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Parks across Alberta seeing damage from overuse, environment minister says

Jason Nixon says the province will continue to do its best to deal with the influx of park users, but won't commit to more resources.

No extra enforcement planned as Albertans look for stay-in-the-province summer getaways

Parks across Alberta are seeing an influx of users leaving behind garbage and trespassing on private land. (Wallis Snowdon/CBC)

Parks across the province are facing the same overcrowding and environmental damage as seen in a west-central Alberta wilderness area, says Environment Minister Jason Nixon.

"The situation taking place west of Rocky Mountain House and Sundre is no different than what we're seeing all across the province," Nixon said Wednesday.

He wouldn't commit to an immediate increase in facilities or enforcement for the Bighorn backcountry, despite concerns raised by his own department.

Earlier this week, The Canadian Press reported on a provincial committee that oversees the Bighorn, a vast section of mostly unserviced backcountry once considered for a park.

The committee's report — and interviews with local people — described an area swarmed by tens of thousands of campers who cut trees, strew garbage and trespass. The report described usage levels as "insane."

It said garbage and human feces litter the landscape, despite large dumpsters installed by one community. Area First Nations said they can no longer hunt or gather plants. Sacred sites have been disturbed.

Volunteer search-and-rescue services said demand has increased manyfold. The report said fire pits pock the bush and campers shoot firearms along power cutlines. Campers set up for the weekend, leave everything and return five days later.

Enforcement in the area is limited to two rangers and an RCMP detachment more than 100 kilometres away.

The report said rangers are "having a difficult time with people who are wound pretty tight."

Nixon said every provincial park and recreation area is busy as Albertans look for a safe way to enjoy a summer with their families.

"What is taking place in that location in the eastern slopes is exactly what we have taking place all across the province because of COVID. We'll continue to do our best to manage that."

The government has provided help with garbage collection, he added. Additional enforcement, bathrooms and parking pads will have to wait.

"We continue to work closely with the conservation officer enforcement division in Alberta Environment and Parks, as well as with our partners in (Alberta) Justice, with Fish and Wildlife and the RCMP," Nixon said.

"We'll continue to move forward through our North Saskatchewan regional planning process in that area, which will result in some infrastructure investment to deal with some of the concerns."

Nixon did not provide a timeline. The planning he referred to has been going on for a decade.

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