What we heard: balancing recreation and conservation in Calgary

SSRP banner

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.

SSRP discussions continued with a (very) lively dialogue in Calgary last night. 62 people came out to the public session, including reps from Pheasants Forever and many different outdoor recreation groups, including the Calgary Mountain Club. A whopping 84 stakeholders also turned out to share their views – which covered a lot of ground…er, wall:

Sticky wall - Calgary stakeholders panoramic 11132013

Stakeholders included:

  • Recreation groups, vehicle dealers, and resorts (Motorized Woodsmen, Kananaskistrails.com, Calgary ATV Riders Association, CARA, Alberta Calgary Jeep Association, Climbers Access Society of AB, Calgary Mountain Bike Alliance, Calgary Snowmobilers Association, Castle Mountain Resort, Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association, and AB Outdoors Coalition)
  • Environment organizations (Canadian National Resources, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Alberta Native Plant council, Bow River Basin Council, Nature Alberta, Prairie Conservation Forum, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Alberta Wilderness Association, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society, and Alberta WaterSmart)
  • Industry reps and organizations (Focus, Lafarge, Talisman, Shell Canada, CAPP, Teck, Legacy Oil and Gas, Pine Cuff Energy, Spray Lakes Sawmills, and Alberta Beef Producers)
  • Municipalities and civic groups (City of Calgary, Heritage Point Properties, AB Real Estate Board, and the Municipal District of Bighorn)

Here’s what we heard:

The SSRP Vision and Proposed Goals:

  • The vision is vague, non-committal, and tries to be all-encompassing – needs more specific outcomes and expectations. Right now, more questions are raised than answers.
  • Idea that the plan can be all things to all people is naïve and idealistic
  • Three pillars model is not effective because these pillars are not all equal – need to prioritize
  • Plan’s strategic direction is environmental – but when it comes to outcomes, economics is the first thing mentioned
  • The name of the plan is misleading – should be the ‘South Alberta’ plan
  • More discussion needed about population growth and the actual capacity of the region
  • How is development being controlled – and what are the priority areas to do this?
  • More specifics needed about budget to implement the plan
  • Missing the values of the ecosystems – correlations to the GDP
  • Enforcement was a hot topic – policies can be drafted and implemented, but they are meaningless unless they are enforced
  • Question: why not incorporate Bill 28 into this draft?

Healthy economy: 

Discussion was lively in Calgary

Discussion was lively in Calgary

  • No mention of economics in the plan’s strategic direction – why?
  • Industry needs clarity to develop – we need rules in place in problem areas (like the Eastern Slopes) to ensure that clarity
  • More discussion needed of the role of watersheds in supporting economic development
  • More discussion needed about relationship between land development and conservation
  • Once we have achieved a certain level of economic growth, how will it be sustained?
  • Concern about land being fragmented by infrastructure corridors – need to ensure wildlife connectivity
  • Flexible policies needed to manage land with multiple uses
  • Forestry – need to find different methods besides clear-cutting
  • Agriculture
    • Agricultural land should not necessarily be judged in terms of ‘efficiency’
    • Need support for alternatives to agriculture
    • Concern about urban sprawl consuming agricultural land
    • Need to protect good agricultural land from development – how best to do this?
  • Tourism and Recreation
    • Plan does not provide enough detail/focus on recreation
    • Tourism and recreation are not necessarily the same industry – these categories need to be broken down within the plan so we can see specifics
    • Tourism requires roads – who will build these?
    • Need better definition of the different types of recreation – not all rec is ATV use
    • Too much focus on motorized recreation opportunities for tourism
    • Tent and RV camping need more support
    • Trails need to be better developed and clearly defined
    • Resorts and rec areas need more detail to understand how plan’s language applies to them (e.g. whether they are classified as ‘destination nodes for iconic tourism’)
Photo of a person riding a quad

A theme of the session: recreational access is important – but so is enforcement

Biodiversity management framework:

  • Definition of biodiversity needs to be clearly established
  • No mention of aquatic biodiversity in the framework
  • No establishment of a baseline approach for biodiversity management
  • Better regulations needed for implementation of the framework
  • More emphasis needed on enforcement and education
  • Concerns about current habitat for sagegrouse, grizzly – need to maintain what currently exists
  • Wildlife habitat connectivity extremely important for maintaining biodiversity
  • Lots of concern that Banff National Park is not being included in the plan
  • Plan does not address Alberta’s species at risk

Public land:

  • No clear sense of what the government will be doing to steward conservation on public land
  • Plan does not allow for the evolution of new ideas and approaches
  • More clarity on this section is required – not enough items addressed
  • Concerns about footprint management plan for public lands
  • Plan treats all disturbance of public land as equal – this is not the case
  • Recreational pursuits don’t necessarily compete with area’s biodiversity – need management, not exclusion
  • Concern – why has the Cypress Hill conservation area been removed?
  • Why have more heritage lands not been proposed in the East?
  • Proposed Wildland Park in Castle area should include the valleys, not just the peaks – otherwise it is a “mockery of conservation”
  • Need protection for Big Sagebrush – lower elevation ecosystem that will not be protected unless valleys are protected
  • Too much native grassland is now private land – should be transferred back to public. Similarly, too much native grassland in white area and too little protection.
  • Map of intact native grasslands needs to include more information – distance between linear disturbances, land use density
  • Support for Heritage Rangeland, Pikaso
  • Dealing with multiple plans – need to ensure effective integration
  • Recreation and public access:
    • The Advisory Council that produced the draft plan was not sensitive to/did not consult enough with hunters, outdoor rec enthusiasts
      • Particular complaint that Eastern Slopes stakeholder meetings did not include motorized recreation groups
      • Multiple use term for recreation is too open – what does it mean?
      • Recreation opportunities must be balanced with watershed protection. Concern about laws prohibiting vehicle use on bed and shore – it is “impossible” to avoid crossing waterways.
      • Recreation programs are under-funded – more conservation would be possible with more funds
      • Lots of support for the development of a regional trail system – right now it’s hard finding ‘official’ trails and what is allowed where
        • Rec groups should have a role in developing this system
        • Clear regulations and more education needed for trail users – many groups need to use these trails, and no group is more important or has more ‘right’ than others. Need to work together.
        • General complaint about lack of information available about what is allowed in a given area – government needs to work on this
        • Not enough focus on enforcement
          • Groups report trying to report licence plate numbers, abuse and no action being taken – sense that this is futile
        • Off-highway vehicles cause the most damage and their access should be controlled
        • Don’t over-restrict random camping – but make sure there are appropriate rules and proper enforcement
        • Concern from recreational users about losing access to areas
        • Support from recreation groups like the Calgary Mountain Club for a levied fee or a designated amount of volunteer time towards stewardship

Stewardship and conservation of private land

  • Support for conservation supports, incentives on private land

Air and water quality: 

Photo of a fish stocking truck submerged in flood waters

With this summer’s flood still top of mind, there was some concern that the plan does not include enough flood mitigation measures.

  • This section is short – are we doing enough?
  • How can we balance multiple users?
  • Not enough focus on downstream waters – need to protect these as well
  • Because the headwaters of the Bow River are in Banff National Park, their protection is not addressed by the plan
  • Need incentive to improve air quality – not just consequences for hitting limits
  • Not enough attention paid to flood mitigation
  • More references needed to greenhouse gases, climate change
  • Roles of the watershed stewardship groups and water council need to be clarified
  • How do you design a land use plan without discussing water allocation?
  • Landowners/leaseholders benefitting from irrigation should provide funding for watershed protection

Strengthening communities:

  • This section is too high-level
  • Items on municipal roles/responsibilities are too vague. In particular, municipalities need more tools and education on issues associated with plan.
  • More emphasis needed on protection of parks and cultural/historic areas
  • Some participants thought there was not enough consultation with First Nations, while others were not sure of the rights of First Nations groups

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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