What we heard: #NSRP agriculture, economy & education thoughts from Leduc

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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 find the session information for your community here and see the summaries for all communities here.

Last week’s North Sask regional planning sessions wrapped up with some well-attended discussions in Leduc. 26 Albertans came out, including representatives of Ducks Unlimited, Aspen Land Group, Natural Resources Conservation Board, Town of Devon, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Conoco-Phillips, Alberta Wilderness Association, Crop Sector Working Group, City of Leduc, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, ARC Resources Ltd, Agri-Environmental Partnership of Alberta, Upstream Research, Northern Alberta Four Wheel Drive Association, River Valley Alliance, TransAlta, Epcor, and local farmers.

Here’s what we heard.

VISION AND OUTCOMES

  • Some questions raised about how the region’s boundaries were established.
  • Vision is the right length – has an appropriate level of detail for a long-term plan
  • Support expressed for regional planning and the proces
  • Priorities are interconnected – they are best visualized as a circle, not a list
  • There will be tradeoffs between economy, environment and social outcomes – we can’t have everything. How will the plan establish objectives and handle these tradeoffs?
  • Not all goals will be achieved right away – we must have clear timelines
  • This is mostly a profile of the status quo – only the section on tourism is really visionary. Rather than using words like “sustaining” and “maintaining”, we should be focusing on “enhancing” and “improving”
  • Will the plan give government more control over where industrial and residential developments happen?
  • Regional outcomes will not happen in isolation – they’ll impact one another. The provincial government needs to be responsible for managing this.
  • This will only be implemented through collaboration between different governments and municipalities – but there’s nothing in the plan to direct that collaboration
  • Landowners should be consulted about the strategic direction – can’t have a plan without them
  • Need to emphasize that healthy economy & healthy environment are interrelated
  • Questions about how organizations and communities can get more involved in the planning

Thoughts about outcomes:

  • Right now, economic growth overrides other interests of the plan – but it can’t grow forever. Need to focus on sustainability.
  • More detail on economic outcomes needed: diversification, job-building, co-dependence with environment
  • Nothing in the economy section about preserving prime agricultural land – we need regulations to ensure its protection
  • What measurements will we use to show that economic outcomes are being achieved?
  • Environmental outcomes are lacking: need to define “healthy functioning ecosystems”, more focus needed on cumulative effects management and shared stewardship
  • Need to clarify meaning of “built” environment – how is it possible to minimize this while supporting the growing population?
  • Environmental outcomes: we need to establish baseline values – only then can we have meaningful goals
  • Strategic direction for watershed management should focus on shared responsibility between watershed groups, municipalities, etc.

HEALTHY ECONOMY

  • Need to balance competing demands of different sectors – agriculture, oil and gas, development, recreation.
  • Discussion of different sectors is too siloed – need to look at how they fit together, particularly when we consider cumulative effects management
  • Some attendees think that other communities need to accept Edmonton as an economic hub
  • “Development rights need to be divorced from property rights”
  • Does the Regional Advisory Council have enough information to make economic recommendations?
  • Economic development requires regulatory certainty
  • We should be using some of our natural resource revenues to diversify the economy
  • Urban development should be recognized as a key driver of the economy
  • Infrastructure and transportation systems are crucial to development – this needs to be emphasized. BUT development should minimize impact on agricultural land, environment, etc.
  • Development decisions need to be made using “full-cost accounting” – the lifecycle cost of a project, not the initial cost of development
  • There’s no mention of diversifying the region’s economy outside of primary industries – should be more emphasis on new industries, value-added products, new technology, etc.
  • Development using a truly regional, long-term approach is key
  • Province needs to make a decision about what kind of energy it will produce and consume & ensure future energy security
  • Policy to develop thermal coal is not sustainable – we should shift to other types of energy development
  • Our natural resources are valuable – need to make sure we get the best value for them. This might mean investigating ‘value-add’ processes rather than shipping raw resources
  • Section on peat extraction needs to include potential impacts to watershed
  • Need to address the environmental effects of the gravel industry
  • Clarity needed on other uses for linear infrastructure after oil and gas projects are done
  • The plan does not mention aggregate mining on private lands
  • Tourism: opportunity to develop Nordegg area as a tourism “gateway” community
Preserving arable land continues to be a hot topic at NSRP sessions.

Preserving arable land continues to be a hot topic at NSRP sessions.

Thoughts about agriculture:

  • Opportunity to promote agri-tourism
  • Market for organic farming is growing – this requires larger amounts of land to produce equal amounts of food
  • Some commenters think that agricultural producers need to improve their social licence (for activities such as intensive livestock operations)
  • Government needs to do more to make sure people stay in agriculture and that farmland is preserved. Sense that current public perception is that farmland is only farmland until there’s a better use for it.
  • BC’s agricultural land reserves provide a ‘best practice’ template for reserving farmland – Alberta should adopt these
  • More labour needed for agriculture and forestry industries – how do we address this?

HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

  • Management frameworks – and how we measure their implementation – will be crucial to the success of the plan
  • Many environmental management frameworks, policies, etc. – we need a way to bring them all together. Does the plan provide this? We don’t want to reinvent the wheel.
  • How will we create a biodiversity management framework? What is the ultimate goal for biodiversity – to merely sustain it, or to increase it?
  • Biodiversity is mentioned but isn’t ever really explained
  • More specifics needed on how the plan will achieve environmental outcomes
  • Society (not just government) made past management decisions – society needs to own the consequences
  • Public funding is not enough to support ecosystems and environmental management – need to investigate other funding sources as well
  • Province needs an integrated approach to building and supporting ecosystem services
  • Principle of ‘no net loss’ is good and should be expanded to other values besides wetlands, like biodiversity, freshwater, etc.
  • Education campaign around ecosystems and environmental diversity is needed
  • Need to incorporate existing data in the plan (e.g. data gathered by Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute and North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance)
  • More resoureces needed to enable and reward voluntary stewardship efforts
  • Need to build climate change expectations into regional outcomes
  • Responsibilities for reclamation need to be clear and formalized
  • Opportunity for Alberta to improve its global reputation through good environmental management – tools exist but political will doesn’t
  • Rather than focusing on new land development, the plan needs to provide more tools for reclaiming and developing brownfields
  • Plan does not mention solid waste management/disposal
  • Wetlands are important resources for flood mitigation, protecting water quality and supply. We need more tools for ensuring no more loss and re-establishing destroyed wetlands and consistent standards for preservation across the province.
  • This plan is a good opportunity to figure out the real economic value of wetlands and the ecosystem services they provide, and protect them accordingly
  • Oil and gas industry is supporting development of management frameworks and many firms are doing a good job with respect to minimizing impact on air quality –t his should be recognized
  • Some developers and industries are innovators; others are early adopters of new technology; some are lagging behind. These cases need to be treated differently.
  • Some industries – forestry, agriculture, tourism – provide ecosystem services; these need to be recognized
  • Discussion about maintaining and conserving soil is missing

Thoughts about public land and conservation areas:

  • Protected areas needed for all of the region’s sub-regions – especially Foothills and Parkland
  • Wildland provincial parks are preferable to public land use zones because Alberta TPR has a better management strategy
  • North Saskatchewan River between Edmonton and Bighorn back country should be designated as a conservation area
  • Glad to see that Eastern Slopes management is being considered in the plan
  • When designating new conservation areas, we need to make sure there is connectivity with existing protected areas – this connectivity is key for protecting wildlife habitat
  • Conservation areas should be “conservation areas forever” – should not permit recreational use
Photo of an industrial site

Industry is not the only cause of air pollution – all development plays a role.

Thoughts about water and air:

  • All development – not just industry – impacts air and water quality; need recognition of this
  • A range of tools is needed to measurement and minimize pollutants and emissions from non-point sources
  • Where are the opportunities or challenges related to air quality management for the general public?
  • Air quality management needs to distinguish between odour (nuisance) and pollution (contamination)
  • In the future, we should consider having standards for residential and vehicle emissions – as the population grows, these will be big challenges
  • We need more info on water use and demand so that we can plan for the future
  • More information is needed on groundwater quality – effects of use, contamination – and how this is impacted by the movement of the water
  • Groundwater management framework should be created for the region as a whole
  • The Water for Life strategy is good but has not been fully implemented
  • More emphasis is needed on grey water use and re-use
  • The role of WPACs in the regional plans is not clear. We need to consider the recommendations these groups have already made and create dedicated implementation roles for them.
  • Government should support the Cows and Fish program to protect riparian areas

PEOPLE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES, CULTURE AND RECREATION

  • Education is important, but it’s part of a broad suite of tools – use the whole toolbox
  • “If we educate children, they will educate the adults”
  • Need higher-level planning for development in order to minimize urban sprawl and protect agricultural land. “Government needs to make the tough choices.” We need ‘smart growth’ – build on less agriculturally/environmentally valuable land, build up not out, minimize infrastructure costs, etc.
  • Edmonton is trying to “annex” parts of Leduc
  • Plan needs to give more teeth/tools to the municipalities so they can make decisions – government should provide overall guidance, leadership but not micromanage
  • Government is going too far to encourage collaboration – needs to take a stronger leadership approach
  • Municipal interactions tend to be competitive – fighting to get tax shares, etc. – good planning decisions need to manage this by encouraging redistribution. Plan’s outcomes won’t be possible if municipalities are competing.
  • Plan needs to ensure respect for traditional land use areas and other important Aboriginal sites
  • Current level of Aboriginal involvement in the plan is promising
  • Plan should limit future development on flood plains and flood fringes
  • Developers have too much say over municipal decisions – so development is not looked at in terms of long-term needs and goals. Municipalities need to be given more power, but also better tools to make ‘smart’ decisions.
  •  The plan is all about collective effort to achieve shared objectives – need to help municipalities cooperate

Thoughts about recreation:

  • More managed, sustainable access for motorized recreation needed BUT trails should also be accessible for non-motorized recreation
  • Enforcement on public lands is critical to minimize damage and loss – but we also to educate users about the impact they have on the landscape
  • We can partner with user groups to help with policing “bad apples” – in-group peer pressure works better than traditional law enforcement
  • Random camping has a significant impact – need to address this
  • Potential for developing recreation opportunities on previously disturbed land after reclamation
Photo of garbage in a clearing outside Grande Prairie

Random camping can leave serious messes behind – education and enforcement will both be part of the solution.

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