One of the oft-heard criticisms from detractors of the proposed Bighorn Country is that it is rushed and cannot happen outside the process of the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan (NSRP).
Alberta’s Land Use Framework was created in 2008 to provide “a blueprint for land-use management and decision-making to address Alberta's growth pressures.” While such landscape-level planning is greatly needed across Alberta, it seems that the only land-use that is accused of moving forward outside the process, with calls for needing ever more time and consultation, is conservation of our lands and waters.
There is long-standing Alberta legislation and regulation that legally allows for the creation of protected areas and Public Land Use Zones, notwithstanding an overarching Regional Plan - namely Alberta’s Provincial Parks Act (2000) and the Public Lands Administration Regulation (2011).
In the North Saskatchewan Planning Region, while critics call for a slowdown of conservation, many new industrial dispositions have been approved, which would also be subject to the outcomes of a regional plan. For example, since
2015 approximately when the NSRP process was initiated, 2,127 wellsites, 2,830km of pipelines, 48 coal agreements (4,586ha), 19,767 ha of forestry cutblocks (in 2015 and 2016 alone), 132 mineral agreements (493,205ha) and
2,524 petroleum and natural gas leases (825,016 ha) have all been approved in the NSRP region. Since there is no regulation on creation of new motorized trails on public lands without a PLUZ designation, new unregulated trails could have been created at any time without any overall design or assessment of their impacts. Many of these land-uses have long-lasting or irreversible impacts on the environment, recreation users and communities, yet we do not hear the same cries that we should sit back and wait before approving these land dispositions.
In fact, it would be absurd to suggest that we stop all industrial activities and approvals until a complete plan is presented - these are important activities for our Alberta economy and communities. However, it is equally absurd to suggest that conservation of our drinking water, fish and wildlife resources, and a diversified recreation economy should also, once again, be put on hold.
Proposals and conversations about protection of Bighorn Country date back to the early 1900s including a 1986 proposal with a very similar protected area boundary. While the most recent Bighorn Country proposal will not remove any existing industry, it will help protect the places that are still wild and manage our busy public lands into the future. Conservation has been waiting for decades, while opportunities for protection of untouched wild areas and recreation management on ecologically important public lands continue to decline as land disturbances continue. Conservation of Bighorn Country can’t wait any longer.
CPAWS Southern Alberta Chapter
EDITOR'S NOTE: The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of rdnewsNOW or the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group. Column suggestions and letters to the editor can be sent to [email protected]
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