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Public input gathered on land use issues

Seven strategies for determining land use in Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Region were outlined at last Monday’s public input session in Elk Point, as the provincial government works toward a long-term vision and sustainable plan for northeast Alberta.

Seven strategies for determining land use in Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Region were outlined at last Monday’s public input session in Elk Point, as the provincial government works toward a long-term vision and sustainable plan for northeast Alberta.

The Lower Athabasca Region is one of seven new land use areas in Alberta each of which will have a regional plan containing a profile of the region, plan context, regional vision statement, regional outcomes, objectives and goals, strategies, actions and approaches, and monitoring and reporting procedures.

A land-use secretariat will establish a regional advisory council in each of the regions. Cumulative effects management will be used in each region to manage the effect of development on land, water and air. A strategy for conservation and stewardship on private and public lands will be developed.

A fifth strategy will see the promotion of efficient use of land to reduce the footprint of human activities on the landscape. An information, monitoring and knowledge system will be established to contribute to continuous improvement of land-use planning and decision-making. Aboriginal input will be included in land-use planning.

The Alberta Land Use Stewardship Act became law on Oct. 1 of last year and establishes the legislative foundation for the land-use framework, including regional planning. Regional plans, which must be evaluated every five years and reviewed every 10 years to adjust to changing circumstances, ensure that decisions consider the unique needs, challengers and advantage of each region. Impact on landowners was considered in the development of the Act.

Visitors to the input session were invited to list their concerns and comments on a series of flip charts that accompanied the displays.

A vision for the region states that the region is “an exceptional mosaic of peoples, communities, forests, rivers, wetlands, lakes and grasslands that are cared for and respected… a vibrant, dynamic region that is a major driver of the Canadian economy, supported by strong, healthy, prosperous and safe communities,” where “sustainable economic, social and environmental outcomes are balanced through the use of aboriginal, traditional and community knowledge, sound science, innovative thinking and accommodation of rights and interests of all Albertans.”

Concerns regarding landowner rights and appropriation, that land taken up for roads and trails could set a precedent for more to occur and pros and cons of multi use corridors were among the comments on the vision, along with the comment that “Lakeland must be a region.”

Recommendations for economic growth and development brought diverse comments, such as, “Conservation areas are good but different farmers have different ideas, “ “Industry needs to look for efficiencies in siting infrastructure – public interest versus cost to individual companies,” “Think/plan before you act, consult with affected municipalities,” and “Cooperation between stakeholders in regards to economic development.”

Land conservation objectives and recommendations for a number of conservation areas, all but two of them located north of the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, and those two located immediately north and east of the existing Lakeland Provincial Park and Lakeland Recreation Area.

Regional air and water thresholds would regulate maximum allowable impacts and would require the development of robust environmental management frameworks and improved regional monitoring and reporting processes.

Human development considerations brought forth comments regarding conservation options for tourism development, centering on Lakeland country, and a need for effective management of recreational activities on crown land. The regional advisory council’s recommendations for parks and protected areas, which make up three per cent of the region’s land area, include building upon existing recreation ad tourism areas, recognizing that the majority of these areas include lakes and sites with regional historical significance, including such unique areas as the Quarry of the Ancestors, Fort Chipewyan and the Richardson Backcountry. Leveraging Lakeland Country as an iconic recreation and tourism destination and providing a variety of recreation and tourism opportunities for local residents and visitors were seen as important factors, as was using parks and protected areas primarily for recreation and tourism, traditional uses and ecological conservation.

The advisory council feels that Lakeland Country has the potential to attract significant number of visitors from both within and outside the province, and that the tourism industry in this area should be emphasized and promoted.

Input on the advisory council’s recommendations gathered at this and other sessions in the region will be considered when the Alberta government develops its draft plan for the Lower Athabasca Region. That draft will be presented in 2011 for additional feedback before a final regional plan is completed.

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