Parks plan draws ire of conservationists

Conservationists fear that Alberta lawmakers can’t see the forest for the RVs when it comes to protecting more wilderness and public lands.

Conservationists fear that Alberta lawmakers can’t see the forest for the RVs when it comes to protecting more wilderness and public lands.

The province is to announce its long-awaited parks plan next week but if the new budget is any indication, the government isn’t paying much attention to public opinion surveys that suggest creating new parks and protected areas should be a top priority.

“The budget mentions accommodating larger trailers and more trails for all-terrain vehicles, yet gives no mention of Alberta’s top priority for parks — setting aside more land,” George Newton of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said Monday.

“We fear this top priority will be absent from Plan for Parks.”

Newton said at least two public opinion surveys, including a government-commissioned poll released last fall, suggest the majority of Albertans want more undisturbed public lands and water bodies designated as protected areas.

“Albertans feel the top priority for Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation should be to set aside more land and leaving it in an undisturbed state,” says the Praxis group report to the government.

An Ipsos-Reid survey in 2007 suggested that while recreation and protecting the environment are both important, the latter should be the primary aim.

Officials with Alberta’s Tourism and Parks Departments were not immediately available for comment.

Budget documents for the department released last week show Premier Ed Stelmach’s government hopes to use the great outdoors to bolster tourism and the economy.

The department’s new business plan notes that a rise in unemployment around the world because of the economic downturn is expected to have an impact on tourism spending in Alberta, making close-to-home travel more appealing.

The plan also says Alberta’s growing and changing population wants to use parks in different ways.

“In addition to an increase in population, the kinds of park experiences that people seek are changing,” says the business plan.

“For example, Albertans want more campgrounds that accommodate larger trailers and designated trails for the rapidly increasing number of all-terrain vehicles.”

The business plan also says the province is developing an online program for campground reservations.

There is no mention in the business plan of setting aside more land for parks and protected areas.

Dianne Pachal of the Sierra Club of Canada said Albertans should pay close attention to the new parks policy to see if it really reflects how they feel about the outdoors.

Pachal noted that in New Zealand, which markets its natural beauty to attract tourists, 17 per cent of the land is protected. In Alberta, the figure is about four per cent.

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