What we heard: a rockin’ #NSRP discussion in Rocky Mountain House

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Over the next month, we’ll be in 21 communities across Alberta talking about the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan. The purpose of this first round of consultations is to hear from people who live and work in the region about their vision for the area and their thoughts on the draft Terms of Reference for the plan. You can see the summaries for all communities here.

We were in Rocky Mountain House on Monday to talk #NSRP. 44 Albertans – representing various sectors, industries, environmental interests, and communities – made it out to share their thoughts on the region and their hopes for the future. Here’s what we heard:

VISION AND OUTCOMES

  • Some thought vision was too broad (“don’t try to be everything to everyone”) while others thought that broad statements are good at this point in the planning process
  • Need to account for diversity in the region. Some think that the region is too big to accommodate a single vision and should be three regions.
  • Vision must emphasize balance and recognize the need to compromise
  • Outcomes need to be specific– in particular, more economic detail is needed
  • Outcomes need to be simplified and accompanied by incentives to change behavior
  • Too much focus on the present and not enough focus on what we want in the future
  • Plan needs to be accompanied by more certainty – “put lines on a map” showing what people can do where
  • Integrated management and shared usage are key principles. Definition needed for “integrated management”.
  • We must plan for continuous improvement and adaptive management
  • Plan must address the linear footprint of development
  • Should look for ways to promote land-use planning more widely in the region
Photo of the stakeholder NSRP workshop in Rocky Mountain House

The discussion in Rocky Mountain House generated many different viewpoints.

HEALTHY ECONOMY

  • Plan is currently driven by outdated policies (some from the 1970s)
  • The economies of the heartland and capital regions are different from the rest of the region and will potentially dominate things – how will this be addressed in the plan?
  • Balance involves trade-offs – less profitable industries need to be lower priorities
  • The environmental costs of economic choices are missing from the equation
  • Consistent environmental standards and rules are needed across industries
  • Water management is key to developing industry
  • Some attendees think we should focus more on domestic markets and less on exports; others argue for planning infrastructure for global markets & marketing development opportunities internationally
  • Need to plan infrastructure for tomorrow’s technology, not today’s
  • Need for industries to share infrastructure – roads, etc. Roads should be multi-use in rural areas.
  • Recognition that different infrastructure is needed for renewable versus non-renewable industries
  • Where possible, consider multiple uses for the same land (e.g. tourism and ranching can co-exist). Consider long-term multiple-use corridors, aligned with other regions.
  • Too much focus on natural resource development. Need to diversify economy, emphasize human capital and new industries – escape boom and bust cycle
  • Align federal and provincial economic policies

Thoughts about agriculture:

  • Agriculture needs more emphasis in the plan
  • Need to ensure continued access to land and water to sustain agriculture, livestock
  • No conversion of agricultural land to other uses. Municipal planning needed to protect prime farmland.
  • Emphasize local market for agricultural products
  • Grazing lease holders benefit from royalties that should be shared with all Albertans – plan should address this

Thoughts about tourism:

  • Tourism is growing (along with development) and needs infrastructure support

    Photo of an off-highway vehicle on an eroded trail.

    Off-highway vehicle use was a hot topic.

  • Plan does not have enough detail on the type and scope of tourism proposed. We need  a regional assessment of tourism values and opportunities
  • Should allow regulated random camping on private land & increase access to Crown land for tourism
  • Tourism and recreation, especially camping, put pressure on green spaces
  • Development in wilderness areas needs to be appropriate
  • Area’s natural attractions need to be preserved
  • Need more trails, particularly in the Bighorn Backcountry. Separate trails needed for hikers, horses, off-highway vehicles.
  • Consider trail development a new industry. Groups should be funded to create new trails.
  • User fees could help maintain backcountry access and infrastructure
  • Need to find balance between the tourism and energy industries

Thoughts about energy: 

  • More emphasis needed on unconventional oil opportunities
  • Aggregate mining needs to be included in plan
  • Need clarification on plans for coal. Metallurgical development is not mentioned.
  • More certainty about mining leases & access to other nearby deposits needed
  • Question: how will coal development in Nordegg affect the rest of the region?

Other sectors:

  • More monitoring and regulation needed for mining gravel from riverbeds
  • We should be developing our hydroelectric potential to help support industrial expansion
  • Question: how are forest tenures incorporated into the plan?
  • Suggestion: forestry should be transitioned to eco-based systems and objectives
  • Concern about timber harvesting near highways – threatens watersheds
  • We should emphasize the value-added potential for sectors like forestry, oil and gas, agriculture, biofuel

HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

  • Management frameworks need to be completed by the time the plan is done
  • Too many management plans – provincial, regional, resource – which has priority? Need clarity and integration of all these policies.
  • Need to make sure all government priorities – water conservation, caribou range planning, etc. – are aligned with the final plan
  • Different biodiversity benchmarks needed for unique areas of the region.
  • How will ‘healthy ecosystems’ be regulated, and by whom?
  • Clarity needed on how economy/environment overlaps will be addressed. For example, how will air and water impacts from industry be addressed – in which section of the plan?
  • High priority should be placed on reclamation

Thoughts about wildfire and biodiversity:

  • Wildlife is number two reason people visit this area, and species are declining
  • Need science-based species protection. Frameworks should consider what species need to survive and all regulations – including hunting regulations – should be on the table.
  • Amphibians are indicators of healthy environments; no mention of them in draft
  • Plan focuses more on air quality than biodiversity compared to other plans – is this a change in priority? Maintaining biodiversity is an important goal.

Whitetail_deer_in_winter_(4406924650)

Thoughts about land:

  • Land use policies should be streamlined to eliminate overlaps.
  • We need clear designations for parks and protected areas, and these need to be combined if possible.
  • Baseline studies and criteria needed to identify potential new conservation areas. Will these new areas be established at the expense of industry?
  • Land management to maintain biodiversity doesn’t necessarily require official conservation status
  • Opinion: no new Forest Land Use Zones should be established until we’ve proven the usefulness of the existing ones
  • Bighorn Backcountry needs funding & enforcement like K-country in order to protect it from mismanagement. Education and a proper trail system will also help with this.
  • Lots of concern about the environmental impact of unmanaged off-highway vehicle use, as well as other unregulated recreation.
  • More enforcement in existing conservation areas, parks & protected areas is needed.
  • Viewpoint: “people want unmanaged access” and more enforcement will only push them to go elsewhere.
  • Concerns about too-stringent park rules aimed at off-highway vehicles restricting other uses
  • Need more tools to encourage and reward stewardship on private land. Distinction needed between public and private land stewardship.
  • Private landowners who allow grazing on their land need recognition

Thoughts about water and air:

  • Proposed watershed management means that Capital Region’s needs limit development in the rest of the region.
  • Special protection needed for headwaters and water downstream from dams. Better conservation needed for watersheds.
  • Inter-basin water transfers are key to development and should be included in plan
  • Consistent water standards needed across the region – right now, white and green areas are treated differently
  • Wetland preservation is important
  • Air quality variances need to reflect differences across the region
  • Putting a price on emissions gives industry an incentive to minimize them
  • Towns and cities need help dealing with rain runoff – use of more porous surfaces will help with flood mitigation

PEOPLE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES, CULTURE AND RECREATION

  • Need regulations to prevent urban sprawl
  • What is our goal – enhancing quality of life for local, or for visitors?
  • Aboriginal land-use perspectives need to be respected
  • There should be one inclusive consultation process for all – rather than a separate Aboriginal consultation
  • Non-Edmonton urban centres need more recognition in the plan. Each area has different priorities and needs change on a different scale, and that should be reflected.
  • Encourage more local supply of goods and services, to stimulate local economies
  • Ensuring service provision – health care, for example – is a problem in rural areas
  • More education needed on regulations & impacts in order to get people to respect the land. Emphasis on responsible recreation.
  • People need recreation opportunities closer to where they live
  • Population sizes are growing – the plan needs to reflect this and plan for it
  • Need to find ways for multiple forms of recreation to exist on the land
  • There is too much conflict between landowners and motorized recreation users, motorized versus non-motorized recreation users, and ‘good’ users versus ‘bad’ – we need to work together
  • Access to recreation needs to remain a priority

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