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.
The summer is flying by – it’s the end of June already, and that means it’s also the last week of our community sessions for Phase One of the North Saskatchewan regional plan. We kicked off this week with a great turnout in Calgary.
57 participants shared their compliments and concerns with us, including representatives from Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Altalink, Talisman Energy, Alberta Wilderness Association, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (y2y), Conoco Phillips Canada, Pembina Pipeline, Ram River Coal, Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Electric System Operator, Cenovus, Grand Cache Coal, the Alberta Energy Regulator, Great Prairie Energy Services, Alpine Club of Canada (Calgary chapter), Enmax, and Upstream Research.
Here’s what we heard.
VISION AND OUTCOMES
- Some participants think that the vision is too vague, does not address key issues and needs to include more calls to action; others think it’s too ambitious, “pedantic”, and needs to be shorter
- Some attendees think the vision is a good “motherhood” statement that captures the diversity of the region
- Some attendees wanted the vision to focus more on various things, including: health, recreation, cumulative effects, economic diversification, and outcomes for rural communities
- The draft outcomes are not detailed enough – in particular, need measurable outcomes
- Priorities are not ranked – we need clarity about which is most important
- Outcomes are not balanced – the plan talks about “growing” the economy but only “sustaining” the environment. Both should be given equal weight.
- Need more clarity on the focus of maintaining biodiversity – is this being done to support human populations, or ecosystems?
- Clear definition of shared stewardship is needed
- The plan needs a central data repository
- Both Aboriginal knowledge and history and Alberta’s history need to be reflected in the finished plan
- How will the government develop a finished plant that reflects the opinions of the majority of region’s residents?
- We need more information on how regional plan will align with the goals of municipalities
- Lots of interest from the public about the land-use planning process
- Support for the consultation process as a way to gather information about land use, provide input
- Concern for loss of agricultural land and small family farms – need to maintain both of these
- More protections needed for agriculture and small business – these can’t compete with larger industries
- Government is responsible for creating an environment where business can thrive
- The energy discussion in this section starts by listing opportunities; agriculture section starts with challenges. Was this intended?
- Need to focus on integration of different economic sectors & enabling shared use of land
- Coal, oil and gas, and mining all need clearer focus. Mining needs its own section.
- Plan should focus on keeping power generation in the province, rather than outsourcing
- Eco-system services should be addressed in the plan
- Some attendees thought this section showed an “agenda” on the part of the government
- Need to see tourism and conservation as complementary – tourism growth depends on conservation, which needs to go beyond current realities
- Recreation – specifically, off-highway vehicle use – is a significant factor in the region’s economy, and this needs to be addressed
HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
- Support for province’s cumulative effects management approach
- Concern and support for protecting Alberta’s biodiversity
- Regardless of how promising the section looks, some doubts that the province has the resources to implement these measures
- Section lacks plans and timelines for implementation
- Section needs to address greenhouse gas emissions and climate change
- Plan should ensure that potential conservation areas are connected, and use conservation directives to preserve wildlife corridors
- Plan will need to make hard decisions and trade-offs – we need to scientifically measure our different options and the effects they will have. Need to quantify values like biodiversity.
- Wetlands policy must align with draft plan
- Industry needs regulatory certainty in order to thrive – make sure rules are consistent
- Existing conservation and stewardship tools don’t complement economic use of the land. Government should provide more tools for private landowners to increase biodiversity.
- Role of Alberta’s regulatory and monitoring agency (AEMERA) is unclear
- Municipalities need more resources for environmental management
Thoughts about air and water:
- Some attendees are dissatisfied with the current regulatory regime; others support strategy for air quality and watershed management
- Is the government on track to meet Water for Life implementation goals?
- Headwaters are extremely important and need to be protected
- Protecting forests around headwaters is crucial for flood prevention and mitigation
- Air quality limits and triggers should be standardized and enforced
- More reference needed to Alberta’s aquifers
- Need to develop a new airshed in the white area
PEOPLE-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES, CULTURE AND RECREATION
- Plans need to emphasize efficient land use and responsible growth – municipalities can’t just continue to expand outward
- Full support for including Aboriginal peoples in the land-use planning process
- Province’s expectations for municipalities are not clear, nor is it clear how government and municipalities will collaborate on achieving goals
- All municipalities need to be treated equally
- Need more tools for managing conflict between land users
- This section calls for quality of life to be “enhanced” – what are the measurable to determine when this has been done?
- Quality of life is not just social – more overlap with environment section is needed
- A discussion of the region’s rural communities is missing from the plan
Thoughts about recreation:
- Population increase exacerbates the need for more recreation options
- Many different groups need access for recreation – need to treat all of these groups equally
- More and better enforcement is needed for damage caused by recreation on public land
- Alberta Tourism, Parks & Recreation should be enforcing off-highway vehicle use, not ESRD
- Need to better manage competing recreation uses – motorized vehicles versus hiking versus riding
- Regional trail system needs to accommodate other uses besides off-highway vehicles
- Idea: would like to see Nordegg develop tourism potential as a ‘gateway community’ for the Bighorn Backcountry
- More resources needed for the management of trails
- “Commercialization of wilderness” is not addressed in the plan – how can we lease so much of our land and sell our resources and still expect to maintain opportunities for recreation?