New World Heritage Sites in Alberta & British Columbia?
EDMONTON — Alberta and British Columbia are looking to add more international sparkle to Canada’s Rocky Mountain parks.
Seven parks in the Rockies are already collectively designated as a United Nations World Heritage site because of their spectacular peaks, glaciers, pristine lakes, wildlife and geology.
Now the two provinces and Parks Canada are talking about asking the UN to add nearby provincial parks and other protected lands to the heritage site. If approved, the expanded area could cover up to 3.5 million hectares of wilderness.
“There is political and bureaucratic support for pursuing the idea, so we have been working on it,” said Mike Murtha, a Parks Canada planner.
“It is really a stamp of exceptional recognition. This is on that list of places you must see before you die. It is seen by the tourism industry as a great marketing hook.”
Parks Canada would make the application to the UN, but only after Alberta and B.C. decide which areas to nominate. The United Nations has been encouraging Canada to make the application for three years.
The UN made Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay national parks a heritage site in 1984. Six years later, B.C. successfully applied to have nearby Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Hamber provincial parks included in the rare designation – there are only 200 such sites in the world.
Alberta is considering including some or all provincial parks and wild lands along the eastern slopes of the Rockies from the Kananaskis area southwest of Calgary all the way up to the Kakwa area northwest of Jasper.
The areas include Peter Lougheed, Elbow-Sheep, Spray Valley, Bow Valley and Wilmore Wilderness provincial parks as well as the Ghost, Siffleur, and White Goat wilderness areas.
Camille Weleschuk, a spokeswoman for Alberta Parks, cautioned the process will take time and that no decision will be made until Albertans are consulted.
The idea is in the assessment stage, she said. The next step would be to draft a proposal that would put out for public comment.
“We have been working with Parks Canada and B.C. Parks to examine the potential of adding additional parks and protected areas to what is the currently the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. We haven’t decided which sites will be considered,” she said. “They are all possibilities in that we are examining their potential as a whole right now.”
British Columbia is looking at including Height of the Rockies, Kakwa, Elk Lakes, Cummins Lakes, Mount Terry Fox and Top of the World provincial parks as well as the Swiftcurrent (protected area) addition to Mount Robson Park, said Suntanu Dalal, a B.C. Environment spokesman.
“The international designation is having an increasing influence in world travellers’ choice of destinations,” Dalal wrote in an email.
“Expansion of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage site will likely enhance the international profile of any additional B.C. parks added to the World Heritage Site. Expansion of the site will also add significant conservation values.”
Tourism and environmental groups say they support the idea.
Don Boynton of Travel Alberta, a Crown corporation, said the UN heritage designation has helped the province market the mountain parks as a tourism destination around the world and mention it prominently in vacation guides, maps and brochures.
Boynton said including more parks and wilderness areas to the heritage site would make the parks even more prestigious and help boost Alberta’s $5 billion tourism industry.
“It lends credibility to the destination – that the United Nations recognizes this as one of the best places in the world to visit,” he said. “It would add to the awareness and to the appeal.”
Nigel Douglas of the Alberta Wilderness Association said “the idea has fantastic potential” and suggested the province should try to win public support for the plan.
The designation wouldn’t change the legal status of the parks or give the UN any formal clout in their management, he said. But placing more areas under the international spotlight would put indirect pressure on the federal and provincial governments to maintain their ecological integrity.
“On the Alberta side these are the water catchment areas for the whole of Western Canada, incredibly important areas for wildlife,” he said.
“International recognition of that can only help to ensure that in the future we do a better job of protecting them.”
The process of making the application takes time and involves much paper work and a visit by a UN team to tour the nominated areas, Murtha said. The earliest a decision could be made would be 2012.
“The key is to demonstrate that you have outstanding universal value, and you can maintain it,” he said.
~Edited from Canadian Press
October 22, 2009