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 — 67,000 square kilometres of forest, wetlands and waterways.
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 forbidding 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 Metis 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 unique 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.
Local editorials are the consensus opinion of the Journal’s editorial board, comprising Mark Iype, Dave Breakenridge, Sarah O’Donnell and Bill Mah.
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