The fate of the JJ Collett Natural area, along with 183 other Alberta parks and natural areas, is up in the air. The UCP government announced in March that the JJ Collett Natural Area was on the list of sites, and I quote, “proposed to be REMOVED from the parks system … and would be available for partnership opportunities and alternative management approaches.” Removing a site from the parks system eliminates the legal protections from disturbance currently provided by Alberta’s parks legislation. These spaces will be vulnerable to the kinds of development seen on any other piece of our public land.
The outcry from Albertans has been long and loud. As environment critic for the Official Opposition, I get upwards of 1,000 letters per week from people upset about the decision, eight months after it was announced. In response to this outcry, local UCP MLAs have been spinning like tops, trying to calm people down without providing any clear answers about their true intentions with these sites.
Vague phrases like “public lands remain accessible for recreation and enjoyment” don’t answer the critical question of whether these sites will still be legally protected under Alberta’s parks legislation. “Partnerships and alternative management approaches” remain undefined especially in light of the potential loss of legal protections. Most importantly, the government has been silent on the fate of those sites where no partnership can be found. Given that Alberta is currently experiencing the worst economic depression in our history, it’s highly unlikely that there are many groups with the money required to care for these sites, and Albertans need to know what happens in these cases.
Until UCP MLAs provide clear, unequivocal answers to these questions, Albertans must vigilantly defend our parks. You can count on me to be your partner in that work.
Environment and Parks Critic