Beverly Yee has no illusions about the complexity of developing the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan.
“This is probably going to be the toughest plan of the seven plans we do,” said the assistant deputy minister for Alberta Environment.
The province has completed one regional plan so far, for the lower Athabasca region, which includes Fort McMurray and extensive oilsands development.
Still, the draft plan for the southern region is expected to be more difficult, with 46 percent of the provincial population, the headwaters for major river systems and competing demands from agriculture, forestry, mining and recreation.
The region also hosts most of the province’s identified species at risk and a sizable portion of its remaining native grassland.
Yee told the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association conference Nov. 27 that a series of public input sessions, now concluded, have illustrated the need to set priorities and establish trade-offs.
Among the proposals in the draft plan are limits for air and surface water quality, flood hazard mapping, a water storage study and management plans for biodiversity and groundwater.
The Castle area in the southwest, which was the site of protests last year over provincially approved clear cut logging, would see a different type of timber management geared toward protection of the headwaters, said Yee.
Land along the eastern slopes and forest reserve is criss-crossed with roads, cut lines, power lines and trails, and Yee said the goal is to manage that “linear footprint” and set objectives for recreation and access, including effective management of designated trails for all-terrain vehicles and other recreational use.
On private land, she said the goal is to maintain agriculture and explore options for compensating landowners who provide ecological goods and services.
Public lands goals include supporting grazing, protecting biodiversity and addressing species at risk issues.
Yee spoke of the need to manage sales and conversion of intact grassland.
“We’re not going to sell public lands unless there’s significant potential for irrigation,” she said.
“That would be the first trigger for us to take a look at it, to see … should we be converting it? Should we be selling it? Or is it better to maintain the native grassland?”
Yee said the native grassland issue is expected to attract input, which is welcome through the draft plan website at www.landuse.alberta.ca/RegionalPlans.
A workbook is available and the public can comment on as little or as much of the draft plan as they wish.
Comments on the draft are being accepted until Jan. 15.
Input will then be used to revise the plan, with a final version expected April 1.