Protected Areas

Access the List of Protected Areas

Alberta’s protected areas can be owned by different levels of government, private citizens, and land trusts. Within Alberta, three legislative frameworks provide this protection. The following sets of land classifications start with Natural Areas – the particular focus of SAPAA.

The next set of classes also fall under the mandate of the Government of Alberta with the final set of protected areas being managed by municipal governments, land trusts and other entities that manage protected areas, including private citizens.

(Note: the following is meant to provide a general guide and is not an interpretation of the respective legislation.)

Natural Areas and Crown Reservations

Their purpose is: Protection, Education and Recreation; they have Development Restrictions

Natural Areas

  • Natural areas preserve and protect sites of local significance while providing opportunities for low-impact recreation and nature appreciation activities.
  • They include natural and near-natural landscapes of regional and local importance for nature-based recreation and heritage appreciation.
  • They are typically quite small (with notable exceptions).
  • Most natural areas have no facilities. Facilities that do exist are minimal, consisting mainly of parking areas and trails.
  • There are 138 order-in-council (OC) designated Natural Areas in Alberta.

Crown Reservations

Several Natural Areas have not been designated by an order-in-council but have either a Protective Notation (PNT; 100 sites) or Consultative Notation (CNT; 6 sites) on the lands.

  • PNTs, or reservations, are placed by public agencies in consultation with the public land manager. They identify land and resources that are managed to achieve particular land use or conservation objectives.
  • PNTs identify the agency that has placed the reservation, show allowable land uses and may give management guidelines for integrating different uses on the land.
  • Restrictions on land use are based on the characteristics of the land itself. These include soil, vegetation and surface materials and drainage.
  • Local and regional factors such as fish and wildlife requirements or timber regeneration and access also receive consideration.
  • CNTS are used to “flag” an interest in the land (e.g., administrative, planning or land inventory process) by a particular agency. They don’t place restriction on land use, but alert potential applicants to the agency’s concern.

Wilderness, Reserves & Willmore

Highest Level of Protection

Wilderness Areas

  • Wilderness areas preserve and protect natural heritage while providing opportunities for non-consumptive, nature-based outdoor recreation.
  • Alberta’s three wilderness areas are among the most strictly protected areas in Canada. No developments of any kind are permitted.
  • Wilderness areas provide limited opportunities for nature-based recreation such as backcountry hiking, wildlife viewing and mountain climbing.
  • Travel in wilderness areas is by foot only. Hunting, fishing and the use of horses are not permitted.
  • Collecting, destroying and removing plant and animal material, fossils and other objects of geological, ethnological, historical and scientific interest are prohibited.

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Ecological Reserves

  • Ecological reserves preserve and protect natural heritage in an undisturbed state for scientific research and education.
  • They contain representative, rare and fragile landscapes, plants, animals and geological features. Their primary intent is strict preservation of natural ecosystems, habitats and features and associated biodiversity.
  • Ecological reserves serve as outdoor laboratories and classrooms for scientific studies related to the natural environment.
  • Public access to ecological reserves is by foot only. Public roads and other facilities do not normally exist and will not be developed.
  • Most ecological reserves are open to the public for low-impact activities such as photography and wildlife viewing.

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Willmore Wilderness Area

  • Willmore is unique in that it has its own legislation outside of the seven Alberta parks system classifications.
  • Established in 1959 and is managed under its own legislation, the Willmore Wilderness Park Act. At 4,597 square kilometres, Willmore is the second largest park in the Alberta parks system.
  • It contains excellent habitat for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, grizzly bear, mountain caribou, cougars and wolves.
  • The windswept front ranges in the eastern parts are also critical winter habitat for ungulates. Management of Willmore Wilderness Park is similar in intent to Wildland Provincial Parks.

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Rangelands and Recreational Areas

Purpose: Cattle Grazing, Conservation, Recreation. These areas may have an economic or recreational purpose besides protection.

Heritage Rangelands

  • Heritage rangelands preserve and protect natural features that are representative of Alberta’s prairies. Grazing is used to maintain the grassland ecology.
  • There are two Heritage Rangelands designated in Alberta.
  • Carefully managed cattle grazing has contributed to the ecological integrity of large tracts of the continent’s finest remaining prairies. Heritage rangelands ensure ongoing protection while continuing the traditional grazing approach that has preserved these grasslands.
    Limited opportunities may be provided for outdoor recreation; however, recreational activities must be compatible with preservation of natural values and grazing management.
    Recreational access to lands under grazing lease is permitted only with permission from the leaseholder.

Provincial Recreational Areas

  • Established under the Provincial Parks Act to support outdoor recreation and tourism by providing access to lakes, rivers, reservoirs and adjacent Crown land, thereby playing a significant role in the management of these adjacent lands and waters.
  • Provincial Recreation Areas support a range of outdoor activities in natural, modified and man-made settings; some areas are intensively developed while others remain largely undeveloped.

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Heritage Rangeland Natural Areas

There are also six Heritage Rangeland Natural Areas in Alberta that were established as natural areas in the interim, with the intention of future designation as Heritage Rangelands under the Act.

Provincial Parks

Recreation and Preservation

Designated under the Provincial Parks Act, there are 89 Provincial Parks, 44 Wildland Provincial Parks, 233 Provincial Recreation Areas and 10 Section 7 Lands in Alberta.

Provincial Parks

  • Play a key role in preserving Alberta’s natural heritage.
  • They support outdoor recreation, heritage tourism and natural heritage appreciation activities that depend on and are compatible with the natural environment.
  • Provincial parks protect both natural and cultural landscapes and features.
  • Provincial parks are distinguished from Wildland Provincial Parks by the greater range of facilities and the extent of road access.
  • They offer a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities and support facilities that promote appreciation of natural and cultural heritage.
  • Interpretive and educational programs are offered in some Provincial Parks to enhance visitor understanding and appreciation of and respect for Alberta’s natural heritage.

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Wildland Provincial Parks

  • Established to preserve and protect natural heritage and provide opportunities for backcountry recreation.
  • Wildland provincial parks are large, undeveloped natural landscapes that retain their primeval character.
  • Trails and primitive backcountry campsites are provided in some wildland parks to minimize visitor impacts on natural heritage values.
  • Some provide significant opportunities for eco-tourism and adventure activities such as backpacking, backcountry camping, wildlife viewing, mountain climbing and trail riding.
  • Designated trails for off-highway vehicle riding and snowmobiling are provided in some Wildland Provincial Parks.

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National and County/Municipal Parks and Land Trusts

Nationally and Locally Protected Areas

National Parks

Alberta is home to 5 National Parks. BanffJasper and Waterton Lakes are mountain parks.
In addition,  Elk Island is located east of Edmonton and Wood Buffalo lies in the Northeast of the Province.

Municipal and County Parks

Primarily focused on recreation, these areas sometime adjoin include? important protected areas.

Land Trusts

A land trust is owned by an organization set up to ensure the area remains protected.  Often the land is sold or donated to the trust by the original owner or their estate.

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