Alberta government proposing new $30 annual random camping permits this year

·3 min read
Public lands across Alberta are seeing an influx of users, leaving more garbage and concerns about trespassing. (Wallis Snowdon/CBC - image credit)
Public lands across Alberta are seeing an influx of users, leaving more garbage and concerns about trespassing. (Wallis Snowdon/CBC - image credit)

The Alberta government plans to introduce a $30 annual fee this spring for people who random camp on public lands.

Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon confirmed on Tuesday that legislation will be introduced shortly to implement the fee, which was promised in the United Conservative Party's 2019 election platform.

"You get $30 a year to random camp as many nights you want in the West Country with all of the revenue going back toward conservation in those areas," Nixon told reporters at the Alberta legislature. "It will roll out this year as promised."

The ministry is still determining whether the annual fee will apply to public lands across the province or just in areas with the heaviest use. The province will likely exempt Indigenous Albertans from having to get a permit.

With some conditions, people in Alberta can camp for free in public land use zones — which is known as random or dispersed camping.

Last summer, Alberta saw an upswing in the popularity of camping on both public land and traditional campsites due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher numbers placed demands on public lands, which generally lack amenities like pit toilets, waste collection and fire pits offered at traditional campsites.

Areas in the Bighorn area of the eastern slopes, which were proposed to become provincial parks under the previous NDP government, have been hit particularly hard.

A report by the Alberta Environment Bighorn Backcountry Standing Committee from June 2020 found the areas were overrun with users. Some campers cut live trees for firewood, overran areas with new ATV trails and left garbage and human waste behind.

Day use fees?

Nixon says new fees, including increases of $1 to $3 for sites in campgrounds, are necessary to pay for the parks system. He says these funds help pay for 40 per cent of the parks system; the remainder comes from general revenues.

"We've heard loud and clear from Albertans that they're comfortable with modest fees when it comes to the recreation activities on crown lands and on our parks, as long as it's going back toward conservation," Nixon said.

The $30 random camping fee came up on Monday during a review of the budget estimates for Environment and Parks.

Under questioning by Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Marlin Schmidt, the NDP Opposition critic for environment and parks, Nixon said his ministry is looking at other fees.

He said a recent consultation with parks users suggested people weren't opposed to paying modest user fees as long as the money goes back to the system.

"Depending on user access and what the numbers are, the Alberta government will continue to look at user fees, including new user fees that I haven't identified today, to be able to make sure our parks system can operate fully," Nixon said.

Schmidt said Nixon plans to start charging Albertans for access to day-use areas of provincial parks.

"I asked the environment minister if he could commit to not imposing new day fees on Alberta families enjoying our public parks," Schmidt said. "And he said there would be new fees."