April 26th, 2018

Conservation plan gathers support


By Schnarr, J.W. on March 31, 2018.

J.W. Schnarr

Lethbridge Herald

jwschnarr@lethbridgeherald.com

Conservation groups in the province are welcoming the Alberta government’s draft Livingstone-Porcupine Hills Land Footprint and Recreation Management plans.

The draft Land Footprint Management Plan manages the impacts of competing land-use demands, including economic development and recreation.

The draft Recreation Management Plan provides recommendations accommodating recreation in the area.

The province announced the draft plans on Tuesday and is seeking input from Alberta residents with an interest in the area.

“The Livingstone-Porcupine Hills area is a tremendous public resource, and engaging Albertans in the planning process is essential to getting the best plans possible,” Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks, stated in the announcement.

The Alberta Wilderness Association issued a statement on Wednesday that the organization is encouraged by the plans but have concerns there may not be enough protections in place to protect watersheds and biodiversity.

In particular, more protection should be done in terms of creating wildlife corridors and protecting fish habitats, according to Joanna Skrajny, Alberta Wilderness Association.

“We know elk are discouraged by motorized use, and grizzly bears need limits as well,” she said. “Especially, with climate change, there needs to be some ability for those animals to move.”

As well, protected species such as cutthroat trout need more protections in place.

“About half of their habitat is currently being avoided with the current plan,” she said. “The other half has trails or roads crossing it. That needs to be taken into consideration as well.”

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – southern Alberta chapter also issued a statement on Wednesday praising the draft plan, praising some of the proposed ideas.

CPAWS called the draft a “crucial step” in managing the ecological and outdoor recreation values of the area.

Katie Morrison, conservation director CPAWS Southern Alberta, said the plans are the culmination of a lot of input from many different stakeholders.

“There’s currently no designation or management restrictions – particularly for recreation use in the Livingstone-Porcupine Hills,” she said. “So the recreational trails there were created randomly and are not well-designed for users or protecting (environment and ecology).”

“The plans take a significant step forward to help protect critical source waters for southern Alberta, as well as fish and wildlife habitat, while respecting private land rights through improved management of public and industrial access,” said Stephen Legault, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative program director in a news release. “They also ensure well-planned recreation opportunities for all Albertans on public lands.”

Cody Spencer, co-chair of Alberta Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, called the plans a step in the right direction on “strong action to balance the needs of all outdoor users, while restoring and protecting the wildlife habitat.”

“Landscape fragmentation and unregulated human use has degraded what once was an iconic landscape,” he said.

The Livingstone-Porcupine Hills is part of Alberta’s Eastern Slopes and provides much of region’s drinking water.

Alberta Environment and Parks planning staff have been working with First Nations and stakeholders using a three-stage engagement approach to inform the draft plans.

Stage 1 occurred between March 2015 and March 2016 and involved meeting with First Nations and stakeholders to present the scope and intent of the planning processes.

Stage 2 occurred between April 2016 and April 2017 and involved meeting with First Nations and stakeholders to present modelling results and management alternatives.

Stage 3 consultations with First Nations, stakeholders and the public will occur to solicit feedback on both draft plans. Feedback and comments collected during Stage 3 will be added to information gathered in previous stages for consideration as final plans are drafted.

“This is an incredible piece of progress,” said Skrajny. “It’s been a free-for-all-landscape for decades now. And the fact we’re having a plan, and figuring out where things can go, industry, people and recreation, that’s awesome. And we need to have a conversation with the public about what values we want.”

Stakeholder and public engagement runs until 4 p.m. on April 26. To read the draft plans and provide feedback online, visit talkaep.alberta.ca/livingstone-porcupine-hills-footprint-and-recreation-planning.

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