EDMONTON – Alberta has released a list of cuts it is making to the parks system, including 20 full or partial closures.
The public will be barred from 11 of those parks, while nine will be accessible but without any services.
Another 164 parks are to be handed over to third parties to manage.
The total amount of land involved is about 16,000 hectares.
The government says that’s less than one per cent of the province’s parks system, but it isn’t clear if that includes the national parks.
The United Conservative government says the changes, which it calls optimizing Alberta’s parks, will save $5 million.
A government spokeswoman has said the cuts will allow the province to focus on what it calls high-value areas.
Grace Wark, a conservation specialist with Alberta Wilderness Association, says they have serious concerns regarding this decision.
“These sites have really important recreational and ecological values and this decision almost certainly means that their status as protected areas are going to be threatened or challenged.”
Previously, as provincially managed spaces, the parks had management plans and protected area designation.
“We feel a little bit blindsided by this decision being made.”
“These designations come with things like conserving the natural heritage, making sure we protect species at risk, and habitat and ecosystem services, as well as providing robust recreational opportunities that are compatible with environmental sustainability.”
Now, Wark is concerned with the future of the parks.
“If we’re changing hands, going over to third-party management, we really just don’t know what kind of management that’s going to be.”
She says she believes all Albertans will be impacted by the decision.
“If people aren’t perceiving our park system as being accessible or that the prices are too high or they don’t know if their favourite camping sight is going to be open, then they might just not want to go their parks at all.”