Preserving the biodiversity of Alberta’s wetlands. Supporting small family farms. Harnessing the full potential of regional tourism in partnership with aboriginal communities. Revisiting forestry and recreational regulations.
These are some of the things Central Albertans said they wanted to see in the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan, a land management strategy for the area stretching over 85,000 square km from Banff National Park to Provost.
Over 20 people participated in a full-day workshop about the plan in Red Deer on Wednesday and nearly a dozen other members of the public showed up in the evening to peruse the information boards and speak with government officials.
“Alberta is developing at such a rapid rate, just gobbling up valuable farmland and we need to find a way to stop doing that,” said attendee Barb Shepherd, a councillor with Lacombe County. “The big challenge will be implementing the plan when it’s done. It’s just starting.”
The North Saskatchewan is the third of seven plans laid out by the provincial government as part of its land-use framework system. The Lower Athabasca land-use plan is being implemented and the South Saskatchewan plan is nearing finalization. Another one tracing the boundaries of the Red Deer River watershed is expected to begin its process in 2016.
The North Saskatchewan plan is in its final phase of stage one, gathering public input to inform the development of a plan. Red Deer was one of 21 communities visited for consultation. The tour ended on Thursday with a final open house and workshop in Edmonton.
The next step involves creating a Regional Advisory Council, made up of non-governmental representatives, which will make its own recommendations. These will also be available to the public for input, meaning March/April will most likely be the earliest a draft will be ready, said Neal Watson, spokesperson for Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
The plans are part of a need to respond to rapid and sustained growth across the province, and the need to cumulatively manage that impact, said Watson. They strive to protect the environment at a regional level while maintaining natural resource development and fostering economic growth.
Some outlined priorities of the North Saskatchewan plan are maintaining growth opportunity for key economic sectors, collaborative air quality management, advancing conservation and the integrated management of crown land, and considering the rights of aboriginal people and including them in land-use planning.
“We’re asking people about how we’ve presented our 50-year vision for the plan, what we got right, what is missing, what would you like to see,” said Watson. “So it’s important for all Albertans.”
Bertha Ford of Red Deer took in the open house and said she hopes the government listens to all the feedback. Ford is the volunteer steward for the Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve and a hiker with the Red Deer Ramblers.
“I think there has to be more regulation … I know the OHV (off-highway vehicle) people need their trails but some of them are out of control,” Ford said. “They go to places in the West Country that really shouldn’t be disturbed.”
Terry Hager, a Lacombe County councillor, said he supports the plan’s vision.
“It has a lot of potential. I question whether or not there is a commitment to follow through with a lot of the ideas they’re looking at. Is there political will to manage and control development, to actually enforce the policies?” he asked.
Albertans have until the end of July to contribute their ideas about the plan. Comments can be submitted online at www.landuse.alberta.ca.