15: down, but not defeated
Tremendous public opposition to the proposed Natural Heritage Act in
the form of letters, phone calls and petitions was a major reason the government
did not pass Bill 15 in the spring sitting of the Legislature.
However, there is a chance the government will try to pass it in the
fall sitting. It is two steps away from becoming law; all that is needed
is third reading followed by the proclamation of the bill.
There are three key problem areas with the proposed act.
Reduced Protection. The Natural Heritage Act would replace three
existing pieces of legislation. The Willmore Wilderness Park Act; the Wilderness
Areas, Ecological Reserves and Natural Areas Act and the Provincial Parks
Act. The new act would create new designations: Ecological Reserves, Provincial
Parks, Wildland Parks, Heritage Rangelands and Recreation Areas.
Wilderness Areas and Willmore Wilderness Park currently enjoy full
protection from any human activities that interfere with the functioning
of the natural ecosystem. Under the Natural Heritage Act, they would be
accorded Wildland Park status, which could result in substantially less
protection. There would be no assurance that they would not be opened up
to activities such as hunting, trapping, off-road vehicle use, etc. As
well, there would be no future option to preserve wilderness.
Existing resource dispositions. The government has indicated it
intends to honor all existing industrial dispositions that existed at the
time of an area's designation as "protected." There is no evidence that
the government is willing to negotiate with the leaseholders for the removal
of such commitments. This means even though an area is designated as "protected,"
logging, oil and gas wells and their associated facilities and commercial
tourism developments could still go ahead.
Increased ministerial discretion. The proposed act gives the Minister
much greater power in making decisions that affect protected areas. If
this act becomes law, the Minister or environment department staff could
override the protected status of any area to allow development, without
having to proceed through the legislative process. In essence, a protected
area would only be protected as long as some party did not want to use
it for some kind of development.
What happened to 'honouring' the commitment to
Albertans to have a network of protected areas?