Land-use plan creates new park in Southern Alberta

The province has released its management plan for southern Alberta, but environmentalists say the land-use strategy comes up short.

CALGARY — The province has released its management plan for southern Alberta, but environmentalists say the land-use strategy comes up short.

The plan covers the region that stretches from the Rockies to the Saskatchewan boundary and from the U.S. border to just north of Calgary.

It includes eight new or expanded conservation areas.

They include the new Castle Wildland Provincial Park at almost 550 square kilometres and the 340-square-kilometre Pekisko Heritage Rangeland.

A dozen primitive areas for camping and recreational use are to be created.

Conservation groups say the plan doesn’t do enough to protect the environment, particularly the Castle wilderness in the southwest.

They note the plan only protects about half of the Castle area.

“There will be no change in clear-cut logging. All the logging that’s scheduled will be, as far as I can tell, permitted under this plan,” said Gord Petersen of the Castle-Crown Wilderness Coalition.

“There’s really nothing new here. It’s a new name for business as usual.”

The government says protection has been expanded to a wider area in the Castle with more checks and balances on industry.

The province says it is protecting critical watersheds and habitats and providing new recreational opportunities across southern Alberta.

“The new land-use plan will manage the growth pressures in this region so our children and grandchildren will benefit from a pristine environment and a growing economy,” Premier Dave Hancock said in a release.

The plan received feedback from more than 7,500 Albertans

“This plan . . . strikes the right balance of recreation and economic opportunity while protecting the environment and achieving conservation goals,” said Environment Minister Robin Campbell.

The Alberta Wilderness Association disagrees.

“The plan … does not provide the claimed balance between conservation and economic development when 80 per cent of this region’s species at risk are in the grasslands, where there is not a single designated conservation area,” said spokeswoman Brittany Verbeek. “Oil and gas development continues and native grassland conversion into agricultural lands is still possible with this plan.”

Verbeek said increased conservation areas in the mountains may help the recovery of certain species at risk such as grizzly bear and bull trout.

“However, the areas designated as parks remain patchy, omit critical valleys supporting unusual plant and animal diversity and do not provide the connectivity and landscape-level protection that many species need to survive,” she said in a release.

The plan also delays urgent action on off-road motorized vehicle access across most public lands, she added.

The strategy is to go into effect Sept. 1.

Alberta’s only other completed land-use plan has not been fully implemented, almost two years after it came into effect.

The proposed conservation areas proposed for the Lower Athabasca area, which covers the oilsands region, have not been created and management plans for oilsands tailings, land and water reclamation have not been fully implemented.

The plan has also run into legal heavy weather. All six First Nations in the area have requested it be reviewed by the courts.

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