June 22nd, 2024

CPAWS poll reveals Albertans want to see more protected lands

By Troy Bannerman - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 22, 2022.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society recently released the results of a poll to gauge Albertan’s level of activity in parks and conservation areas.

Key results show most Albertans support setting aside more land in Alberta to protect wildlife habitat to prevent further decline of wildlife populations (77 per cent), more land in Alberta to be left as wilderness where human activities are minimal (76 per cent), and more land for provincial parks with a focus on recreation and leisure (73 per cent).

The poll also revealed many Albertans are opposed to the current provincial government’s plans for conserved and protected lands.

“One of the things with the timing of the poll is that we got the results, essentially just as this government, and this new Premier was organizing her cabinet; including splitting what was the Department of Environment and Parks into two ministries,” said Katie Morrison, executive director of CPAWS Southern Alberta. “One is Environment and Protected Areas and the other ministry is Forestry, Parks, and Tourism. And just as we got these poll results, the mandate letters for those ministries also came out. And I think, you know, one of the things that they did with that split was move about 95 per cent of our current protected areas; well, 95 per cent of those protected areas are now in Forestry, Parks, and Tourism. The title as well as the mandate letter are really focused on development. And not that tourism doesn’t have a place in parks, or parks in tourism, but parks ultimately are created as a conservation mechanism for wildlife, species at risk. Or for protecting things that benefit us as communities; water and clean air. And, so the use of those, whether that be recreation or tourism.”

A ministry focused on development is not a good fit for parks, argues Morrison.

“We don’t have any protected areas in Alberta where people can’t go, nor would we necessarily want that. We just want to make sure that these places are used responsibly and respectfully. And in a ministry that is really focused on development we’re fearing that the conservation focus of parks is going to get lost. And we saw that a bit in the mandate letter for Forestry, Parks, and Tourism. It was really all about Forestry and Tourism. There was a single mention of Environment, but it didn’t mention – or for that matter neither did the mandate on Environment and Protected Areas – it didn’t mention conservation, protected areas, wildlife, species at risk, all those pieces that really should be core to a government department focused on parks and protected areas and environment.”

So how do Albertans actually feel about their conserved and protected lands?

“There’s a lot of conversations happening in Alberta over the last few years around conservation,” said Morrison. “One of those being several years ago when the government was intending to de-list a lot of our protected areas, to unprotect them, essentially, and Albertans really rose up and put a stop to that plan. There’s also been a lot of conversation in the province around coal and the value of our Rocky Mountains for water and wildlife and recreation and local livelihoods. And, so, given all that’s happening and knowing that the government, this current government, is potentially looking at what their next steps are, and other parties are looking at what commitments they might make in an election context, we wanted to understand where Albertans were sitting with respect to some of these issues around protection and conservation.”

Morrison talked about the methodology of the poll and why CPAWS commissioned it

“(It) asked Albertans a lot of questions around how they felt about protection and goals around protection. And overwhelmingly we see that Albertans support conservation and they support protected areas. And in fact, this polling came back that a vast majority of Albertans want more protected land and water. I mean three quarters of Albertans are looking for more protection of wildlife habitat, and more protection, even in areas where human activities are minimal, and the protection for recreation areas. And that, I think, is really important. Another couple of really interesting pieces that came out are almost everybody, 95 per cent across the province are concerned about the loss of species and biodiversity and they support Alberta committing to protect 30 per cent of its land. Which is almost doubling where we’re at right now by 2030.”

In addressing the discrepancy between the provincial government and Albertans, Morrison said these issues aren’t going away.

“At this point, you know, we are concerned. It’s pretty recent, so we haven’t seen any changes on the ground yet. But certainly we’re going to be watching really closely to make sure that the conservation aspects are not lost, and that the development pieces are not overshadowing and impacting the conservation value of these places.”

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