What we heard in Strathmore: a small group with big ideas

This month, we’re in 21 communities talking to Albertans about the draft South Saskatchewan Regional Plan – a long-term land use plan for the region. These summaries, posted the day following each session, try to capture the main themes expressed during each session – which weren’t necessarily agreed upon by everyone.

Our SSRP discussion group in Strathmore was small in numbers, but big on ideas. 11 people attended the public session, including Wheatland County, the Great Divide Trail Association, and the Western Sky Land Trust.

Wheatland County, The Prairie Conservation Forum, Western Irrigation District, the Alberta Wilderness Association, and reps from the oil and gas and agriculture sectors came out to share their feedback and concerns with us. The folks at Alberta WaterPortal were also live-tweeting the session – you can check that out here.

Here’s what we heard:

The SSRP Vision and Proposed Goals:

  • Support for vision but concern about implementation
  • Vision too general – should be more region-specific
  • It will be tough to accommodate all interest and ideas contained in vision – taken objectively, the outcomes of the plan conflict
    • Dangerous to try to accommodate the desires of all sectors
  • Some thought there was not enough focus on urban or rural issues; others thoughts we should be focusing on “all Albertans”
  • Stronger outcomes needed for water, conservation, agriculture
  • Provincial government needs to provide leadership, make tough decisions
  • Concern about extended timeline needed to implement some measures under the plan – potentially allows for more adverse impact to the landscape in the interim, makes things uncertain for industry

Healthy economy: 

Photo of a cityscape.

Human activity – commercial development, transport, and just living – also has a big impact on the air we breathe.

  • need smart economic growth – not full-speed ahead (avoid urban sprawl)
  • Stronger language needed to communicate tradeoffs that will be needed
  • Forestry should be sustainable – a certain amount is needed to protect local land & forest health
    • No forestry should be allowed in Castle conservation area
  • Municipalities should have a greater say in limiting oil and gas development
  • Fragmentation due to industry needs to be limited – how to encourage this?
  • Agriculture:
    • Objectives of agriculture and tourism conflict
    • More encouragement needed to retain family farms
    • Food security should be emphasized
Castle Public Land Use Zone

There was lots of discussion in Strathmore about the proposed Castle conservation area

Biodiversity management framework: 

  • Plan does a good job of identifying tools needed to achieve biodiversity objectives
    • Limits and targets are vague – need more specifics
    • Outcomes and actions are not aligned
    • More clarity needed on indicators for biodiversity risk assessment
  • Need greater focus on how water management is connected to biodiversity
  • Too much focus on curing present problems – while this is necessary, we also need to prevent future problems
  • Conservation areas:
    • Proposed wildland parks inadequate to achieve outcomes
    • Too many protected areas at high elevations; need more at low elevations to protect habitats
    • Castle conservation area is too small, patchy, fragmented. It does not meet the criteria for a conservation area – forestry is still allowed

Public land 

Some participants thought the plan's framework for biodiversity needs more specifics

Some participants think the plan’s framework for biodiversity needs more specifics

  • Support for strategy – but needs more emphasis and faster timeline
  • More enforcement, monitoring, and education is needed around recreation access
    • introduce user-fees for OHV use
    • more monitoring of trails
  • Plan focuses too much on off-highway vehicle use; need to emphasize non-motorized rec and eco-tourism
  • Grasslands:
    • Why is there so little focus on conservation in existing grasslands? Conversion of these grasslands should be minimized. Need more incentives to accomplish this.
  • Interest in conservation offsets and applicability to other areas of the region

Stewardship and conservation of private land:

  • Need incentives, market-based instruments to landowners to provide stewardship and conservation
  • Need more emphasis on conservation easements

Air and water quality:

  • There is no indication that plan supports cumulative effects management
    • Need for clarification on management response to triggers and thresholds for non-point sources
  • Monitoring must be fully funded, implemented, with specific indicators and consequences
  • Municipalities need more guidance from government about non-point source pollutants
  • Water:
    • Not enough protection of streams
    • It is not enough to encourage source water protection plans – need to require this
    • Headwaters objectives are insufficient – it’s not enough to ‘maintain’; must ‘protect’
    • Need more thresholds and limits for wetlands policy
  • Need to educate, be proactive about all air quality sectors

Strengthening communities:

  • Need to quantity ‘healthy communities’ – what metrics are currently being used for this?
  • Enhancing rec and cultural opportunities
  • Aboriginal peoples need to be included in land-use planning; government has made an excellent effort at doing this
  • Support for designation of Writing-in-Stone provincial park as a historic site – need to expand historical resources
  • The role of municipalities needs to be clarified – current language is weak, but communities are still responsible for making many key decisions
    • Support for efforts of municipalities to protect culture, heritage
    • Opportunity for municipalities & irrigation districts to collaborate on joint water storage facilities that could also be used for recreation
  • Need more opportunities for recreation throughout the region, and more government funding for repairing facilities
    • Need to preserve existing trails when developing designated trail systems

Our next stops:

Intrigued? Remember – you can provide feedback on the draft plan through an online workbook or by attending one of the information sessions being held throughout November. Feedback on this blog or the session? Tweet us – @AENV_SRD.

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