WHEREAS provincial recovery and action plans for species at risk appear to be developed and fully implemented in isolation; independently from directly impacted stakeholders, communities and other levels of governments; and
WHEREAS the Government of Alberta formally established the Land-use Framework (LUF) in 2008; which provides the tools, mechanisms and formal process for the delineation of smart regional growth opportunities, landscape-level planning and land-use management to effectively manage competing and sustainable activities through the development of regional land-use plans; and
WHEREAS natural resource industries form the lifeblood of many rural communities throughout Alberta by providing vital jobs and enhancing local wealth creation, and any restriction on land access will negatively impact local economies; and
WHEREAS the objective of Alberta’s Plan for Parks (2009) is to improve the quality of human life; through new recreational opportunities and ease of local access to the Canadian wilderness; and
WHEREAS one objective of new parks or conservation areas is to enable protection for rare or vulnerable wildlife species; and
WHEREAS the local communities of rural Alberta are willing to participate in measures to enhance the natural environment, in conjunction with ensuring the existing and future economies of rural regions continue to prosper today and for future generations to come; and
WHEREAS the Alberta Land Stewardship Act establishes the legal basis for regional land use planning in Alberta, requiring local government bodies to review their regulatory instruments to ensure compliance with the regional plan developed under the LUF; and
WHEREAS regional land-use plans developed under the LUF would serve as an ideal mechanism to inform planning for conservation and protected areas as regional plan development should take into consideration both environmental and economic priorities within a region;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties requests that no additional conservation or protected areas be established, proposed or expanded in Alberta prior to the implementation of the remaining regional land-use plans
The federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) is the legislation used for species protection in Canada. Implementation of measures to protect species that are identified under SARA tends to fall to the provinces, based on the constitutional division of authority and responsibility.
The SARA legislation is premised around habitat protection; healthy habitat equals healthy species that is dependent on said habitat. Stringent protection of land with little regard for the socio-economic consequences is tolerable on a small scale. The challenge is that the same habitat protection requirements prevail even for large ungulates and animals that are migratory in nature. As a result, habitat protection to allow for the revival of some species no longer impacts a small localized area, but vast areas which are home to high numbers of primary resource industries.
The Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) is the legislation with the broadest authority to effect landscape level planning within the province. The Land Use Secretariat was also created under this act, along with the entire premise of the regional planning framework in Alberta.
It is through the tools available under this act that the province will likely enact enforceable caribou range plans that stand up to federal and legal scrutiny in Alberta. However, the province neglected to utilize any of the rest of the provisions of ALSA when initially identifying areas for potential permanent habitat protection.
The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) was the second regional plan developed under the Alberta Land-Use Framework. In reporting on the regional outcomes of the SSRP, the Government of Alberta recognizes the need to balance a healthy economy and habitat protection. This approach should be considered in the development of other regional plan development, with the understanding that different regions of the province have different industries that must be considered as economic drivers.
The SARA legislation is ‘jealously biased’ in the measures that need to be taken to recover said species. ALSA is the tool in Alberta that has the legislative merit to enable the recovery. It is imperative that the remaining tools in ALSA be utilized by the province in order to consider the whole picture, specifically including the socio-economic impacts on communities.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Environment and Parks
Regional planning is the key mechanism for protected area establishment. It is an integrated planning approach that looks at the balance across economic, environmental and social considerations, and provides for consultation and engagement with Indigenous peoples, stakeholders and the public.
Through regional planning, the provincial government will ensure there is consideration for species at risk recovery. Caribou range plans will be adapted over time to ensure they are benefiting caribou, while contributing to regional objectives in an integrated way with regional plans.
Federal recovery strategies for woodland caribou directed provinces to complete range plans by the fall of 2017. If Alberta does not create caribou range plans that satisfy federal criteria, the federal government can restrict or prohibit new and ongoing operations of Alberta industries through a Species at Risk protection order. If this happens, the process for creating and implementing these plans will be taken out of the hands of Albertans. Alberta released its Draft Provincial Woodland Caribou Range Plan on December 19, 2017. Engagement with stakeholders on the draft range plan will continue in 2018.
Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) staff will continue to discuss caribou range planning, including timelines, with Environment and Climate Change Canada in the development of a made-in-Alberta solution. Some conservation areas that contribute to management of caribou habitat are being considered under the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan: Dillon River, Richardson, and Birch Mountain Wildland Provincial Parks and the Birch River Conservation Area.
There is flexibility in the regional planning process, and it can be used to advance priorities for identification of conservation areas in other regions. The analysis and scientific work used for assessing potential conservation areas can be used, and where conservation areas are identified, this can be aligned with other content in regional plans when they are completed. AEP staff will continue to evaluate opportunities to use regional planning processes as we believe that they are an effective way to set objectives and create a plan to achieve them.
The regional planning process under the Land-use Framework has been slowed considerably and Alberta remains without regional plans in areas of significant future development. The lack of regional plans creates challenges when the Government of Alberta has moved forward with the protection or conservation of land without the context of the regional plans.
As noted in the response from the Government of Alberta, the Government of Canada has mandated the creation of caribou range plans – a process which is complicated by the lack of a regional plan in north western Alberta. This process has involved numerous consultations and recently, in March 2018, the Government of Alberta suspended the creation of caribou protection plans and requested additional assistance from the Government of Canada to identify the socio-economic impacts of such plans.
This resolution speaks directly to the concerns of rural municipalities and the creation of conservation areas to protect caribou. Since the province has suspended this process in favour of a greater understanding of the impacts that future restrictions on development may have on local communities, this resolution is assigned a status Accepted in Principle. However, RMA is monitoring the proposed designation of several provincial parks and wildland parks in the Bighorn region, and how they may impact the expansion of protected areas.
The Government of Alberta has indicated that they will not be proceeding with the previous government’s proposed plan for protected areas in Bighorn Country. The Minister of Environment and Parks has stated residents, municipal officials and First Nations groups have raised concerns about how the proposal might affect oil and gas exploration and off-road vehicle use, and there were a lot of economic and environmental concerns that were not answered through the consultation process. The Government of Alberta has shifted future land use planning decisions to the North Saskatchewan regional planning process under the Land-use Framework. RMA appreciates that under the North Saskatchewan regional planning process, the government will consult with local residents, municipalities Indigenous groups and other stakeholders to determine how best to manage the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan region. The consultation process has not yet commenced, and the resolution will be revisited based on how the proposal proceeds.