said the province could no longer afford the “retail” side of parks. “We can’t continue to spend $86 million of Albertans’ tax dollars and only see $36 million come in”.
However, as of the UCP’s townhall on November 17, Nixon said that the parks plan is not focused on saving money, but rather about providing better access to our wild places. Overall, the government has not really made a clear statement about what their intent is with this process since their initial release, as their messaging on why they’ve implemented this plan appears to keep changing since then.
What is the government’s stance today and why are there whisperings that the position is wavering?
The UCP Caucus launched a website called My Parks Will Go On to clarify their position on the Optimizing Alberta Parks plan. This website contains a number of claims regarding the provincial government’s parks plan, although it is important to note that the UCP caucus is a political entity and is not an official Government of Alberta entity. For example, the claim that “all current park sites will remain fully protected, free from industrial development,” differs from the previous Government of Alberta announcement that 164 parks sites are being delisted. Delisting of parks sites means they will no longer be under protected areas legislation such as the Provincial Parks Act, and instead would fall under the Public Lands Act, which has less environmental protections and allows for industrial development.
The Government of Alberta has not made any official follow-up announcement indicating that they no longer plan on delisting the 164 identified parks. However, we remain optimistic that the widespread opposition to Optimizing Alberta Parks from non-profits, private corporations, grassroots groups, members of the official opposition, and the general public is making an impact and highlighting for the government just how unpopular this decision is to Albertans.
Exactly how many species will be affected by the disappearance of these protected areas?
Thousands of species will be affected. In previous cases where municipal parks have been sold for development (e.g., ring road construction), exponential drops in species counts have been observed. Disappointingly, the purchase and sale of these lands, which are situated in Indigenous traditional territories, have occurred without consultation with local Indigenous groups.
For many of these sites, it is unlikely there will be a substantial impact on species due to their relatively small size. As well, many of these sites are Provincial Recreation Areas, which means their main purpose is to facilitate use and enjoyment of the areas for outdoor recreation by present and future generations, not necessarily to be managed for conservation values. Much of the impact would depend on what is done with the land once it is delisted. The ecological impacts would be substantially different if the area is retained in a similar condition post-delistment but could have substantial ecological impacts if converted to a different land use, especially if leased for industrial activities.
I got a postcard from “My Parks Will Go On.” Have you received a confirmation that the plan “Optimizing Alberta Parks” is being reversed?
The Government of Alberta has not confirmed that they will be stopping or reversing the “Optimizing Alberta Parks” plan that was announced at the end of February 2020.
Their references to areas remaining “protected” under the jurisdiction of Alberta Environment and Parks does not mean that they have the same protections as they currently do as a park. Public lands are not protected to the same level as parks. Read more about what delisting means.
Is there a required or legal amount of land that must be left as parks?
Watch the answer:
I received a letter back from my MLA. They said that no parks will be sold. Can you please comment.
Do we fully understand the UCP’s motivation to delist parks? Is it strictly cost management? Is it to profit from real estate and development?
What specifically did the FOIP information say about selling lands?
Watch the answer and see the FOIP documents.
Has anyone undertaken to quantify the costs of removing campsites, facilities, etc., from delisted parks?
How many sites are being impacted? 17 sites or 164 sites?
Watch the answer:
Have you asked for a copy of the financial analysis that shows the supposed $5M in savings?
We did request this as part of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection submission that we received in July. In the information we received it was revealed that there was not sufficient financial information to determine the budgetary impacts of the changes. We are still unaware of where the $5 Million figure came from. Read more.
Wondering if there has been any talk of a small fee to use a park in order to keep these areas protected and open?
Watch the answer:
Does the Minister need to give notice before issuing an order-in-council to delist parks?
Watch the answer:
Due to the support of this campaign from the public, do you think the government has backed off from their original plans?
Watch the answer:
Most of the sites being delisted are day-use areas and campgrounds. What ecological data are you looking for to support keeping these areas under the parks designation?
Watch the answer:
How many of the parks were given protection by past governments?
A timeline of protection is included here.
If budget is a main concern, do you have data speaking to the contribution of activities in parks to the provincial GDP?
Parks contribute to local and regional economies through recreation and tourism. Studies by the Canadian Parks Council have found that for every dollar governments invest in parks in Canada, $6 is generated back into the GDP. This far outweighs the minor ‘savings’ that are being reported. Here is the study.
Instead of selling sites, is it possible that these sites could be leased?
It’s possible, although at this point it would just be conjecture. We would like clear language from the government on whether these sites will be delisted, as many of our other concerns hinge on whether they stay as parks or are returned to public land.
If the designation is 'semantics,' has any rationale been given for the change?
The government’s initial rationale for delisting the sites appears to be based on several desired outcomes, as determined from a Cabinet briefing presentation on the decision (obtained in our FOIP and viewable here):
- Removing unnecessary red tape on lands that no longer meet the intent for which they were established.
- Reducing stakeholder irritants by resolving sites with misaligned activities and park designations.
- Supporting economic development and prosperity by enabling greater flexibility in land uses and decisions on deregulated and divested land.
To be clear, protected area designations are not mere semantics, as the designation dictates what is legally allowed and not allowed to occur within the park area. The goal of the government’s proposal appears to have been to reduce the ‘red tape’ associated with managing park lands by moving them out from under our protected areas legislation and into the more permissive public lands legislation. This would make it easier for new partners to manage the divested sites with fewer restrictions on the landbase.
How do these changes impact the Special Places 2000 process?
While many of these sites were indeed created through the Special Places 2000 process, in posts from the Alberta Parks official Facebook page the current government has indicated that they don’t believe the creation of these sites were adequately funded by previous governments. It appears they are using this as part of their justification to delist the 175 sites within the Alberta Parks system.
“Government must use taxpayer dollars wisely and make sure funding for outdoor recreation is sustainable. Previous governments grew the park system from 3,500 km2 in 1991 to 44,000 km2 in 2019, without funding it properly for the long-run.”
We have highlighted in the past the overall impact these changes could have in reference to parks establishment history in Alberta, although not specifically in reference to the Special Places 2000 process. We’d encourage anyone who also has this concern to share it with their elected representatives, especially if they were involved in the Special Places 2000 program.
If parks become crown land, does that mean fishing and hunting will be allowed?
Currently fishing is allowed within most designations of parks. As for hunting, several different protected areas, including Wildland Provincial Parks, Natural Areas, and some provincial parks, among others, currently allow hunting within them. If the area is taken up by a partner, the partner organization could likely prohibit hunting if they chose to, and if the land is delisted and leased for another activity, hunting may also be restricted. If the land is delisted and remains vacant public land, hunting would likely be allowed.
What will happen to our wildlife living in these protected areas?
What do we know about the legislation changes for these delisted parks and recreation areas?
A good reference document exists that highlights the intents for different activities within different land use designations. They were laid out in the terms of reference for the regional land use planning. The table is on page 74 in this document.
Alberta Parks says that current sites will remain free from industrial and commercial development and will not be sold. Comments?
The Alberta Parks site indicates: “The government has been clear – current park sites will remain free from industrial and commercial development.” Whether the sites are sold or not, if they are delisted they can still be leased out for industrial activities. Once they are delisted, they are no longer parks, and the statement only indicates that ‘current’ park sites will remain free of those activities, and the government has still not officially retracted their plan to delist the sites. Given the semantics being used, we will wait on more clear language from the government clarifying this point before our concerns are addressed.
What does it mean that sites will be “enhanced”?
Unfortunately there has not been any additional information released by the government for what will happen to any parks that are not delisted. They indicated in their initial press release that these changes would “…allow the government to focus its energy on renowned signature destinations” and “…to renew [their] commitment to ‘crown jewel’ destinations”. It is unclear what this will actually mean, although documents obtained in our FOIP indicate how ‘crown jewel’ parks could fit into the larger changes the government looks to be pursuing for Alberta Parks.
Questions about the relationships between the parks and coal issues in our province.
Is the "Optimizing Alberta Parks" plan connected to the rescinding of the 1976 Coal Policy?
Do you have any speculation about the relationship of the delisting of these parks and the plans for loosening regulations in open pit coal mining in the Rockies and foothills?
CPAWS Southern Alberta will be hosting a webinar on coal issues in Southern Alberta on Dec 10. Keep an eye out for updates!
Is it true that 60 of the parks to be delisted are threatened by coal applications?
Along with changes to parks, the government has announced new infrastructure like twinning parts of Highway 3 near Sundre. Does this have anything to do with removing legislation off the 1.5 million acres of land for open pit coal mining?
Questions about public consultation on changes to the parks system.
Why hasn’t the government consulted on these changes?
Unfortunately, there is no legal requirement for them to consult on these changes (for the most part). There may be a legal requirement in areas that have an existing regional land use plan, and possibly a requirement for indigenous consultation, but only 2 of the 7 regional plans have been completed across Alberta, and the government’s legal team decided they didn’t need to do indigenous consultation (according to the freedom of information request we received). Until February 2020, the Alberta Parks Consultation Framework listed the conditions or changes to the parks system that require consultation, including “Significant change in size or shape, significant change to public use of park” and “Change in legal classification or the management intent of a park.” On February 18, 2020 this framework was updated to the Alberta Parks Engagement Framework which removes the requirement for consultation and states only that “the public may be engaged or notified.”
Have you made an official response to the November 17 Town Hall meeting?
The November 17 Town Hall was a UCP Caucus event and not an official government town hall. Given that CPAWS and AEN are non-partisan organizations, we try to avoid officially addressing events held by political parties.
Why in the UCP Town Hall did Minister Nixon keep maintaining that they didn't need to undertake consultation with the public because they are simply working with a model that they "inherited"?
Will there be any chance of public consultation on new partnerships?
Does the government need to consult with Indigenous Peoples?
Questions about the partnerships with corporations, nonprofits and Indigenous communities proposed by the Alberta government to help manage provincial parks.
What is the specific wording in legislation that indicates how partnerships can already be developed without delisting the parks?
The Provincial Park (Disposition) Regulation would cover any FOA agreement between an operator and the government. Specifically the following section (which would also cover off the authority of the Government to contract out servicing the park while it still remaining listed as a park under the Act):
1.1(1) The Minister may grant dispositions necessary to carry out the terms of any agreement that the Minister has entered into, whether before or after the commencement of this section,
(a) respecting the construction, operation and maintenance or any one or more of them, of facilities located in or used in respect of parks or recreation areas, or
(b) governing the provision of services to the public in respect of parks or recreation areas.
Is CPAWS or anyone else aware of any commercial or Indigenous discussions on partnerships?
We do know that the government has been continuing to work on park partnerships behind the scenes. While we are unsure how many interested parties there are and which sites they are interested in partnering on, we know that the government indicated there were approximately 45 sites that were set for divestment that were possibly going to be made available for partnerships (briefing note to cabinet on ‘Rightsizing Alberta Parks’). In the FOIP’ed documents CPAWS obtained, there was a map (published December 12, 2019) that showed all of the sites that appear to have been identified as potential park partnership opportunities. You can view this map on our website (it is the last page in our FOIP document). There are likely a number of partnership opportunities that would make sense to pursue, but the ongoing concern is the lack of transparency of how this process has been handled, and the many questions surrounding the sites that wouldn’t be taken up as partnerships.
What happens if a municipality is unable to fulfill their commitment because their budgets are being cut?
Any idea of how many applications for partnerships have been made?
Unfortunately no, as that information has not been made public.
Where do you find information about the partnerships and becoming a partner?
The Alberta Parks website does list ways to generally become a partner with Alberta Parks. Currently 121 existing sites within Alberta Parks are managed by park partner organizations across the province. In terms of partnerships with the recently listed sites under the Optimizing Alberta Parks plan, given the fact that the government has removed the list of affected parks, it’s unclear how prospective partners would know which sites are available for partnerships.
Parks and Public Land
Questions about the differences and similarities between parks, protected areas and public (also known as crown) lands.
Do public land designations like Public Land Use Zones offer the same protections as Parks designation?
Public land designations like Public Land Use Zones (PLUZ) do not offer the same protection as a park designation. A PLUZ really only regulates recreation access, not industrial access. This was highlighted in an AEP presentation to the Bighorn Standing Committee this summer. You can check it out here.
What is the specific wording in legislation that indicates the protection parks have?
There is considerable detail associated with the different classes under the Provincial Parks Act and numerous specific sections in both legislation and regulation that support protection. In a general sense, Sections 3 and 4 of the Provincial Parks Act sets the framework for protection as well as the Minister’s ability to develop programs to manage for these outcomes.
In the case of Natural Areas (such as JJ Collet) the designations falls under the WAERNAHR Act. Section 4 sets out the purpose of the Natural Area when established by the Minister and Section 5 empowers the Minister to enter into partnerships to manage the sites.
New Parks and Public Land Legislation
Questions about potential future legislative changes to our parks, protected areas and public lands.