Have you ever been out for a nice drive in, say, the Eastern Slopes, and as you turn a corner you’re suddenly met with the stare of a cow? Or, have you been out hiking and up pops a sign that says “Public Land Use Zone Boundary,” and you weren’t quite sure what to make of it? Maybe you’ve seen a map and wondered who owns all that empty space between provincial and national parks. What do all these things have in common? They’re all a part of our system of public lands, sometimes known as Crown lands.

Grazing lease contact and rules

An example of some signage you’re likely to see if traveling through public lands.

The Basics

Public lands have a complicated history in Alberta and play an important role in land use and management. Because our province has yet to create a cohesive policy document for these areas, they can become a complex issue. With a few of the basics though, things become a little easier to understand.

Public lands in our province are split between two areas: green (forested) and white (settled). Combined, they represent 60% of Alberta, not including federal areas like reservations, military lands, and national parks. Uses include livestock grazing, industrial activities, recreation, camping, and agriculture. Alberta has 19 Public Land Use Zones (PLUZs) covering 11,200 square kilometres. The rules for public use differ depending on whether the land is under lease, license, or neither.

Their Importance

Why should we care about public lands? Mainly because they’re a public asset and it’s up to us to determine how to use and protect them. After all, 60% is a big number and we should know what’s happening with them.

Some of Alberta's public land.

Hiking Sage Creek with the Sweetgrass Hills of Montana in the background.

For years, the Alberta Wilderness Association has been asking for a protected areas network and public lands are a vital piece of this province-wide puzzle. Protected areas make up only 14.6% of Alberta and provincial parks account for a tiny 6.4% of this number while national parks make up the rest. What does this mean? Well, it means that within that 60% there’s a lot of unprotected, intact ecosystems that have a lot of value. Without proper rules and systems in place, they become vulnerable to all sorts of threats. As Albertans, these places are ours to explore, enjoy, and interact with wildlife and wildspaces.

Taking Action with Public Lands

The best thing we can do is educate ourselves about the land around us. By doing so, we become active participants in developing government policies and proper land management.

Some of you might remember the unprecedented move to sell 16,000 acres of public land to private interests known as “Potatogate.” Thankfully, this was stopped due to the efforts of concerned citizens but it highlights what could happen if we lose meaningful knowledge and don’t take action for what is ours. Consultation is important and it’s up to us to hold the government accountable in treating us as stakeholders.

In August, AWA is launching a campaign raising awareness about our public lands and wildspaces. Keep an eye our social media accounts to learn even more and in the meantime, watch our series of videos on YouTube. The more you know, the more you can do. And remember, if you missed our last C4W story, check out it here.