Alberta's parks protect over 27,000 square kilometres of representative and special landscapes. These spaces protect biodiversity and provide habitat for common, vulnerable and endangered species. They protect many features and provide ecosystem services that benefit all living organisms.
There is a growing recognition of the importance of ecosystem services to society's health, social, cultural and economic needs. Humans benefit from many resources and processes that are supplied by natural ecosystems - collectively known as ecosystem services. Ecosystem services include both products (like clean drinking water and recreation opportunities) and processes (like waste decomposition).
- Parks protect
- Landscapes that represent the natural diversity of the province
- Unique and special landscapes
- Habitat for common, vulnerable and endangered species
- Headwater and river/riparian areas
- Biodiversity at all levels - ecosystems, communities, species, populations, genetic
- Parks act as benchmarks to evaluate resource use and management in surrounding areas.
- Parks provide natural laboratories for scientific research.
- Parks act as benchmarks for environmental research.
- Parks provide ecosystem services such as
- Air and water quality
- Moderating weather extremes and impacts
- Mitigating climate change
- Providing a base for nature-based recreation/tourism
- Waste treatment
- Nutrient cycling
- Soil formation
- Providing inspiration
- Erosion control
People come to parks to enjoy the great outdoors - to connect with friends, family and the natural world. The 2008 Alberta Recreation Survey found that 89% of Albertans believe parks and recreation facilities and services improve quality of life.
The social benefits of parks are more difficult to measure than the economic and environmental benefits; however, they are just as important. Social benefits include things with both use and non-use values like
- Spending time with family and friends
- Reconnecting with nature
- Opportunities to experience nature in a range of ways from solitude to adventure
- Safe and sustainable recreation opportunities
- Health and mental wellness
- Promoting and supporting local culture
- Education and interpretation
- Outdoor skills development
- Cultural understanding
- Responsible stewardship and environmental literacy
- Historical understanding and strengthened cultural identity
- Inclusion and access for persons with disabilities
Alberta's parks bring millions of visitors to rural communities each year. This creates jobs and supports economic development both directly and indirectly across the province. Direct benefits to local communities from employment, operations and tourism can be measured.
- Visitors to Alberta's parks spend $1.1 billion annually (from The Value of Alberta Parks...Priceless). This generates a province-wide impact of $1.2 billion and sustains more than 23,480 person-years of employment.
- Heritage rangelands help sustain and directly support cattle grazing, a long-standing economic enterprise.
- Parks protect "natural assets" that are the cornerstone of Alberta's nature tourism. This strengthens Alberta's position as a nature-based national and international tourist destination.
- Parks help provide opportunities to diversify local and regional economies.
- Parks provide backdrops for feature films and commercials which support the film industry and boost rural economies.