6 Simple Actions to Protect Alberta’s Rocky Mountains

The Alberta Government continues to roll forward with changes to Alberta Parks. While they have conceded on some items and are now saying that no parks will be closed, there are still lots of questions the Government is not answering about their “partnerships. ” Keen-eyed reporters have also noticed that a handful of parks were mysteriously missing from the list of parks that “Won’t be closed”, and critical parts of Alberta’s environmental regulations are still being changed.  For instance, the UCP rescinded Alberta’s 1976 Coal policy and are now selling strip mining rights for coal on the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

We’re starting to hear about new coal exploration leases for strip mining along  the Eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and natural gas leases around the province.  For example, the Grassy Mountain Coal Project, new leases in the Livingstone Range, David Thompson Country, and Bighorn, among others.   The provincial government will now tell you “we’re not going to close any parks“, but they have no issue surrounding those parks with potential coal leases or shutting down Provincial Recreation Areas.   Who wants to go camping next to a coal mine?  Exactly, nobody.

Albertans have been loud and clear that they don’t want their parks shut down, they don’t want their Provincial Recreation Areas to turn into coal mines, nor do they want crown land affected or whatever game of semantics and wordplay the UCP wants to play.  The answer has been loud and clear – just say no.  Regardless of political stance, Albertans are screaming “this isn’t what we voted for“.

Overlooking the Milk River from a bluff at Poverty Rock
Overlooking the Milk River –  new leases for natural gas exploration were recently released here.

In this post, we’re not going to go into huge detail on the changes that the Government is making to cut parks or to bring in coal mining, we’ll provide a summary and a list of some great sources and places to follow for information but the focus of this post is what you can do to help protect our Parks.

Update as of January 18 – Haven’t they backtracked?

While the UCP have backtracked ever so slightly they are still moving forward with coal leases across the province and the Eastern slopes.  They have cancelled 11 “recent leases” and put further coal leases on “pause”.  See the tricky wording there?

These cancelled leases represent only 0.2% of the land for coal leases that has been put out across the province, many in areas that used to be protected under the 1976 Coal Policy.  (Yep, 0.002% you can’t make that up!)

That’s not a backtrack, it’s a slap in the face.

robson fletcher coal lease map
Black represents cancelled coal leases.  The grey on the map is coal exploration that is moving forward.  
There’s a LOT of grey on this map. Source: Robson Fletcher

So now that we’ve got that cleared up…

What We Can Do to Protect Alberta Parks?

Get educated (and mad!)

A quick summary of what’s happening in Alberta:

In 1976 Premier Peter Lougheed’s Government conducted extensive consultation and introduced a coal policy that protected Alberta’s Rocky Mountains and Foothills. This policy prevented open-pit coal mining in some of Alberta’s most ecologically sensitive and prized landscapes.  It also protected watersheds that provide drinking water for the majority of Albertans.  In 2020, the UCP quietly rescinded this policy to open the door for industrial development with no consultation.

Taking in the view at Spray Lakes. Taken with the Sony 55-210
Spray Lakes Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country

With the removal of the Coal Policy, many of the areas on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies are now open for open pit coal mining, and the Government has been allowing exploration and selling leases in this area, mostly to Australian mining companies.  As noted, these areas are ecologically sensitive, and they form the headwaters for most of Alberta’s drinking water.

Furthermore, the economic benefits of this will likely not be as significant as you think.  The 11 coal leases that were recently sold went for a grand total of $36/hectare which is peanuts.  What about jobs?  Mines are becoming increasingly automated, so they will not create as many jobs as one would think.  Finally, any economic benefit would have to be weighed against the economic impacts on tourism, ranching, agriculture, and ultimately, the cost of reclamation.

There are lots of great sources of information on this, but here’s a few we think are required reading/listening:

Write Your Politicians

Okay, so now that you’ve read up on these changes, what can we do?  Writing your representatives is probably the single most effective thing that we can do.  Write, phone, email, let your MLA, Jason Kenney, and Jason Nixon (Minister of Environment)  know that you don’t support industrial development in the Rockies and that you want to see the Coal Policy of 1976 reinstated.

You can find your MLA’s contact information, including email, mailing address, and phone number on the Legislative Assembly of Alberta website.

livingstone range alberta
The Livingstone Range, pristine….coal country? Photo courtesy of Janice Reagon

It wouldn’t hurt to send a note to your local city council and mayor as well.  For instance, High River’s mayor has already come out against coal development.  The more voices the better!

Finally, look beyond Alberta.  Send emails to the Liberal party, including Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change as he will be recommending the final decision to the Federal Liberal cabinet on the Grassy Mountain Coal Project.

CPAWS has made it REALLY easy to do this.  You can use this form to email, several key individuals, easily.  I recommend customizing the email as it will have an even bigger impact than a simple form letter.  Seriously, sending an email couldn’t be easier with this form, go do it now, we’ll wait!

allstones mountain near nordegg
Chester thinks that an open-pit coal mine would perfect the view from Allstones Mountain near Nordegg

But why stop at an email?  Call your MLA.  Send a letter.  Our Provincial Government doesn’t back down easily, but they’ve shown that with enough outrage, they will, so let’s make sure we’re loud and clear.

Ask for your Defend Alberta Parks Sign

We know that the provincial government hates to see these and they’ve made a difference already, resulting in them backing away (somewhat) from their plan to delist 164 provincial parks.  Not only do these signs piss off the government, but they draw awareness to the issue, and give politicians an idea of how widespread the opposition is to these plans.  You can get your Defend Alberta Parks sign for free (or optional donation) here.

Beaver Creek Alberta
Beaver creek, leased to Elan Coal for quite a number of years now but the surrounding hills are newly leased. Photo courtesy of Tom Lewis

Donate your time and money!

Speaking of donations, put your money where your mouth is and donate.  Some great organizations that are standing up for our parks include CPAWS, Defend AB Parks, Alberta NDP, Bragg Creek Kananaskis Outdoor Recreation, and the Alberta Wilderness Association.

Don’t have the extra money to donate?  Volunteer with organizations your support.  Many of these organizations need help hitting up the phone lines, delivering signs, or with other forms of advocacy.

Fly Fishing in the Old Man River
Fly Fishing in the Old Man River won’t be possible in the future when selenium poisons the watershed. Photo courtesy of Tom Lewis

Social Media

Yes, the government doesn’t manage by social media, but outrage on social media still makes a difference in galvanizing opinion and creating awareness.  This awareness needs to extend outside of the social media bubble to make a difference (for instance letters to MLAs speak MUCH louder than a Tweet) but if nothing else, it’s a good way to stay informed providing your following factual information sources.

There’s also a Facebook group you can join that’s a good source of information and new developments on this topic, “Protect Alberta’s Rockies and Headwaters

cowley alberta
Facing west towards Centre Peak near Cowley, Alberta. Photo courtesy of Emilee Oro

Tell your Friends

Pick five friends and tell them how you feel about this (or perhaps more accurately, rant!)  These changes happened quickly, without consultation, and many Albertans aren’t aware of the changes that are happening to the coal policy and the opening up of our landscapes to open-pit coal mining.  They also might not be aware of the dangerous effects that mining has on our watersheds, the natural environment, and wildlife.  Help change that and tell your circle about the actions that the Government is taking to bring coal mining to Alberta and why we should fight against it.

Cross Country Trails at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Take Action!

The Rocky Mountains are undeniably one of Canada’s gems and Albertans are proud of these areas.  The eastern slopes provide a critical ecosystem for wildlife, along with a source of income and recreation for Albertans of all stripes.  Endangered grasslands are at risk as well.

Open-pit coal mining would absolutely destroy these areas now and for future generations.  It would poison our watersheds, and one doesn’t have to look very far to see this happening on the other side of the border.  Mining for coal, especially open-pit mining is destructive.  You can’t reclaim and rebuild a mountaintop after it’s been taken off.

This simply cannot be allowed to happen.  The risks and the costs are too high, and the benefits too small.  Albertans get a huge return in the joy that they receive from these areas whether that’s hiking, cycling, paddling, fishing, quadding, camping, or even in economic activities such as ranching, farming, or tourism.

sheep river provincial park
Sheep River Provincial Park

Please don’t just read this and move on.  Take action.  Share it.  Speak up.  Get involved.  Be loud.  Be angry.  Tell this Government that Albertans don’t want open-pit coal mining in their backyard.

Have some more ideas or feedback?  Drop it in the comments!


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