What we heard: Rural revitalization, trail management and other #NSRP hot topics in Caroline

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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.

Our first-phase North Saskatchewan Regional Planning sessions continued yesterday with a lively session in the town of Caroline. 35 attendees came out to share their thoughts, including representatives from Clearwater County and Burnstick Lake summer village, the Olds Snowmobile Club, Sundre Forest Products, the Alberta Wilderness Association, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Ram Coal, Wet Fraser Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL), the Rocky Motorcycle Club, Bighorn Heritage ATV Society, Shell, Sundre Petroleum Operators Group, and local landowners and residents.

Here’s what we heard: 

VISION AND OUTCOMES

  • Positive support for the regional planning process and the concept of cumulative effects management
  • Some attendees think that the vision makes an honest attempt to reflect the entire region at a high level; others feel it is reactionary rather than visionary
  • Every region is unique and the development of the plan must reflect that
  • Region is diverse – may need to adjust outcomes to reflect desires of different areas
  • Too much focus on Edmonton in the plan – specific references need to be removed
  • Outcomes align with the goals of the area, but do they align with the goals for the region?
  • Will this plan have teeth for implementation because it is enabled by legislation?
  • Economic growth seems to trump all other outcomes in the vision. We need to maintain a strong economy – but let’s have smart growth.
  • More emphasis needed on the unique economy of the region
  • Economic outcomes also have to support the environment
  • Hunting, fishing, mining are missing from the vision statement
  • Some attendees were happy with the vision’s focus on environmental outcomes – others feel that a more concrete budget is needed to advance the idea of shared stewardship
  • Need to explore the “carrying capacity” of the region – how much development can it support?

HEALTHY ECONOMY

  • Need to re-evaluate infrastructure needs for moving goods, to ensure both safety and cost-effectiveness
  • Thoughts on mining – some attendees thought it wasn’t prominent enough in the plan; others think the industry needs to work on improving its social licence
  • Need longer-term planning requirements for industry – from conception to reclamation. Liability for improper reclamation needs to be increased & clear standards are needed.
  • Clearer standards are also needed for industry monitoring and enforcement
  • Good farmland should be used for farming, not urban sprawl
  • Plan focuses too much on energy/oil and gas development
  • Should encourage initiatives to help agriculture become more localized
Photo of a farmer's field

Several attendees emphasized that prime agricultural land should be used for farming, not residential development.

Thoughts about tourism:

  • The province isn’t serious about developing tourism nodes along David Thompson highway – more supporting infrastructure is needed here
  • Recreation needs a more prominent place in the plan
  • A tourism plan is needed to address random camping access
  • Concern about regulatory hurdles to tourism development

HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

  • Support for Alberta’s Integrated Resource Management System (IRMS) and for the plan’s environmental outcomes – hope government follows through on the plan
  • Plan’s references to climate change should be made more explicit
  • Need to address flood and drought preparations as they relate to climate change
  • More resources needed to develop and implement management ideas
  • Need to strengthen industry regulations
  • Education needed to help inform the public about the importance of watersheds and ecosystems
  • Enforcement will be a crucial component for success with these outcomes – where’s the budget? There’s a lot of emphasis on shared stewardship and collaboration, but without enforcement and firm government policy this will not be effective.
  • The development of air, water and biodiversity Environmental Management Frameworks should be a priority
  • Forest management needs more emphasis on biodiversity and should be protected from unsustainable uses (oil and gas development given as an example)
  • Currently no clear, science-based reference point to guide our expectations about wildlife and ecosystem management
  • Positive feedback about the primacy of the Alberta Land Stewardship Act over other legislation
Environmental education is important - but so is enforcement.

Environmental education is important – but so is enforcement.

Thoughts about water and air:

  • Questions about the roles of airshed and watershed groups
  • WPACs require adequate funding to undertake monitoring, conservation programs
  • Plan needs to explicitly address Red Deer River headwaters
  • Concern about water quality close to the eastern/prairie portion of the region
  • Lack of clear info about water management frameworks – more information is needed
  • There is currently no provincial body that manages lake health – that needs to change
  • Provincial oversight is required in riparian areas
  • Concern about how much water is used by the oil and gas sector. Need for more innovation and better technology around industry use of water & more public information around this topic.
  • Water licensing system should be re-evaluated
  • Need to strengthen industry regulations around air and water pollution

PEOPLE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES, CULTURE AND RECREATION

  • Are various religious communities (like the Hutterites) considered in the dialogue?
  • Aboriginal and First Nations groups should be part of the process instead of having a separate process
  • “Community development” needs a better definition – need to understand both what it means to different people and how it will be implemented in the plan
  • How can we revitalize rural communities? Economy is part of this – employment opportunities needed to keep young people from moving to the cities. Migration creates further economic problems (particularly with agriculture).
  • How will the plan capture the “flavours” of the region’s various communities?

Thoughts about recreation:

  • Several landowners and recreation groups provided info about their work to build and maintain trials and requested more resources and support from the government.
  • Province needs to provide more financial support for trail systems
  • More recreation opportunities needed close to city
  • Upper Red Deer River is under-represented – needs more campgrounds and provincial parks
  • Concern about the impact of off-highway vehicles, particularly about damage caused on and off trails by jeeps and mud boggers
  • More emphasis and education needed on user responsibility, liability, and the consequences of abusing the land
  • Access management is key
  • More enforcement needed to enforce appropriate use of off-highway vehicles Suggestion: fund committees that work on the enforcement issue
Photo of a jeep in mud.

The damage caused by “mud bogging” was a hot topic during the recreation discussion. Photo credit.

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