November 1, 2023
Ranging from pristine wilderness areas to heavily disturbed multi-use landscapes, Alberta’s public lands are owned by all Albertans and managed by our provincial and federal governments.
AWA’s vision is for Alberta’s public lands to exist in perpetuity, providing wildlife habitat, clean air and water, as well as recreational and economic opportunities. AWA has long believed that this vision would be best accomplished by an overarching Public Lands Policy; this would ensure that these landscapes are conserved for their ecological, social, and natural resources, in addition to facilitating meaningful public participation for any management decision that may potentially affect their future.
Public lands are often considered one of the best ideas the west ever had: lands that are wild and undeveloped, providing a safe haven for wildlife, healthy waters, natural resources, and a place for public recreation and industry. Public lands in Alberta span across all natural regions and are managed for a wide variety of affairs, ranging from pristine wilderness areas to heavily disturbed industrial landscapes. In order to ensure future generations reap the full benefits of Alberta’s public lands, AWA believes they must be conserved within the public domain in perpetuity.
While public lands are owned by all Albertans, the responsibility of managing and administering these landscapes is tasked to the provincial, and in some circumstances, the federal government. The terms ‘public lands’ and ‘Crown lands’ are interchangeable and are often used to describe the same areas. The provincial government of Alberta has jurisdiction over all public land within the province, with the exception of national parks, military land, and First Nations reserves, which are managed federally.
Following Confederation in 1867, the Dominion government of Canada began its expansion westward to secure more political and economic control, and ultimately, the Dominion Lands Act of 1872 was enacted to encourage western settlement. This statute provided legal authority to the Crown to grant land titles to individuals, religious groups, colonization companies , the Hudson’s Bay Company, municipalities, and railway construction, in addition to allocating some lands for First Nations reserves. The Act was eventually amended to also include land provisions for National Parks (Canadian Encyclopedia, 2006) . In 1906, the Dominion Forest Reserves Act was also established by federal authorities with the purpose of maintaining a continuous supply of timber, ensure an ample water supply and habitat for both animals and fish.
Overtime as western settlement progressed, prairie politicians viewed federal control over Western Dominion lands, and their respective natural resources, as an unfair federal intrusion on western sovereignty. Negotiations ensued, and eventually the Natural Resources Acts were passed by the federal and provincial governments of Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba in 1930. The intent of the Natural Resources Acts were to secure provincial jurisdictional authority over crown lands, rendering the Dominion Lands Act antiquated. Ultimately, these statutes would establish the foundation of what would become the Public Lands Act.
Today, 60 percent of Alberta’s land base constitutes provincial public land, while 10 percent is federal public lands, and the remaining 30 percent is allotted to private titles. In 1948, Alberta divided public lands into two board land use categories for administrative purposes: the Green Area and the White Area. While both of these areas and their resources are functionally managed with the same intent, they do encompass different regions and features of the province.
Alberta’s Green and White Areas for Public Lands and their respective grazing leases. Photo © AWA FILES
The Green Area, otherwise known as the forested portion, is a relatively unpopulated area that comprises most of northern Alberta, in addition to the mountains and foothills of the Northern Eastern Slopes. Public lands within the Green Area are managed for a vast number of features including watershed protection, wildlife and wildlife habitat, fisheries, recreational opportunities, timber production, oil and gas, and other natural resource development. Agricultural activities within the Green Area are fairly limited and mostly consist of livestock grazing.
In contrast, the White Area is quite populated, encompassing Alberta’s large population centres within central and southern Alberta, in addition to most of the reach of the Peace River. Most of the landbase within the White Area (approximately 75 percent) is owned by private entities, while the remainder is provincial public land. Within the White Area, public land is a part of Alberta’s agricultural landscape, with most parcels entertaining some sort of leased agricultural developments. Public lands within the White Area are also managed for recreation, water and soil conservation, fish and wildlife. While most of the public land within the White Area is committed to some form of lease or land use, there are tracts of intact landscapes that provide critical habitat for native animals and plants, occasionally serving as protected areas of some degree. Public lands found in Milk River Ridge are a prime example of this; in many parts, these public lands consist of the last blocks of contiguous native grasslands in the world, supporting wildlife, species at risk, and land uses such as sustainable cattle grazing.
Similar to National parks under federal jurisdiction, public lands within the Green Area and White Area can also be managed and administered by the provincial government as protected areas of varying classifications, allowing a spectrum of permitted activities. Provincial protected areas are managed under one of the following pieces of legislation: the Provincial Parks Act, the Wilmore Wilderness Park Act, or the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Area and Heritage Rangelands Act. Currently, 14.9% of Alberta is protected; 8.2% is attributed to National Parks, while 6.4% is provincial protected areas. Learn more about Alberta’s protected areas here. Public lands represent some of Alberta’s largest, most intact wilderness areas with many of Alberta’s rare and endangered species, in addition to vital watersheds that contain the headwaters supplying fresh water to all three Prairie Provinces.
The Public Lands Act is the main statute that governs provincial public lands that are under the administration of Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP). The AEP Minister is responsible for managing public lands for the benefit of all Albertans, while establishing and sustaining a fair balance between conservation, natural resource development, and access. AWA believes that the management framework for public lands must ensure that permitted land-use activities do not impede the quantity and quality of public land, and that its respective resources are maintained, if not enhanced.
Many land-use activities on public lands, such as natural resource development, require a government granted disposition or permit that stipulates conditions under which proponents may extract resources for economic gain. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is responsible for approving and issuing dispositions on public lands for oil, gas, oilsands and coal development, with the Responsible Energy Development Act allowing the AER to administer relevant parts of the Public Lands Act.
Disposition types issued by the AER for energy development on public lands include:
• Mineral surface leases (MSL)
• Licence of occupation (LOC)
• Pipeline agreements (PLA)
• Pipeline installation leases (PIL)
• Miscellaneous leases (MLL)
• Oil sands exploration (OSE)
• Coal exploration program (CEP)
• Temporary Field Authorization (TFA)
The associated Public Lands Administration Regulation (PLAR) provides the regulatory framework to strike a balance between multiple values and needs; manage the growing demands to extract or develop renewable and non-renewable resources on public lands, achieve environmental health and protections, and facilitating recreational use and access. PLAR is also the administrative tool that ensures compliance and enforcement of pertinent legislation, in addition to managing appeals and dispute resolution.
In 2003, the provincial government clarified conditions under which recreational and exploration access could be permitted on public lands with agricultural dispositions issued under the Public Lands Act, with the development of the Recreational Access Regulation (RAR). The intent of the regulation is to allow for reasonable recreational access for the public, while considering the needs of leaseholders to mitigate any perceived risks to croplands and livestock.
AWA opposes any further destruction of native prairie grassland and sales of public land until a public lands policy is developed through a transparent and democratic public process.
For more than four decades AWA, has been a staunch defender of Alberta’s public lands, continuously advocating for the responsible management of these landscapes, and the development of an overarching public lands policy is required in order to addresses discrepancies regarding public access, management and public consultation and conservation. To date, no such policy exists. AWA believes that it is paramount for public lands management in Alberta to have a high degree of accountability and transparency on behalf of the provincial government to help instill confidence in Albertans that conserving public lands in their natural state within the public realm for generations to come is of the upmost importance.
AWA believes the following principles should guide the management of public lands:
• Manage according to an ecosystem-based model that prioritizes ecological needs primary and permits other uses only if they are compatible with ecological outcomes.
• Manage with the goal of retaining all public land within the public realm in perpetuity.
• Establish a public decision-making process that is meaningful, inclusive to all Albertans, and legislated.
• Improve access to public land by eliminating the need to obtain permission from grazing leaseholders for all foot access and by making vehicle access less restrictive.
• Develop clear, meaningful, and enforceable legislation that emphasizes these principles.
• Establish a comprehensive network of protected areas, securing the habitats of rare and threatened species, unique ecosystems, and representative ecosystems
• Develop interagency (at all government levels), industry, and public cooperation and participation in wilderness conservation
• Strengthen legislation concerning protected areas to provide permanent status and secure their objectives against compromise
• Improve the organization, funding, and staffing of government agencies responsible for conservation; providing adequate finances and staff, even in periods of economic stringency
• Strengthen training and education at the professional, technical, and user levels
• Promote research to improve the management of protected areas
• Promote local support through education, revenue sharing, participation in decision making, providing complementary development schemes adjacent to the protected areas and access to resources
• Provide environmental education and interpretation programs concerning conservation and ecosystem resources to emphasize the social and scientific values of protected areas
• Evaluate the level of public support for protected areas and identify the nature of public concerns about protected areas
• Establish more sensitively managed areas, buffers, and management regimes along the borders of protected areas to prevent them from becoming biologically impoverished islands
• Require planning, management, and education to fully investigate and utilize the traditional wisdom of communities located near protected areas and to implement collaborative management arrangements between protected areas authorities and local communities
In November, the Auditor General reports that the Government of Alberta still had not acted on the Auditor General’s 2015 recommendation that Alberta Environment and Parks “clarify objectives, benefits and relevant performance measures.”AWA will continue to pressing the government to implement the Auditor General’s recommendations.
On March 31, a quarter section of public land consisting of native prairie grassland located near Taber is sold in a public auction. AWA opposes the sale citing a lack of public consultation, and the loss of native prairie to agricultural conversion as irresponsible.
The last transfers of tax recovery land to municipalities from the 2011 sale will be concluded by spring 2017, after which all provincial tax recovery lands will have been transferred to municipalities.
The Recreational Access Regulation is renewed in March 2017 without any public consultation or revisions, despite repeated requests from AWA.
The Land Use Framework process continues with the consultation and development of sub-regional and operational plans under the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan. The “multiple-use” paradigm, although starting to shift into conversations about watershed health and biodiversity, is still dominated by a resource-based perception of the value of public lands.
In July, the Report of the Auditor General of Alberta is released. The report estimates Albertans are forgoing $25 million annually in surface access fees paid to leaseholders. The overall findings say, “Current legislation allows an unquantified amount of personal financial benefit to some leaseholders over and above the benefits of grazing livestock on public land. These benefits arise from compensation for allowing industry operators access to sub-surface resources, and from selling or transferring their lease to another leaseholder.”
AWA believes the public and grazing leaseholders should both share the stewardship responsibilities and be the beneficiaries of public lands, managed by the government. AWA supports performance measures and effective monitoring and analysis of grazing leases as recommended by the Auditor General.
In July, the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan 2014-2024 comes into force. The SSRP affirms the highest priority of land use is headwaters protection. The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) criticizes the SSRP and highlights two failings:
“The SSRP has… vagueness of the Land Use Framework and the broad discretion provided by Alberta Land Stewardship Act”. The ELC identifies a lack of adherence to environmental principles, little accountability, policy gaps, and not addressing mineral and surface activity cumulative effects.
“…not using ALSA where needed… references to new strategies, rules or tools are in the Strategic Plan lacking legal weight. The plan deliberately avoids private land… It is business as usual in the land use sectors.”
In November, the Draft South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) is released and public consultation begins.
In December, consultations end for the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP AWA sends a letter to the provincial government stating, “it is incomprehensible that in the first phase of public engagement, when Albertans said their top three priorities are:
1) Greater protection of surface water;
2) Greater protection of groundwater; and
3) Greater conservation of ecologically sensitive areas, the RAC did not reflect these priorities.”
In November, the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development responds to AWA’s October letter about Bill 202, stating “…our department feels we can use and expand our existing policies and legislation, along with tools we are developing under the Land-use Framework, to address the loss and fragmentation of our native prairie grasslands.”
The Government of Alberta undergoes public consultation for Phase 2 of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP). A 74-page “workbook” is made available for the public to provide feedback on the SSRP.
In August, the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan 2012-2022 is approved by Cabinet and becomes effective September 2012.
In January, AWA submits comments on the draft land-use planning recommendations from the South Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Council:
“AWA believes there are many positive elements to the recommendations of the South Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Council… But the recommendations also contain many inconsistencies and shortcomings; factors that will need to be urgently addressed before any final Regional Plan is developed.”
AWA is asked to provide feedback on Bill 202, the Public Lands (Grassland Preservation) Amendment Act. AWA strongly supports the passage of Bill 202, as it would be a step toward environmental protection, recovering species at risk, and reaching biodiversity targets.
The on-again-off-again consultation process for the South Saskatchewan region is restarted and stalled again in 2012. Political leadership campaigns and a provincial election stall the promised public consultation on the draft recommendations of the South Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Council.
In October, new Premier Alison Redford makes good on her leadership campaign promise and scraps the proposed Potatogate public land sale. A short Government of Alberta news release, October 19, 2011, announces: “Government canceled the RFP after people expressed concerns that there was no public input into using a Request for Proposals and that there might be an impact on water and on the ranching community.”
AWA is quick to congratulate the Premier on her decision, asking for a process to ensure that future ‘Potatogate’ land sales are not allowed to go ahead.
In September, Alison Redford, candidate for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative party, expresses her opposition to the Potatogate public land sale. In a September 29 email, Redford’s campaign advisor wrote: “As Premier, Alison will… Suspend the sale of 16,000 acres of ecologically sensitive crown land near Bow Island and wait for the South Saskatchewan Basin Regional Advisory Council to present its final report on the best use of that parcel.”
The Public Lands Act Administration Regulation (PLAR) comes into force, defining Public Lands Act amendments that came into force April 2010. The PLAR replaces Dispositions and Fees Regulation and consolidates the Forest Recreation Regulation, Castle Special Management Regulation and Unauthorized use of Public Land and Recovery of Penalty Regulation.
On August 31, in a startling move, the Alberta government announces that the notorious ‘Potatogate” public sale is back on, despite the extensive outpouring of public opposition to the deal. Bids are invited to buy the land, including a requirement that at least half the land must be ploughed up.
AWA reiterates its fundamental objection to the proposed land sale, and, once again, hundreds of Albertans begin to write to the government to express their opposition.
In August, the Alberta Native Plant Council and Nature Alberta publish a document, Sale of Public Land in Alberta: Recommendations for Improving Regulation, Policy and Procedures. Recommendations in the report include:
In April, the Alberta government releases a draft Lower Athabasca Regional Plan. AWA believes the plan ignores widespread public support for stronger protection, but instead goes in the opposite direction.
Instead of the science-based 50% protection recommended by the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, the Government of Alberta will only add 10% to the current 6% of “protected” land base in the region. And while conservation science recommends areas free from industrial development, the proposed new Alberta “protected areas” allow development of existing oil and gas dispositions. Some allow industrial forestry.
The vast majority of caribou habitat is not protected, and no complete range is protected. AWA believes this decision will guarantee the extinction of woodland caribou in the Athabasca region by totally ignoring Alberta’s caribou committee recommendation to immediately protect and restore their habitat.
“Where we most need representative areas protected, we see a sacrifice zone for industry,” states Carolyn Campbell, AWA Conservation Specialist. “The protected areas do not exclude industry and are not representative in the central and southern boreal, where the most pressures are coming from tar sands, forestry and climate change.”
AWA believes the plan should be expanded to include fifty percent more protected and conservation areas, rather than the twenty percent proposed.
In April, AWA receives 912 pages of documents under Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy legislation which sheds some limited light on the background of the Alberta government’s failed “Potatogate” public land sale.
At the time that the deal was being discussed, Senior staff from the government’s own Rangeland and Fish and Wildlife Divisions made it abundantly clear that the application should be rejected, but their opinions were evidently overruled.
The Fish and Wildlife division had recommended “against the sale of this land due to its high value for species at risk and wildlife, and high ecological value as a large contiguous block of native grassland, a relatively limited resource.” Similarly, a report from SRD’s Rangeland division emphasized “the land is not surplus to our needs as it is currently being used for grazing and recreation. The landscape has high wildlife values and contributes to ecological goods and services of the community… The land is environmentally sensitive and best left in its native state. Taking such a large acreage out of the public land base would have a profound effect on the people who rely on this resource and all the values it provides. (The) recommendation is not to sell it.”
Ignoring these and other recommendations, the government continued to push ahead with the proposed deal, which was only halted at the eleventh hour due to the huge uprising of public opposition.
In March, the Alberta government releases its report on the recommendations from the South Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Council (RAC). Surprisingly, a 9-month public consultation process is promised, include public meetings in the fall. Albertans are invited to complete a 78-page ‘workbook’ by December 2011.
In February, despite the enormous public opposition to the behind-closed-doors sale of public land proposed in “Potatogate,” the Alberta government continues to dispose of public land with no opportunity for any form of public input. A February 3 2011 Government of Alberta news release states that 84,000 acres of tax recovery land will be sold to a total of 12 different municipalities for the princely sum of $1 per acre. “It is clear from our reading of internal memos on the Potatogate affair that legitimate environmental concerns of SRD Fish and Wildlife and Public Lands staff have not been listened to by decision makers,” says Cliff Wallis, AWA president. “We fear that the same is happening with these transfers.”
Meanwhile in 2011, the government identifies additional tax recovery lands of higher conservation value based on proximity to named watercourses and water bodies, topographic features, and proximity to other lands that remain in provincial ownership – this means 35,000 acres of tax recovery land are being retained in the Special Areas to achieve conservation and stewardship objectives. This also means the remainder of tax recovery land is up for sale to municipalities.
In November, in a comprehensive demonstration that ‘people power’ really does work, and following extensive criticism in the media, the proposed Potatogate public land sale is quietly withdrawn.
AWA writes afterwards: “The recent collapse of the proposed ‘Potatogate’ public land sale is a valuable lesson that, if enough of us care about our precious natural environment, and are prepared to speak out loud and clear, then we really can make a difference.”
In early September, AWA learns that, through a secret government process, 25 sections – or 16,000 acres – of public land is about to be sold to SLM Spud Farms Ltd. The land, near Bow Island, is predominantly native prairie and is known to be home for a number of species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (including burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk, Sprague’s pipit, chestnut‐collared longspur, McCown’s longspur, short-eared owl, and long‐billed curlew). But despite the importance of this habitat to these species, if the sale goes ahead, the land would be ploughed up and used to grow potatoes.
AWA launches a public campaign opposing the secretive ‘Potatogate’ land sale, and in an unprecedented outpouring of public opposition, hundreds of Albertans write to the Minister of Sustainable Resource Development to protest the proposed deal. The deal is criticized on a variety of grounds: the lack of any public process for a selling public land to a donor to the PC party; the secretive nature of the sale, the loss of irreplaceable native prairie and endangered species habitat; the water implications for new irrigation in an already over-allocated water basin.
Alberta government contacts stakeholders to review draft changes to the regulations of the Public Lands Act. New regulations would make some improvements to enforcement of motorized access on public lands, but they would make no changes to the current process for selling public land. The Minister would still be able to sell of public land with no public input. AWA comments, September 3, include opposition to any sale of public land, particularly with no opportunity for public input. These comments prove to be surprisingly prophetic!
AWA participates in stakeholder sessions around the broad principles of the upcoming Regional Plan for the Lower Athabasca region, calling for much stronger protection of vague “conservation areas” and meaningful protection of caribou habitat.
In August, Alberta government releases its summary of the recommendations of the Lower Athabasca Regional Advisory Council. This multi-stakeholder council includes representatives from tarsands and forestry industries as well as federal, municipal and aboriginal representatives.
Recommendations include vague “Conservation Areas” though these are poorly defined, and would allow oil and gas and industrial forestry activities. 20-32% of the region is proposed as “Conservation Area”, much less than the 50 percent recommended to achieve biodiversity and species-at-risk commitments. Measures to protect threatened caribou habitat are minimal.
The long-awaited Bill 36, the proposed Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) is introduced in April. A series of public information sessions takes place around the province throughout May, to explain the legislation to Albertans, with the emphasis firmly on explanation as opposed to consultation.
The proposed legislation includes the broad, sweeping powers required to pull existing legislation into line to make it comply with LUF principles. But a major concern expressed by many is the firm emphasis on cabinet direction, with limited opportunity for public input, comment or appeal. This is the view expressed by AWA and a number of environmental groups at a meeting with Ted Morton, Minister of Sustainable Resource Development in a meeting in May.
The proposed legislation also does little to address the issue of interim measures. Companies with development projects in the pipeline are receiving a clear message that it would be to their benefit to push ahead with their plans as quickly as possible, while the older, weaker planning guidelines are in place. This is despite the fact that the LUF acknowledges that current the land management system “risks being overwhelmed by the scope and pace of activity.”
In September, Global Forest Watch release a report on behalf of a group of environmental organizations (AWA,Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Northern Alberta Chapter, Federation of Alberta Naturalists, Keepers of the Athabasca, Pembina Institute), Conservation Priorities for the Lower Athabasca Planning Region, Alberta. The report maps, and recommends protection for, Conservation Priority Areas totaling 44,075 km2 (or 47%) of the 93,225 km2 area of the Lower Athabasca Plan area.
In October, AWA releases its recommendations for the South Saskatchewan Region in a report Conservation Recommendations for the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan. The report includes recommendations:
The report recommends that “As the Government of Alberta has invested considerable time and expense in soliciting the opinions of Albertans, it is imperative that the final Regional Plans accurately reflect their expressed wishes and concerns.”
Alberta Environment Network (AEN) is asked by the Alberta government to submit three names for suggested environmental representatives to sit on the South Saskatchewan and Lower Athabasca Regional Advisory Councils. AEN submits three suggestions for each council. All are ignored.
In an April report, Alberta by Design Checklist: Evaluating Alberta’s Land-use Framework, the Pembina Institute and CPAWS suggest a number of principles to guide an effective land use framework. These include ensuring genuine progress (improving overall quality of life and ensuring long-term environmental, social and economic sustainability), and recognizing that our land base is finite (defining limits of acceptable impacts and making decisions about trade-offs). The future LUF should also “enable Albertans to … manage cumulative impacts when multiple activities occur on the same land base.”
A draft Land-use Framework is released on July 21 2008. The draft plan recommends dividing the province into six regions, loosely guided by watershed boundaries, each of which would have a regional planning body to ensure that development is tied to water and other environmental limits. AWA’s response is guardedly optimistic; while full of encouraging sentiments and principles, the one thing that is clearly missing is the provision of any legislative teeth to ensure that the document becomes more than just another admirable report gathering dust on a shelf in the government archives. Four stakeholder groups reconvene to provide feedback on draft.
A second round of public comment on the draft plan is initiated in May.
The Government of Alberta asks the environmental community, through Alberta Environmental Network (of which AWA is a member), to submit three nominees for the position of environmental representative on each of the first two teams (North and South regions). These recommendations are then ignored, as hand-picked advisory councils are selected for the Lower Athabasca and South Saskatchewan regions. The south region is divided into two – the South Saskatchewan and Lower Athabasca – making a total of seven land-use regions.
The final ‘Land-Use Framework’ is released in December 2008. “We have reached a tipping point, where sticking with the old rules will not produce the quality of life we have come to expect. If we want our children to enjoy the same quality of life that current generations have, we need a new plan.”
The Sustainable Resource Environmental Management (SREM) program produces two significant projects: the Integrated Land Management program and the Land-Use Framework initiative.
Throughout 2007 six working groups meet to assess and develop recommendations for each Integrated Land Management Project Charter deliverable. AWA acts as a reviewer to the Stewardship, Measures, and Principles groups. The groups’ reports and recommendations are released in July, along with the reviews, for future implementation planning.
From July to October, four multi-stakeholder working groups work toward developing strategies and suggestions for the Land-Use Framework. AWA is represented on the Growth and Resource Management Working Group. The working groups complete their tasks in October 2007. The government plans to develop a draft Land-Use Framework by the end of December 2007.
A public survey is initiated in May 2007, looking at public attitudes to land use in Alberta. Results are released in October 2007 Land-use Framework Workbook Summary Report. Results show consistently that Albertans believe that there is considerable room for improvement in land-use planning in Alberta, including:
In July, AWA meets with the provincial government, emphasizing the need for the Land-Use Framework process to be supported by 100 percent of Cabinet and by the Premier. During the meeting, the Premier states there will be an increase to the number of parks and protected areas in Alberta.
Government invitation for participation by AWA and other members of the Alberta Environment Network in Land-Use Framework working groups is met with demands for improvement in the process. In the document “Criteria for Effective Process and Substantive Policy Direction for Alberta’s Land-Use Framework,” environmental NGOs demand effective process through goal clarity, clarity of government’s commitment to implement the Land-Use Framework, effective process design, and effective process support. As well, the groups want substantive policy direction for the Framework and criteria for a commitment to land-use planning in Alberta. The groups seek commitment from the Premier and Cabinet, a statutory basis and binding effect, and integrated planning. The government responds with a number of meetings with group representatives and with the participation of Ted Morton, Minister of Sustainable Resource Development, in an initial Land-Use Framework meeting in Red Deer. AWA attends and agrees to participate despite the lack of commitment to the demands of the environmental community. Minister Morton publicly states at the Red Deer meeting that he has the support of about half of the caucus for this process.
In May, the government holds 15 public input sessions across Alberta to gather public opinion on developing a Land-Use Framework. More than 780 Albertans attend. The input sessions focus on the challenges and issues facing land use in Alberta and the key characteristics and attributes the Framework should embody to deal with these challenges. The Sustainable Resource Development Minister states that the Land-Use Framework will provide the context, overall direction, and decision-making framework to govern and manage land use in the province. It will guide land-use decisions on all land, except federal land such as national parks and Indian reserves. The Framework is intended to meet Albertans’ long-term social and economic goals based on good environmental management.
In July, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development announces that it will launch a public education and consultation campaign in the fall to develop a long-term plan for land-use management.
In January, Alberta Energy, Alberta Environment, and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development sign on to the Integrated Land Management Project Charter.
Alberta Energy, Alberta Environment, and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development make a commitment to work together to realize Alberta’s vision of Sustainable Resource and Environmental Management (SREM).
The Alberta government announces that it will be looking for public input in developing a provincial Land-Use Framework in the coming months. The government says it is committed to “sustainable development that protects the environment while encouraging economic growth.” The Framework’s details will be established through public consultation.
The Integrated Land Management (ILM) program begins, with the goal of encouraging cooperation among land users in order to reduce environmental impact. It will also operate and implement Alberta’s Land-Use Framework. Numerous stakeholder workshops are held throughout 2005 and into 2006 to provide feedback on the ILM project, which when completed will dictate the guidelines of the ILM program.
In August, AWA completes A Review of Public Land Policy in Alberta, British Columbia, the United States and New Zealand. In light of the comments made by the interviewees, as well as the overview of public land law and policy in the other jurisdictions surveyed, the following guiding principles of public land management are offered for consideration:
AWA holds a public lands roundtable in the fall. The purpose of the roundtable is to begin developing a vision and fundamental guiding principles for our public lands. AWA’s work continues through extensive research, interviews, and meetings.
In July, Bill 16 comes into force as the Recreational Access Regulation. New government web pages are developed, allowing recreational users to search leaseholder contact information by legal land description. AWA remains opposed to the new process and is concerned that access to public lands by the public is being unreasonably diminished.
In March, Agricultural Dispositions Statues Amendment Act introduced in the Legislative Assembly as Bill 16. The bill would require recreational users to contact the specific holder of a grazing lease or farm development lease before they entered the land for recreational purposes and follow the duties outlined in the regulations such as: pack out all litter, park vehicles as specified by the disposition holder, refrain from lighting fires without consent, close gates and no motorized access without the consent of the leaseholder. Leaseholders would be required to provide contact information to the department and allow access for defined recreational purposes unless certain circumstances exist, such as: livestock are present in a given area and access is restricted by fire hazard level. If recreational users access leased land for recreation, the liability of leaseholders for the recreational user is reduced.
AWA raises concerns that the new regulation will be an administrative burden and logistical challenge for leaseholders. AWA is also concerned that the Bill will unreasonably restrict access to the public, while granting easier access to the oil and gas industry by removing the right of the leaseholder to refuse access for oil and gas exploration. The position of AWA is that foot access should be allowed without permission on public land.
AWA, FAN, and CPAWS write a joint letter to Premier Klein asking that he honours his commitment to increase protected areas under the Special Places 2000 program, the Alberta Forest Conservation Strategy, and the Alberta Forest Legacy. The letter is accompanied by a press release.
Special Places 2000 is viewed as a substantive government failure and has become a major disappointment, with the environmental community’s suspicions of the process realized in the provincial government’s continued commitment to the interests of industry over environmental protection.
In July, Special Places is concluded. Under the program, 81 new and 13 expanded protected areas – Wildland Provincial Parks, Ecological Reserves, Provincial Parks, and Natural Areas – are added to bring the total protection in the province (including federally protected land) to 82,500 km2 or 12.5 percent of the landscape. However, some of the areas originally nominated under the program have been removed due to conflict with industry, and many of the new nominations have been chosen based on “least conflict” instead of ecological integrity. No attempt was made at protected areas integration or connectivity.
By June, most environmental groups have withdrawn from the Special Places 2000 process and have given up hope in the initiative.
AWA, CPAWS Edmonton, and FAN write the Alberta Ministries of Environment and Resource Development a letter requesting that they halt the sale of leases for oil and gas activities within Milk River Natural Area and Chinchaga Wildland Park. The groups threaten to request public hearings should the government ignore their request and proceed with this sale.
In August, with the Special Places 2000 program approaching its conclusion, AWA asks the Alberta government to commit to the following:
The Alberta government publishes Alberta’s Commitment to Sustainable Resource and Environmental Management, in which it commits to maximizing Alberta’s natural resource potential while ensuring maximum environmental protection.
AWA assists with the development of the report Alberta’s Performance in Establishing and Managing Protected Areas during the 20th Century, a report inspired by Special Places 2000.
In March, the Special Places Provincial Coordinating Committee completes its mandate after identifying and recommending candidate sites for local committee review in all of the natural regions.
The CAPP-ENGO agreement is released. It is an attempt made by environmental organizations and industry to come together to find common ground surrounding the challenges presented by the Special Places 2000 initiative. The group comprises the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), and the Federation of Alberta Naturalists (FAN). The document states that all parties agree that “the vision for Special Places is a network of protected areas,” and that “in those Special Places designated to achieve the preservation goal, industrial activities are not compatible.” The group further agrees that within those sites designated as “special” on which ground industrial activity currently occurs, industrial activity must gradually be removed.
AWA, with other conservation groups, coordinates a demonstration on Special Places 2000. AWA also works with other environmental groups to hold a summit meeting with the Premier and the Environment Minister with regard to Special Places 2000 and to put the program back on a science-based protection track.
AWA makes presentations to the Whaleback Local Committee asking that they not further weaken the province’s Special Places 2000 process by recommending industrial activities for the Whaleback.
AWA continues to apply pressure on the government to commit to the principles needed for an effective protected areas program through press releases and press conferences on Special Places 2000 issues. AWA decides against participation in Special Places committees because of the failure of government to legislate protective certainty and to protect sizeable land areas.
AWA member Reg Ernst writes in response to grazing concerns that “grazing systems can be used to enhance wildlife habitat, but this requires intensive management and may exceed the resources available to most managers. Without the ability and commitment to provide intensive ecosystems management, the only way to meet ecological objectives is through legislated protection and enforcement (this is where Alberta has fallen short)” Environment Network News, Jan/Feb 1996.
A 1993 recommendation made to the Minister of Environmental Protection by his public advisory committee has, to this date, been ignored. The committee recommended that Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (AAFRD) and Alberta Environmental Protection (AEP) design and propose a methodology for delivering a Public Lands Management Strategy for Alberta. They recommended the following:
The provincial government, under the Ministry of Community Development, initiates the Special Places program. It is substantially diluted from the original draft document and ignores many of the Advisory Committee’s recommendations. Its vision is “to balance the goal of preservation, with the parallel goals of outdoor recreation, heritage appreciation, and tourism/economic development.” The program designates 29 new protected areas and invites all Albertans to nominate parcels of provincial public land for protection. Over 400 nominations are submitted. At the local level, volunteer local committees are asked to examine candidate sites and provide advice on boundary options, site-specific management guidelines, and appropriate land-use activities. Environmental groups are very disappointed with this approach because there was a lack of province-wide perspective on these local committees.
A multi-stakeholder Special Places Provincial Coordinating Committee (PCC) is appointed to review public nominations, provide overall direction for the program, and advise on candidate sites for detailed consideration through a local committee process. The PCC represents the broad interests of Albertans and includes representatives from more than 20 stakeholder groups, including local governments, industry, and environmental organizations. Local committees are also formed, and their recommendations in certain areas often conflict with those of the PCC.
AWA releases an itemized list of actions that the government needs to take before AWA will participate in Special Places 2000 committees:
The repeal of the Tax Recovery Act and changes to the Municipal Government Act prompted a review of tax recovery lands and policies involved – the government makes a decision to transfer tax recovery lands to the municipality upon request.
The Special Places 2000 Advisory Committee Report is released and public comments are received from Albertans and stakeholder groups from across the province. The report reflects a sense of public urgency, drawn from the open houses and hearings, to move forward with the protection of Alberta’s most ecologically sensitive landscapes.
However, certain groups such as snowmobilers, off-highway vehicle users, and members of the energy industry begin voicing fears that they will no longer be allowed access to large sections of provincial land. They send thousands of letters to the Minister opposing the Special Places initiative.
AWA works hard with a number of organizations to garner public and industry support for the Special Places 2000 program. This includes signing two joint statements of support for Special Places 2000, one with the Alberta Forest Products Association and one with a group of major energy companies. AWA asks its members to phone, write, and visit MLAs to support Special Places.
An Advisory Committee is struck to hold a series of open houses and group meetings encouraging Albertans to share their views of the Special Places draft document.
Don Sparrow, in the presence of Prince Phillip, announces that Alberta is committed to protecting Alberta’s natural heritage and will set aside large tracts of land as protected areas. The Special Places 2000 program develops from this announcement.
In November, at the Tri-Council meeting of federal and provincial parks, environment, and wildlife ministers, the draft document for “Special Places 2000: Alberta’s Natural Heritage” is tabled. The Special Places initiative has four goals: preservation, heritage protection, outdoor recreation, and heritage tourism.
In April, AWA is invited by Alberta Tourism to participate in a Land-Use Planning Workshop.
The Government of Alberta identifies approximately 9,000 acres of tax recovery land to be retained, based on an assessment of lands with national and international conservation significance. These lands are labeled as having commanding environmental sensitivity and as such, a decision iss made not to transfer them to the municipalities.
AWA releases a position paper on why public lands should be conserved, including wilderness lands (for knowledge acquisition, for services such as watershed protection and wildlife habitat, and for enjoyment), and discusses its support for the development of a comprehensive public lands policy. The policy should include the following:
Immediate actions for conservation identified in AWA’s position paper:
The Land Use Forum submits its report to the government. The report details public concern with regards to lack of provincial guidelines, specifically in these areas:
The Forum reports the following:
The Land Use Forum holds 21 public hearings across Alberta, from January to May, to hear public opinion with regard to the areas on which it is tasked with reporting.
The Alberta government initiates the Alberta Land Use Forum, comprising representatives from different government departments and agencies (Agriculture, Energy and Natural Resources, Environment, Culture and Historic Resources, Municipal Affairs, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife, Environment Conservation Authority, Alberta Housing Corporation).
The Land Use Forum is given the task of inquiring into, reporting on, and making recommendations regarding the following matters:
Alberta starts using Integrated Resource Management (IRM) as the paradigm by which to manage Alberta’s public land.