Details needed | Residents question how oil and gas activity, cattle grazing, recreation and conservation will meld
One impression keeps arising in discussions about the draft South Saskatchewan Regional Plan that is now the focus of public hearings in southern Alberta.
It has holes.
“Most of the information is quite vague,” said Joe Lumley, vice-president of the Crowsnest Pass all-terrain vehicle group called Quad Squad.
“Its pretty open-ended and loosey goosey,” said Western Stock Growers Association president Aaron Brower.
“The plan hasn’t addressed appropriate land use,” said Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
The plan’s goal is to provide a long-term vision for the region to manage effects on the landscape. The watershed is home to 45 percent of Alberta’s population and much of its livestock. It includes the eastern slopes of the Rockies, popular recreation areas, extensive grazing and cropland and forestry, oil and mining activity.
The region is the second of seven regional plans the province intends to develop under its land use framework.
Brower said he has concerns about including additional provincial parks and conservation areas.
The draft plan identifies 32 new and expanded recreation and conservation areas.
“When you do conservation and such, eventually down the line … you can’t do conservation and have people on the landscape at the same time, the way most of the conservation groups see conservation.
“I don’t think it will be truly positive, but I’d like to be wrong.”
Brower said some graziers in the organization worry about recreational activity in sensitive grazing lands along the mountains and Porcupine Hills.
Oil and gas activity and the access it provides to grazing land is also a concern in his region in Alberta’s deep southeast.
On the positive side, he said references to compensation for ecosystem services could be a boon for ranchers. Paid hunting or compensation for hosting large elk herds are two examples he thinks should be considered.
Workshops to get public input on the draft began Nov. 5 and will conclude this week. People can also provide input online, with a Jan. 15 deadline.
The Nov. 14 Lethbridge meeting drew a large contingent of recreational users in the watershed who frequent backwoods trails in the forest reserve, mountains and foothills.
Some worry the plan will curtail their activities.
“Once any area becomes a park, it’s a different set of rules and you don’t really get the same freedom as you do with just forestry,” said Lumley.
“So that’s going to affect the cattle business, it’s going to affect the ATV business, it’s going to affect hunting.”
He said he understands concerns about irresponsible recreational users who tear up sensitive areas, drive into rivers and creeks and scare wildlife. Lumley said he would like more patrols of camping and ATV areas by personnel with authority to hand out stiff fines or confiscate equipment of those who go off trails and damage land.
Morrison said her group wants to see more conservation land, but she disagreed with comments that suggested conservation groups want people banned from public land.
“We definitely don’t take the stance that recreation should not be happening,” she said.
“We think that people should be out enjoying our lands. It just has to be done in a responsible manner.”
She also pointed out areas the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society would like to see protected, including the entire Castle area in the deep southwest, the Ghost River region, parts of the Porcupine Hills and areas along the Livingstone Range.
- water security
- expanding communities
- sensitive habitats and species at risk
- infrastructure needs
- maintaining agricultural land base
- tourism growth
- managing recreation
- resource development
- sustainable forests