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Critics ask why no details on government plan for parks management


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EDMONTON — The Alberta government has yet to release details on how it will “optimize” the province’s parks by getting other people to run them.

It’s been almost a year since the plan was revealed in the budget and Alberta Parks is to begin accepting reservations March 4 for this summer’s camping season.

Despite repeated requests from politicians, environmental groups and The Canadian Press, Alberta Environment won’t say with whom it’s signed new parks management contracts, what the contracts contain or how many there are.  

“It’s hard to trust in the process when there’s a significant lack of transparency,” said Grace Wark of the Alberta Wilderness Association. “This has been the standard that’s been set throughout.”

Last February, the United Conservative government announced a plan to fully or partially close 20 provincial parks and seek third-party partners to run another 164 of them. The areas for which partners couldn’t be found would lose park status and revert to general Crown land.

Critics feared the move was a prelude to reducing access or selling the land. In the face of fierce public opposition, the government announced in late December that no parks would be delisted and that partners for 170 parks had been found. 

Many of Alberta’s 473 parks and recreation areas have had some kind of third-party management for years. Wark said that includes at least 70 sites on the list released in December.

The government said in December that “more than a dozen” new deals had been reached. That left a potentially large number of parks still in question.

A list of partners has been released, but which agreements are new and which are old isn’t specified, said Wark.

“The government hasn’t released one clear list of who those partners are.”  

On Jan. 7, Alberta Environment spokeswoman Jess Sinclair said government lawyers were considering privacy concerns. Nothing has since been released.

The Canadian Press most recently asked for information on the new deals last Monday.

Others are asking the same questions. 

“We haven’t been able to get anything from them,” said Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. 

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt said his party has filed a freedom-of-information request in an attempt to learn more. 

“I don’t know why they wouldn’t put it out there,” he said. 

“Show us who the partnerships are with and what the nature of those agreements are. I don’t know why we have to be put through the wringer to find out this information that they held a press conference to announce.”

Alberta Environment uses several different parks management contracts. Morrison said it’s crucial to know what’s in the new agreements.

“Is it just to maintain these places or is there more operational and management responsibility? Who are these partnerships with?

“It’s indicative of the entire process,” she said. “We’ve had trouble all along getting answers from this government.”

Wark points out that guidelines for parks partners were supposed to be released last May.

“We don’t know if a third-party partner is expected to be held to the same standards as an Alberta Parks manager,” she said. 

“Will they be managing infrastructure in the same way? What will be the expectations as far as costs for camping? Will they be expected to manage ecology in the same way?

“That’s information that is really important.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2021. 

— Follow @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Alberta’s Walker into Hearts semifinal with 9-8 win over Manitoba’s Jones

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CALGARY — Alberta’s Laura Walker advanced to the semifinal of the Canadian women’s curling championship with a 9-8 win over Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones in Sunday’s tiebreaker game.

Walker faces defending champion Kerri Einarson in an afternoon semifinal with the winner taking on Ontario’s Rachel Homan for the championship at night.

Jones missed an attempted double takeout in the 10th end, which left Walker an open draw to score three for the win in the tiebreaker.

Manitoba and Alberta were tied for third at 9-3 after the championship round, which required a tiebreaker game to solve.

Jones, a six-time champion at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, was chasing a record seventh title.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Let ‘er buck: Study suggests horses learn from rodeo experience, grow calmer

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CALGARY — Rodeo fans love the thrill of a bronc exploding into the ring, cowboy temporarily aboard. How the horse feels about it hasn’t been so clear.

Newly published research out of the University of Calgary looks at three years of roughstock events from that city’s Stampede in an attempt to peer inside the mind of an animal about to let ‘er buck.

“I try to understand the animal’s perspective,” said Ed Pajor, a professor of veterinary medicine. “We asked the question whether or not horses find participating in the rodeo to be an adversive experience or not.”

Pajor and his co-authors — Christy Goldhawk from the University of Calgary and well-known animal behaviourist Temple Grandin — studied 116 horses in bareback, novice bareback, saddle bronc and novice saddle bronc events. They looked at animals about to be loaded into a trailer and taken to the ring. They also observed how the horses behaved while in the chute waiting to be unleashed.

Horses have all kinds of ways of showing they’re unhappy, Pajor said. They might move back and forth, chew their lips, swish their tail, defecate, roll their eyes, paw the ground, toss their head, or rear up in protest.

The researchers found that the more people were around them, the more likely the horses were to show unease. That’s probably because they spend most of their time in fields and pastures and aren’t used to the bustle, Pajor said.

The other factor that affected behaviour was experience. If it wasn’t their first rodeo, the horses were much less likely to act up.

“We didn’t see a lot of attempts to escape. We didn’t see a lot of fear-related behaviours at all,” Pajor said. “The animals were pretty calm.

“The animals that had little experience were much more reactive than the animals that had lots of experience.”

There could be different reasons for that, he suggested.

“We don’t know if that’s because they’re used to the situation or whether that’s because of learned helplessness — they realize there’s nothing they can do and just give up.”

Pajor suspects the former.

“When the cowboys came near the horses, they would certainly react and you wouldn’t really see that if it was learned helplessness.”

The researchers also noted that the horses’ bucking performance, as revealed in the score from the rodeo judges, didn’t seem to be reduced by repeated appearances as it might be if the animals had become apathetic.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the horses are having a good time, said Pajor, who’s also on the Stampede’s animal welfare advisory board. There are a couple of ways of interpreting active behaviour in the chute, he said.

“An animal might be getting excited to perform. Or an animal might be having a fear response.”

“Understanding if animals like to do something is a tricky thing to do.”

Pajor knows there are different camps when it comes to rodeos and animals.

“People have very strong opinions on the use of animals for all kinds of reasons. I think no matter what we’re going to use animals for, we really need to make sure that we treat them humanely.

“My job is to do the research to understand the animals’ perspective.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter

The Canadian Press

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