What we heard: gathering comments in Cochrane

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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 ended with a bang in Cochrane last Thursday. More than 100 people – 108 to be precise – came out to share some diverse feedback on the plan and the SSRP process. There were too many stakeholders to name them all, but we were happy to see some new faces, including the Cochrane Environmental Action Committee, the Calgary Area Outdoor Council, Alberta Federation of Agriculture, Western Sky Land Trust, Sierra Club Chinook, Second Gear Club, Trophy Hunters Alberta, Rocky Mountain Dirt Riders, and Mountain Equipment Coop.

Here’s what we heard:

The SSRP Vision and Proposed Goals:

  • The vision is good and sets goal posts very well – “looks and sounds promising”
  • Concern about implementation – not enough specifics, particularly about how the plan will be funded
    • The how in the outcomes section is lacking –  right now, the plan not sustainable in the long-term
  • Need to ensure that the plan is backed up by legislation
  • Support outcomes but concerns on interpretation from different perspectives
  • Plan’s vision statement needs to better address public and private land
  • There should be more mention of cross-jurisdictional cooperation on lands (example: federal government and First Nations/Métis)
  • Limiting factor in the region is the availability of water – this needs more prominence in the vision statement
  • Strategic directions need to include: species at risk, headwater protection, connectivity, environmentally sensitive land, and habitat
  • Missing focus on agriculture, ranching, and management of grasslands in the area
  • Too much focus on ‘remediation’ and ‘sustainability’ – we don’t like where we are today, so we need measures to change it
  • Plan puts emphasis on conservation, but does not provide enough incentives for people to conserve
  • Plan needs a glossary of terms, including acronyms
  • Plan’s success depends on fostering partnerships – government must remain committed to keeping these lines of communication open
  • Need to understand how all these different plans complement each other and work together
  • “Good to know that Albertans have input into the process as opposed to having a closed-door system”
  • Concern about plan’s proposal to incorporate existing integrated resource plans. These are 30 years old and outdated; do not meet today’s demands on the landscape or address issues of increased population.
    • Headwaters, wetlands, groundwater, riparian areas, biodiversity, and critical habitat all need to be better maintained than is allowed for by these plans
    • The SSRP needs to match today’s land use intent of preservation, conservation, and longevity

Healthy economy:

  • All economic objectives are competing – how would we balance them?
  • Some participants think that “the plan reads that economy comes first”. Need stronger language to ensure we strike a good balance between conservation and development.
  • Section focuses too heavily on ‘traditional’ economic perspectives – doesn’t reflect ecosystem valuation. Need to move forward with this
  • Need to ensure that all forms of development are responsible and sustainable (contrasting view: “sustainable development is an oxymoron”)
  • Education is key in all draft plan areas – 80 per cent of people live in urban areas
  • Plan is missing a focus on sustainable/eco-tourism
  • Key issue is how to reduce fragmentation of land. Growth will happen in the region – if housing developments are more profitable than agriculture, farming will continue to disappear
  • Protecting water quality and quantity in areas of economic development is another key issue
    • Protecting the headwaters in the Eastern Slopes is important and can be accomplished by prohibiting forestry in the area. This will maximize storm water absorption
    • Forestry can be better managed to protect water quantity and quality – companies should do this and be paid for it
  • Plan should include land designated for agriculture (agricultural reserves)
  • Diversification needs to include varied crops and alternative methods for farming
  • Missing fishing and hunting – these activities operate/contribute to the economy and need to be supported
  • Need more focus on visual impact of industrial development and the impact it has on tourism
  • Government needs to establish clear guidelines about multi-use corridors
  • Energy:
    • Energy sector needs to be diversified
    • Fracking is not responsible energy development
    • AER is not for people or environment – “regulates people on behalf of energy companies”
  • Licensing should provide rights for specific activity – no general multi-use licensing should be allowed
  • Expansion of Don Getty wildland will negatively impact the quarries in the Municipal District of Bighorn
  • Shared stewardship is important – are all industries and sectors held to the same standards?
Photo of an elk near Lake Maligne in Jasper National Park

Some participants don’t think the plan’s biodiversity framework does enough to protect hooved animals.

Biodiversity management framework:

  • Framework includes high-level enabling policy – this is a good start, but it’s not enough
  • More work needed to develop ecosystem framework
  • There is no overall plan for cumulative effects for the entire region – we need to look at the whole picture and manage all activities
    • Also need more emphasis on how we will manage cumulative effects, and the usefulness of limiting development to do this
  • Lack of clarity around what will change with conservation area expansion – what are the impacts?
  • Need to ensure conservation areas are connected where possible – this enhances wildlife habitat connectivity
    • Right now, there are “extensive linear disturbances” in the Eastern Slopes – would like to see the plan eliminate these disturbances in areas with species at risk
  • Conservation areas might not be the best tools for biodiversity management – need to explore other options as well
  • Linear footprint management plans should be completed sooner
  • Province should not take credit for protection planning through National Parks
  • Biodiversity framework focuses too much on grizzly bears – need to focus on all threatened species, particularly ungulates (hooved animals) like bison, moose, and elk
    • Invertebrates also need to be protected by the framework
  • Increase in visibility of grizzlies, cougars, black bears not necessarily due to population growth – could be due to increased activity in their natural habitat
  • Feral horse population needs to be managed and controlled
  • Protecting grasslands should continue to be high priority – important for many things, including watersheds
    • Preservation of native grasslands in Cochrane area should be a priority
  • Need to pay more attention to the impact of our flood mitigation impacts on key wildlife habitat
  • Need to include Banff National Park in the plan
  • Can’t rely on development of more parks to “protect everything” – that is not land management. Example: expansion zones to provincial parks along the Elbow and West Bragg Creek do not add any benefit to the existing park system.

Public lands: 

Photo of deep ruts in trails caused by OHV use

Soil erosion like this can impact trail users and wildlife.

  • Regulations and goals should be the same between Green and White areas
  • “Multi-use” should be replaced with “compatible uses” – not all uses are compatible
  • All land management needs to be managed by one ministry – right now, management is separated and dysfunctional
  • Recreation:
    • Within conservation areas, there needs to be more education, collaboration (with all user groups, including industry) and enforcement to ensure people are respecting the land. In particular, enforcement is essential.
    • Access management plans don’t work for recreation if implemented like the Ghost Access Management Plan
      • Ghost, Waiparous, and Maclean recreation areas are currently “a mess” – too much high-impact recreation has led to severe erosion of trails
      • Developing recreational trail network in Ghost area should be a high priority
    • Insufficient resources to enforce on public lands- need user fees for back-country users; these could pay for education, maintenance, infrastructure, enforcement
    • More education needed about responsibilities of accessing public land
    • Research needed when deciding on what activities to allow. Right now, there is too much access allowed for off-highway vehicles – need to manage this, restrict to areas where this will cause the least damage to the land.
    • Not enough to just licence vehicles – riders should require licensing as well. Fees from licensing could pay for maintenance.
    • Off-highway vehicle use is over-emphasized; lack of sufficient trails for hiking, horseback riding, and other low-impact forms of recreation.
    • Recreation areas should be spread around the region to reduce impact to any one particular area
    • We need to manage behaviour before we manage the land
    • Not enough funding for parks and campgrounds
    • We should make more of an effort to expand recreation opportunities around areas with large populations
      • Look at adding more Public Land Recreation Areas (PLRAs) west of Calgary
    • Trail systems in the west Bragg and Elbow Valley area should be protected and managed in a large provincial park
    • Need more enforcement in recreation areas – officers should monitor in pairs due to safety issues

Stewardship and conservation of private/leased land:

  • SSRP needs to address liability issues for land use – landowners should not be liable for damage caused by users
  • Current compensation offset rules restrict ability to conserve because of cost of land
  • Concerns that offsets will cause a loss of private land to public ownership
  • Land Trust Grant Program – confusion about the goal of the program and why it is needed
  • Need more incentives for White Area private landowners to pursue conservation
  • Water protection doesn’t just take place on private land – we need management agreements with private landowners to protect municipal drinking water

Air and water quality:

  • Triggers and limits reflect current baseline values, not what the values should be. It’s not enough to maintain the present quality – need to make it better
  • Need to specify indicator levels in the plan
  • More concrete timelines and better resources needed for both types of monitoring
  • Too much language in this section around “encouraging” change – need to require it
  • Does government really have the resources for all the suggested monitoring?
  • How does Alberta’s new monitoring agency (AEMERA) fit in with the regional plan?
  • Water quality:
    • Headwaters need protection – tourism and other activities around these waters need to be balanced with water conservation and quality protection
    • Water supply is the most important issue in the region and should figure more prominently in the plan
    • Consult with the federal government to protect the Bow headwaters in Banff
    • Water quality monitoring should occur at both the headwaters and before the water body leaves the province
    • Idea: test water quality during oil and gas development and then 10 years after – long-term study will give us more info on environmental impacts
    • Better overall plan needed to address droughts and flooding – drought mitigation needs as much attention as flood mitigation
    • Flood mitigation should be increased and integrated with current watershed planning – need a policy change on the ‘1 in 100 year’ flood scenario
    • We do not need to create more flood mapping or more water storage studies – riverbeds don’t change much over time
    • We need standards to help the WPACs exist as part of the volunteer monitoring systems
    • Need to clearly identify, explain, and address the effects of fracking on groundwater
    • More focus needed on water re-use – more investigation needed on how to use these techniques in the oil sands
    • We need to regulate both point and non-point sources of pollution when monitoring water quality
    • Wetlands policy is currently inadequate and needs to be finalized. We need better protections for wetlands, marshes, fens – these are “nature’s flood control”
    • More monitoring stations needed on main rivers; more mapping of sub-surface water sources like aquifers
    • How do we protect groundwater?
    • Government needs to legislate minimum setbacks from riparian areas for development
    • More incentives needed to use low water-use irrigation technologies
    • Need more tools to manage sediment deposits in reservoirs
  • Air quality:
    • Airshed management is good at the regional level – but at the local level, airshed groups need predictable funding
    • Some participants thought that there was not enough focus on the relationship between air quality and urban growth
    • Others stressed that “transportation is the #1 cause of air pollution” – need to address this
    • Need for stronger CO2 controls or a carbon tax

Strengthening communities:

  • Plan must address the need for communities to work together, particularly on land management issues
  • More focus needed on “place-based” decision making to meet local needs
  • Too much responsibility placed on municipalities who do not necessarily have the resources to implement – is this just a way of lessening accountability for the province? How do municipalities fall into line with new policies without an increase in funding?
  • Municipalities need more tools for implementation & opportunities for engagement
  • Consider additional engagement opportunities for municipal representatives to participate in planning
  • First Nations should have solid representation throughout the entire process – regrets about not hearing from them in these sessions
    • Concern that Aboriginal values are disappearing
  • Enforce no development policy in flood zones and remove infrastructure from these areas
  • Population growth issues – how many people can a landscape hold without losing its ecological value?
  • Plan assumes population growth – but this might not necessarily happen; assuming it will does not benefit the individuals who are already in the region
  • Issues with rural/urban interface – urban Albertans come to use the land around rural areas, and they need to be educated on how to respect the land
  • Need for province-wide broadband internet access
  • The Municipal Government Act heavily stacks the deck in favour of developers. Appeal processes are available for developers, but no equivalent processes are available for municipalities and residents.

Intrigued? Our community sessions for SSRP have now wrapped up – but you can still provide feedback on the draft plan through an online workbook, by commenting on this blog, or by tweeting us at @AENV_SRD.

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