THE POWER OF PARKS

Edmonton Journal - - EDITORIAL -

Alberta has just cre­ated the largest pro­tected area of bo­real for­est in the world by set­ting aside four new pro­vin­cial parks and ex­pand­ing an­other along its north­east­ern bor­ders.

For a prov­ince fre­quently, and of­ten un­fairly, cast by some crit­ics as an en­vi­ron­men­tal vil­lain for the work of its re­source in­dus­tries, that’s a job well done by all con­cerned.

Tues­day’s an­nounce­ment of the Kazan, Richard­son, Dil­lon River, Birch River and Birch Moun­tains parks adds more than 13,600 square kilo­me­tres of pro­tected land across much of north­east­ern Alberta. It makes for the largest ad­di­tion ever to the prov­ince’s in­ven­tory of park­land.

For per­spec­tive, the new and ex­panded ar­eas com­bine with Wood Buf­falo Na­tional Park to make up an un­bro­ken swath of pro­tected land more than twice the size of Van­cou­ver Is­land.

To be clear, th­ese pre­serves won’t be much at all like the parks that many Al­ber­tans flock to for a week­end get­away of camp­ing, hik­ing or fish­ing. In­stead, th­ese re­mote wild­land parks will serve to pro­tect much of Canada’s unique bo­real for­est ecosys­tem and threat­ened species such as the wood bi­son, wood­land cari­bou and pere­grine fal­con by mak­ing the ar­eas off-lim­its to log­ging, min­ing and other in­dus­tries. They will also help meet in­ter­na­tional tar­gets to pro­tect at least 17 per cent of land and fresh­wa­ter in the coun­try by 2020. With the new parks, 14.5 per cent of Alberta is now pre­served.

But nei­ther are the parks in­tended to be no-go zones. With some trails, un­ser­viced camp­sites and the op­por­tu­nity to hunt and fish, they should be­come des­ti­na­tions for back­coun­try adventurers and a place for Indige­nous peo­ples to prac­tise their tra­di­tional way of life.

Mean­while, ask­ing First Na­tions and Métis com­mu­ni­ties to help man­age the new parks is a pru­dent, sen­si­ble and in­clu­sive step.

Who better to mon­i­tor and main­tain the lands and of­fer ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach pro­grams for vis­i­tors?

Other ex­am­ples of part­ners work­ing to­gether in­clude the Tall­cree First Na­tion re­lin­quish­ing its Birch River area tim­ber li­cence and quota so the new Birch River park could be cre­ated. Syn­crude, mean­while, gave $2.3 mil­lion to the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada to cover off that quota pay­ment.

Th­ese joint ef­forts are an ex­am­ple of the level of col­lab­o­ra­tion it took to pro­tect th­ese lands. It should be a case study of the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments, Indige­nous peo­ples, non-profit groups and busi­nesses co-op­er­at­ing and com­pro­mis­ing for the com­mon good.

Even though most Al­ber­tans will never set foot in th­ese new parks, their cre­ation en­riches and ben­e­fits all of us.

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