By Letter to the Editor on September 5, 2018.
Contrary to recent comments in the Lethbridge Herald (Aug. 28 and 29) alleging attempts by the Alberta government to rush through a decision that is scientifically indefensible, expansion of the Twin River Heritage Rangeland on the Milk River Ridge has been proposed for several years and there is ample ecological justification.
In 2011, the multi-stakeholder Advisory Committee for the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan recommended extension of the Twin River Heritage Rangeland to include this area of native grassland on public land. The Regional Plan, approved by the previous government in 2014 after extensive public consultation, provided for additional conservation areas with explicit identification of the lands now proposed for inclusion in the Heritage Rangeland (Policy 3.14). The current online consultation by Alberta Parks (extended to Sept. 30) honours the conservation intent of the Regional Plan and provides opportunity for further comment by interested parties.
Grasslands are one of the most imperilled ecosystems on the planet. Conservation planning by government and others recognizes moist mixed-grass and fescue grasslands on the Milk River Ridge as having high conservation significance. The proposed expansion has few vehicle trails and abundant wetlands that lend it a higher conservation value than other public lands adjacent to the Heritage Rangeland. As well, native habitats on the Milk River Ridge support sensitive wildlife species and provide an important connector for movement of Pronghorn, deer and other wildlife between drier grasslands of southeastern Alberta and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
It is unfortunate that oil and gas leases set to expire in 2017 were inexplicably renewed and there is the threat of fragmentation by roads, wellsites and pipelines in the proposed expansion area. Industry proposals will be subject to review by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). Southern Alberta Group for Environment and Alberta Wilderness Association have and will continue to make their concerns known to AER and the Alberta government.
It is fortunate that the current holders of grazing leases on these public lands are supportive of designation as a Heritage Rangeland, recognizing that well-managed livestock grazing is beneficial to grassland ecosystems. I am troubled by comments criticizing a current lessee for her stewardship and leadership.
The notion by some interests of opposing expansion of the Twin River Heritage Rangeland until a caveat is placed that allows a dam site in the protected area is a red herring. Proposed damming of the Milk River has been extensively studied, most recently in 2002, and found to not be feasible based on economic cost-benefit analysis and assessment of adverse environmental effects.
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