What we heard: new ideas for managing recreation in Fort Macleod

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.

Fort Macleod’s SSRP session had good turnout and great discussions. 26 people attended the evening session and shared their thoughts on how best to manage recreation in the region and balance it with conservation. 18 stakeholder representatives attended the morning session, including:


Here’s what we heard:

 The SSRP Vision and Proposed Goals:

  • Participants were split on the value of the plan:
    • Some think that the plan represents too much loss of municipal autonomy
    • Others argued that the plan is needed to manage growth in this area – both in terms of population and land use
  • Need more flexibility in the plan – the SSRP does not allow for exceptional events like floods
  • Need more emphasis on local knowledge
  • Plan does not establish a hierarchy of quality of life values – needs mechanisms for resolving conflicts between these values
  • Need to acknowledge the resilience of the environment and its ability to adapt – healthy ecosystems can handle certain impacts

 Healthy economy: 

  • There is a diversity of industries in this region, but energy development seems to be the biggest priority for the plan – other sectors need to have equal priority
  • Plan is missing a strategy for renewable energy development
  • Plan needs more detailed economic targets – right now, too vague
  • More regulatory oversight needed to deal with effects of one industry on another
    • Example: Windmill farms (and power lines) are fragmenting farmland—build windmill farms where power is needed
  • Linear infrastructure is a great idea for the economy and environment
  • More synergy needed between tourism and other types of economic development
  • Tourism/recreation: More focus on low-impact ecotourism and non-motorized recreation needed
  • Idea: allow aggressive/high-impact off-highway vehicle use on logging trails during operation – then, when logging is finished, area is ‘rested’ and can recover
  • Forestry: more acknowledgement needed that sustainable logging is a good tool for minimizing the risk of wildfire
    • Whether it is a reliable source of income or not, forestry needs to be managed and balanced with the needs of recreationalists
  • Agriculture: we need incentives to keep the next generation interested in farming
Photo of a coniferous forest in Alberta.

Forests in the South Saskatchewan region are very old. Sustainable logging replaces old trees with new seedlings – which can be good for forest health.

Biodiversity management framework:

  • The majority of the comments focused on more enforcement and effective management of land-use intensity
  • Plan for the Eastern Slopes needs to include more than just protection for grizzlies – protection area needs to be expanded
  • Some support for managed random camping and logging in Castle region – forest here is old and sustainable logging provides an opportunity for rejuvenation
  • Native grasslands need to be preserved at all costs
  • Plan has the “right attitude” about managing biodiversity in areas with oil and gas developments
  • Education at an early age about the environment is very important – need more emphasis on this

Public land: 

Photo of a canoe on a lake

Some participants would like to see more emphasis on non-motorized recreation, like paddling.

  • People don’t understand that public land doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want; public view of Alberta’s backcountry as ‘the wild west’ hasn’t changed, but the equipment has (e.g., we’ve gone from horses to quads)
  • Public lands are supposed to have designated trails  – there aren’t as many trails as there should be, but recreationalists (especially off-highway vehicle users) also don’t make enough of an effort to follow them
    • If trails are closed, make sure there is public consultation beforehand
    • Don’t restrict off-highway vehicles – but proper regulation, enforcement, and education is necessary
    • Insufficient staffing of officers/wardens in key areas makes enforcement difficult – need more people on the land
    • Problem off-highway vehicle users in this area come from elsewhere and then leave – they do not have to live with the consequences of damaging the land
    • Some support for user fees for motorized recreation as long as this money would go directly to maintenance and enforcement. Could also explore levying a small fee for out-of-jurisdiction users, as states like Utah do.
      • Suggestion: annual pass for motorized rec and random camping access. Could rely on user groups to enforce passes – similar approach has been adopted in BC.
      • Provide better infrastructure (e.g., outhouses, garbage bins) where appropriate
        • More established campgrounds needed
        • Plan for recreation management must address people who random camp for extended periods of time – these people are ‘squatting’ on public land

Stewardship and conservation of private land:

  • Definition of ‘riparian areas’ should be reviewed – should consider the Alberta Water Council definition
  • Grazing leaseholders should have more power to restrict recreation on their land
  • Plan needs more explanation of proposed tools like reduced taxes for private land stewardship
  • Incentivizing private landowner protection of native grasslands is a good idea, but could create resentment towards landowners
  • Should explore the possibility of non-voluntary conservation easements
  • The only offset should be exchange – should never fragment intact areas and corridors
  • Municipal Government Act should include development setbacks to reflect SSRP objectives and strategies

Air and water quality:

  • More exploration needed of how strategies will be implemented
  • Water quality
    • Irrigation districts are no longer concerned with drainage, just delivery – this places a burden on counties
    • Water quality objectives are not consistent – why are trigger limits different in different areas?
    • Development near headwaters should not be permitted
    • Flood management is about watershed and whole land management
    • Need more emphasis on wetland management and preservation
    • Waterton river has already been lowered too much – this has negatively affected the aquatic ecosystem and fish levels. This is a direct result of irrigating areas that shouldn’t be irrigated.
    • Air quality
      • Acceptable levels of emissions should be consistent throughout the province
      • Question: if I am downwind of polluted air, what is my recourse?

Strengthening communities:

  • Balance needed between regional vision and municipal direction
  • Who makes final decisions on SSRP and implementation – is this shared decision-making with municipalities?
  • SSRP should set regional and sub-regional priorities and directions. Areas are diverse – need to keep the plan general and make sure specifics are tailored for each area.
  • Positive feedback on taking First Nations consultations directly to reserves
    • Would like more emphasis on the balance between development and protection of the environment on Aboriginal lands

Our next stops: 

November 21 – Vulcan and Drumheller

November 26 – Pincher Creek and Medicine Hat

November 27 – Okotoks and Brooks

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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