Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (Alberta)

Protecting public land and water in Alberta parks and wilderness areas

Taylor posed outside during winter.

Science Horizons intern Taylor Maton. Photo credit: Taylor Maton.

Taylor Maton was “the right person at the right time” for the Defend Alberta Parks campaign, says Kecia Kerr, Executive Director of the Northern Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). Its campaign ran in response to a February 2020 provincial government’s Optimizing Alberta’s Parks plan, an announcement that 175 parks and recreational grounds would be closed or removed from provincial park protections.

As CPAWS’ Conservation Outreach Coordinator, Maton’s main job was to oversee volunteer programming such as organizing volunteer activities. Working with the group’s Southern Alberta Chapter and the Alberta Environmental Network, the campaign engaged 1,600 new volunteers and spurred the writing of 23,000 letters to provincial MLAs. More than 23,000 Albertan households and businesses erected “Defend Alberta Parks” signs on their properties – support that crossed all divides – political, socio-economic and rural-urban, says Kerr.

The campaign was successful and in December 2020, the provincial government reversed its decision, which Kerr describes as one of the CPAWS Alberta chapters’ greatest achievements. CPAWS is a national charity dedicated to protecting public land and water in parks and wilderness areas. Its two Alberta chapters were established more than 50 years ago.

Piles of Defend Alberta Parks lawn sign for distribution.

Defend Alberta Parks lawn sign. Photo credit: Taylor Maton.

At CPAWS Maton’s salary was subsidized by a Clean Foundation Science Horizons Internship, paid for by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The University of Alberta biology graduate received a Starfish Canada “Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25” award. Her team also received an Alberta Emerald Foundation award for the Defend Alberta Parks campaign in the Public Engagement and Outreach category.

Maton is now the Attractions Program Coordinator for the City of Edmonton’s John Janzen Nature Centre. She has been a nature lover since her childhood in Grande Prairie, Alta., and describes herself as “that kid always outside, bringing in too many rocks and bugs that my mother didn’t necessarily want or like.” But she only began to consider a career in environmental sciences when she took an introductory ecology course at university.

“I was hooked,” she says. “I was mostly fascinated by the interconnectedness of world systems and nature and I quickly began to fill my schedule with courses like ecology and global climate change. I honestly can’t see myself working in a different field.”

She says the Defend Alberta Parks campaign was exhilarating. “It was an incredible experience to see momentum surge. “I would open my email on Monday morning and would have 500 emails asking how to get a lawn sign, how to get involved, how to protect these spaces that mean so much,” she says.

Taylor ready to go kayaking.

Science Horizons intern Taylor Maton. Photo credit: Taylor Maton.

The CPAWS campaign also had to take the COVID-19 pandemic into account so townhall meetings were held on Zoom and social-media communications were ramped up. The situation also highlighted the importance of provincial parks and recreation areas. “The threat to parks came at a moment when people really needed their outdoor space and couldn’t travel outside the province,” CPAWS’ Kerr says.

Maton’s time at CPAWS also taught her the importance of clear communications. The environmental field deals with complex issues that need to be made understandable and actionable. “To be effective, we need to provide clear ways for people to engage with that information and really participate in the work that needs to be done,” she says. The lawn sign and letter-writing campaign did just that.

Kerr says CPAWS was fortunate that Maton had a combination of communications skills and a science background. “We wouldn’t have been able to keep her as long as we did without the Science Horizons funding,” she says. “Every year we are struggling to find funds to maintain our staff.”

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