The provincial government on Thursday released the long-awaited South Saskatchewan Regional Plan.
The plan is the second of seven the government is preparing for Alberta.
“This draft report support growth while considering environmental and social impacts,” Stewardship Minister Dianna McQueen said. “It provides clarity for land use management and priority uses and gives certainty to industry and other users, like recreationists, about public land access.”
The plan proposes 32 new and expanded recreation and conservation areas, including Castle Wildland Provincial Park, Castle Conservation Area and Pekisko Heritage Rangeland.
The plan also increases the percentage of conservation areas in the eastern slopes to 33 per cent from 22 per cent, adding 134,666 hectares of legislatively protected land.
McQueen said the plan establishes environmental management frameworks for air and surface water that include strict limits.
“As we release this draft plan, we want to hear what Albertans have to say,” McQueen said.
Community meetings will be at the Blairmore Elks Hall on Nov. 5, Claresholm Community Centre on Nov. 6, Lethbridge Coast Hotel on Nov. 14 and Fort Macleod and District Community Hall on Nov. 20.
Stakeholder sessions are 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Public sessions are 4:30-7:30 p.m.
People can also provide feedback at www.landuse.ca.
McQueen said it is important to balance the demands of economic growth, recreation and tourism with the impact on the land in southern Alberta.
“Every day we see growth pressures in this part of the province,” McQueen said.
Growing populations and expanding communities exert more pressure on infrastructure, water, sensitive lands and recreation and tourism opportunities.
“Regional plans set the economic, environmental and social outcomes Albertans expect from the development of our lands and natural resources,” McQueen said.
Wildrose Party sustainable resource development critic Pat Stier said the plan is “too big and too vast” to protect business and land owner rights.
“In the coming months there will be a need for broad consultation into the concerns that will undoubtedly emerge as land owners and Albertans absorb the impacts of this centralized plan,” said Stier, who is MLA for the Livingstone-Macleod riding. “From the beginning, we have warned of the dangers of central planning. Plans like these are too big and too vast and strip away autonomy from the communities they impact. As a result the rights of land owners are put at risk.”
Stier recommended the government move away from a central planning model and instead empower local authorities before implementing the plan.
Wildrose plans to hold its own community consultations on the South Saskatchewan plan.
“The (plan) impacts a vast region with dramatically different needs in different areas,” Stier said. “It will have complex impacts on businesses, land owners and municipalities. We need to ensure their concerns are heard and that this PC government understands it is time to move away from this type of centralized decision making.”
The Alberta Wilderness Association said in a news release the plan makes progress on protecting headwaters but falls short on preserving native grasslands.
The association welcomed legislated protection of the Castle region.
The plan was not well received by the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
“The (plan) fails to provide any new real protection for Alberta’s eastern slopes,” program director Wendy Francis said in a news release. “Twenty years ago an independent body looked at the entire Castle watershed and recommended that it be fully protected. Yet this long-awaited plan offers virtually no new protection for the Castle Special Place.”