County defines its natural capital

New boundaries have been drawn to define areas that Red Deer County deems to be worth special protection.

Red Deer County conservation coordinator Ken Lewis

Red Deer County conservation coordinator Ken Lewis

New boundaries have been drawn to define areas that Red Deer County deems to be worth special protection.

On Tuesday, staff introduced to the public a policy and maps describing the “natural capital” to be included in 2012 when the county re-writes its municipal development plan.

While yet to be received in council, the policy identifies 27 sites considered to be of environmental significance through natural features essential to biodiversity, soil, water or natural processes.

Among them is the riparian area along the Red Deer River from Gleniffer Lake to the edge of the City of Red Deer. It is considered significant at a regional level for the diversity of fish, fauna and wildlife it supports, the wildlife corridors it provides and an inventory of uncommon plants including fringed gentian and white bog orchid.

The newly drawn boundaries are roughly similar to the county’s original environmentally significant areas map, created in 1990.

Some new features have been brought in, including sections of the Medicine River that had not been included before and an expansion of the boundary around Pine Lake.

Other areas were removed, largely because they have been plowed under, said project manager Kim MacFarlane, environmental specialist with Golder Associates Ltd.

MacFarlane said she does not have precise figures on how much more or less land is included in the updated inventory.

She and her company were hired in June of 2009, when Red Deer County embarked on the project, said Peter Scholz, long-range planner for the county.

Conventional agriculture will be the only use permitted on the areas included in the inventory, with the landowner being considered the primary steward of the land, said Scholz.

An earlier draft was released for public comment earlier this year, with those comments included in creating the policy, which will be submitted to council in January.

Environmentalist Dale Christian, partner in a family ranch located on the Medicine River east of Spruce View, said she is concerned that while the policy identifies key areas, it does not have any teeth.

While that is true for the moment, the policy is slated to become law later next year, once it has been wrapped into the 2012 revision of the county’s Municipal Development Plan, said Mayor Jim Wood.

At that point in time, the Natural Capital section will become binding on all development applications that fall within the county’s jurisdiction, he said.

Environmental technician Naomi Crowe, who lives in the Poplar Ridge area immediately west of Red Deer, said she had not had a close enough look at the policy to comment in detail, but liked what she had seen of it so far.

Copies of the policy and details of the inventory it covers are available online in the planning and development services section at rdcounty.ca

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com