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.
This week’s SSRP discussions kicked off in Foremost, where local autonomy, agriculture, and rec and conservation in the Eastern Slopes were once again hot topics.
- The Alberta Prairie Conservation Forum
- Landwise Inc.
- the Nature Conservancy of Canada
- Western Stock Growers Association
- County of 40 Mile no. 8
- St. Mary River Irrigation District
- Alberta Irrigation Project Association
- Natural Resources Conservation Board
Two intrepid landowners made the trek to the (slightly frostbitten) Foremost Community Hall to take part in that evening’s public discussion – they were rewarded with lots of one-on-one time with government staff, who had ample time to talk them through the plan and its evolution.
Here’s what we heard:
The SSRP Vision and Proposed Goals:
- Concern that the consultations will not generate meaningful change to the plan – government will just disregard criticisms and listen to support
- SSRP is too urban and doesn’t recognize the diversity of the region. Calgary will outweigh the rural areas and smaller municipalities – the region is “more than a playground for Calgarians”
- Stewardship role for Calgary is missing in the vision – it has a significant impact on the environment, stewardship, air quality, water quality and quantity
- Concern that certain items are absent from the vision – water, climate change mitigation, economic development & housing for the region’s growing population
- Plan places more emphasis on growth for energy sector and merely wants to “maintain” agriculture – should have equal weight
- Concern that as water becomes more expensive, energy development will become a higher priority than agriculture. To change this, profitability of agriculture needs to increase.
- Agriculture does not need more government regulation – needs more incentive for development
- Fragmentation of land already covered by local Municipal Development Plans
- Local management plans need to take tourism impacts into account
Biodiversity management framework:
- Impossible to overstate the importance of protecting the Eastern Slopes – preserving this area is critical
- More regulations needed – but we also need more staff and funding to enforce them
- Enforcement on the Eastern Slopes particularly important
- More education of recreationalists – particularly off-highway vehicle riders – is needed
- Grasslands are vast and important – plan needs more specifics to ensure proper conservation
- How much conservation is enough? Yes, there is a need to protect biodiversity – but too much of the cost is being borne by this region
- Grizzly bear habitats are expanding and need to be better defined
- Too much focus on protecting the sage grouse – they are hunted elsewhere, so it doesn’t make sense to protect them here
- Plan does not address protection of coulees and wildlife connectivity corridors – this needs to be included in final plan
- Need a holistic approach in offset opportunities
- Some participants questioned why people in this region are making decisions about the Castle and vice versa – thought that region is too diverse to be managed by a single plan
- Conservation impacts livelihoods in a given area – the people impacted by that should be the ones to make final choices
- “Public land” versus “crown land” – the former name implies that the land belongs to all Albertans and all Albertans can use it; that’s not necessarily the case
- Lots of discussion about recreation in the Eastern Slopes – need to focus on other uses (i.e. agriculture)
- Concern about the expansion of certain recreation areas impacting established random camping areas in the Eastern Slopes
Stewardship and conservation of private land:
- Some concern about property rights. Page 72 of the plan states that the minister can take “whatever steps necessary to fulfill SSRP” – concern that this gives the government the ability to do what they want regardless of consultation.
- Trade of public land for leased/private land should be done on a case-by-case basis and consider impacts to biodiversity
- Local landowners are important stewards – but conservation strategies need to remain voluntary, not mandatory
- Some participants argued that government should not have any regulatory say about what happens on private property
- Irrigation of private/leased lands may pose a problem if water becomes scarce
Air and water quality:
- We require a one-window, one-agency approach to monitoring and regulating, rather than several conflicting agencies
- Comments on water quality:
- Generally, no complaints about present water quality
- Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils and Water for Life strategy need more secure funding and technical support
- Water storage is a bigger issue than conservation
- Recreation in irrigation areas is detrimental (e.g., when boats come in, they bring invasive species like mussels); prohibiting boat use in these areas would enhance water quality
- Support for SSRP’s approach to ensuring water supply stays sustainable, but concern about how this will affect the economy
- Comments on air quality:
- Air quality is not a big issue in these communities – site specific (to larger urban centres like Calgary) – not regional
- Who is liable for air pollution? Shouldn’t the responsibility for mitigation fall on all landowners/municipalities, nor just some?
- Air quality concerns in rural areas are often a result of urban lifestyles encroaching on agricultural areas
- Economy is influenced by the airshed
- Many municipalities already have collaborative processes in place – will SSRP supersede these processes?
- All communities and cultures should be engaged in the consultation process (including independent communities like Hutterites, and newcomers to Canada)
- First Nations groups should participate as part of general consultation
- Need for more local management of natural areas and scenic sites – these places need protection, but they can’t be managed from Edmonton
- Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park:
- Some participants wanted to avoid seeking higher international status for Writing-on-Stone – afraid that local community will lose access if it gets too popular and expensive
- Other participants wanted to make it a world attraction
- Many tourists who come to rural areas need education on how to respect the land
- Need for more low-impact recreational activities like horseback riding, boating
- SSRP should focus more on the impacts of population expansion and how to manage infrastructure
- Concerns about how to connect rural communities to transportation networks – transportation in Saskatchewan is a valuable tool for keeping small communities alive and is a good model for Alberta
- Problem – we look to municipalities to implement the plan’s strategies, but they need the money to do so
- Recreational access of public land may conflict with some of the municipal plans in this region
- Jurisdiction – who determines whether or not local implementation meets the plan’s objectives?
Our next stops: