By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on February 6, 2018.
CANADIAN PARKS AND WILDERNESS SOCIETY
The new Castle Wildland and provincial parks were announced last fall and more detail as to what activities will and will not be permitted in the wildland park are expected soon.
A new park represents opportunities for all Albertans although not everyone has been pleased with this decision. Some even questioned the need for a park, perceiving this as more constraint on their freedom of choice of how they wish to recreate; the status quo is working just fine thank you, and we don’t need more government intervention that caters to a small group of elites.
However, the truth about parks is quite the opposite. The modern concept of parks builds off two much older concepts; the notion of the commons, land jointly owned or at least stewarded by all for the benefit of all; and the notion of preservation, of those landscapes or natural features we find of special significance or value.
Parks in Alberta have a long and storied history; many early park wardens were former ranchers or cowboys who had a great love and affinity for the land. And of course aboriginal peoples were stewards of all our lands for a millennium prior to that. They all travelled on horse or on foot.
Parks are inclusive and egalitarian. They are open – at least in this country – to everyone for the benefit of everyone, and most people intuitively understand the value they bring. Value, not only in terms of health and well-being from recreating, but also the positive physical, spiritual, and mental health effects from being immersed in nature’s grandeur. Doctors are actually starting to “prescribe” time in nature for a host of physical and mental health ailments.
Perhaps counter intuitively, parks can also generate considerable economic gain from services required by parks users and often trigger other knock-on effects, which ripple through local communities. For example, the Canadian Parks Council study of 2011 found that for every dollar invested in parks, almost $6 in benefits were returned to the Canadian economy.
But even more important than this, parks serve as a primary means of ensuring ecological services such as supplying clean and abundant water remains intact during dry times and mitigates flood risk in the spring. Such “headwater protection” serves not only those who use or live close to a park, but millions of people downstream, both urban and rural. And it’s not just water, parks serve as significant habitat for wildlife including many threatened animal and plant species, as well as contributing to air quality and acting as carbon sinks to mitigate against climate change.
Parks therefore have a triplicate value; ecological protection, health and social well-being, and economic diversification. And they provide these benefits to one degree or another for everyone. If managed right, they will do this in a sustainable way such that their heritage value – our connection to a place and time – is not lost for our children and grandchildren. Alberta’s parks are truly world class and they don’t just draw people locally, but from all over the country and the world to visit them.
So what does “managed right” look like? Well, being for everyone does not mean doing as you please. Yes, there are constraints, which is no different than how we manage any other aspect of our society, homes, businesses and even our personal lives. You don’t generally park your car on your front lawn, go to the bathroom in the kitchen sink, nor play horseshoes in your flower garden.
There are activities that are simply incompatible with the purpose of a place, regardless of how careful we are in doing those things. Adding to that is the recognition many parks include landscapes that are inherently fragile and easily damaged. Headwater areas being a prime example. So, for a park to be a “Park,” some things like industrial development, urban growth and other activities that either profoundly impact what we are trying to preserve, or infringe heavily on the rights other users, must necessarily be constrained and regulated.
Given that, many may be surprised as to what can be permitted in a wildland park. For instance, most wildland parks allow for grazing, hunting and fishing if done in a careful and regulated way. The new Castle Wildland and Provincial Park is also likely to allow for these activities, which are highly regulated ones, as they should be. Hunting and fishing can actually be useful management tools and many hunters and anglers count themselves amongst our most strident conservationists; they have to be if their sport is to thrive.
And the good news is that the vast majority of Albertans (more than 86 per cent by one poll) favour activities compatible with both preservation and common use; hiking, walking, bird watching, angling, hunting, photography, picnicking and camping, all fit into this paradigm of “quiet recreation”.
But that is not the whole story. We as a nation, and as a province, have committed to the world, by international agreement, we will increase the amount of land we protect from the current very modest 12.5 per cent to 17 per cent by 2020. What is magical about 17 per cent? Absolutely nothing. It is a politically expedient amount that almost every nation was able to signed on to but it’s true value is that it takes us in the right direction. It is a step forward.
There is a considerable body of science that says to truly ensure protection of widespread and critical ecosystem services, we need two or three times that amount of land protected. But for now, that is what we have committed to do, and Albertans are known for honoring their commitments.
So why another park? It’s really very simple; it’s a promise made, which hedges against the future, keep us connected to our past, and creates value today to our country, our province, our communities, our families and our person.
Peter Zimmerman is the Parks Program Supervisor for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
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