Protecting our Public Lands and Waters: Keeping Sight of the Big Picture

This blog first published on January 26, 2015, on

Keeping Sight of the Big Picture

Hello CPAWS Northern Alberta supporters, and Happy New Year! At this time of year we typically take stock of the previous year’s wins and challenges, and set some goals and resolutions for the upcoming months. Here at CPAWS Northern Alberta, we hope that 2015 will bring some good news stories:

  1. that caribou range planning will move along and contribute to saving our last remaining islands of mature boreal forest;
  2. that our national parks will be protected from inappropriate commercial development; and
  3. that provincial regional planning processes will result in more parks and protected areas set aside for the future enjoyment of all Albertans.

These three good news stories have something in common that we don’t often realize: all three take place on public lands.  Public lands are those owned by the federal or provincial governments. In Canada, 100% of our waters are publically owned, and over 90% of our land – 41% by the federal government, and 48% by the provinces.1   This means that if we are serious about protecting our environment, conserving some wilderness for future generations, and saving some of our iconic wildlife species from extinction, we need to be focused on the BIG picture – protecting and conserving our public lands and waters.

Aside from the fact that the vast majority of land in this country is held publically and therefore it simply makes sense to focus on protecting public lands and waters is the fact that as a democracy we have certain rights and responsibilities: our public lands and waters are ours, held in trust for us by our governments. Therefore, we should have a say in how our public lands and waters are managed!  It is both our right and our civic duty to make sure that what happens with our public lands and waters is something that benefits all Canadians, including our future generations.

A little known fact: CPAWS is Canada’s only national charity solely focused on protecting our public lands and waters. We are able to continue advocating for conservation because of generous support from donors like you. However, we need you, the individual, to raise your voice as well.

What can you do to help protect Alberta’s land? 

The government of Alberta is currently designing land use plans for the province through the provincial Land Use Framework.2  This is organized by regions according to watersheds across the province. Two regional plans have been completed to date (the Lower Athabasca regional plan and the South Saskatchewan regional plan). The government is now focused on the North Saskatchewan regional plan, and will soon be beginning the Upper Peace, Lower Peace, and Upper Athabasca regional plans. It is important that your voice is heard during these planning processes.

In the North Saskatchewan region, a large area of intact forest (Alberta’s last remaining intact forest!) called the Bighorn needs to be protected. Located just east of Banff National Park, the Bighorn is over 8000km2 of forested alpine, sub-alpine and foothills ecoregions. It is beloved by Albertans for its recreational activities, such as hiking, camping, ice climbing, paddling, and biking. It also contains the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan region – headwaters which provide habitat for fish and wildlife, and clean drinking water for millions of people, including the City of Edmonton. Right now the Bighorn is divided and designated into some wilderness areas and some public land use zones. This means that this important area of the North Saskatchewan region could, in the future, be subject to pressures from oil and gas development, coal mining, and forestry activities. CPAWS Northern Alberta is calling for the Bighorn to be designated as a Wildland Provincial Park – a designation that will allow recreational activity to occur in the area, but also protect this important wilderness for generations of Albertans to come.

If you want to see the Bighorn protected, you can participate in the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan! You can tell the government you want to protect Alberta’s last intact forest and the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River, that you want more provincial parks to go snowshoeing or hiking in, or that you want to help our struggling caribou by formally and legislatively protecting their habitat.  How can you do this?

  1. Write a letter to your MLA;
  2. Write a letter to the Premier at; or
  3. Participate in the public consultation processes hosted by the government.

Keep your eyes and ears open. In the next couple of months we’ll be letting you know how you can help protect the Bighorn backcountry and the North Saskatchewan region’s headwaters through public consultation on the North Saskatchewan regional plan.


1. “Crown land,” Canadian Encyclopedia: accessed 2015-01-25.
2. Government of Alberta, “Land Use Framework” at accessed 2015-01-25.

Photos: C. van Rensen

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