03 Nov On the wrong path: the proposed Trails Act needs changes to ensure trail management reflects science
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
On the wrong path: the proposed Trails Act needs changes to ensure trail management reflects science
Edmonton, Alberta – November 3, 2021 – The Trails Act (Bill 79) was tabled on November 2 in the Alberta Legislature for the purpose of creating designated trails, designating trail managers, and entering into trail agreements “for the purpose of the operation, management, construction, development or maintenance of a designated trail or designated trail area.”
The substance of the bill is quite bare bones, relying heavily on Ministerial orders and regulations to flush out any details related to the designation of trails and the management of those trails.
The Trails Act fails to stay on a sustainable path. Section 2 of the Act states that the Act’s purpose includes “to recognize designated trails as a key component of sustainable outdoor recreation that contribute to positive environmental, economic and social outcomes and individual well-being,” and to “to provide for the establishment and management of designated trails to support desirable user experiences, conservation of landscapes and protection of the environment, in concert with other enactments”.
However, beyond this section, the Act says little about how these conservation values and the environment will be protected. In this way, the Act is significantly, if not fatally flawed when it comes to ensure recreation on Alberta’s public lands is conducted in a way that minimizes impacts on species, water, and other users.
The Trails Act needs substantive amendments to address these shortcomings.
First, there should be mandatory criteria guiding the designation of trails and the content of trail management plans. These criteria must include consideration of the best available science and Indigenous knowledge. Further, the criteria should be used to designated specific trails for specific purposes to minimize conflicts between users.
Second, existing trails and any new proposed designated trails should be subject to a scientific assessment for their environmental impacts. Assessment should also be completed for the existing trails network on public lands (designated trails and not), to understand where mitigation measures are needed, particularly at watercourse crossings and in areas where there may be species of concern.
Trails are just one part of a broader footprint on Alberta’s public lands that must be considered. The cumulative effects of existing trails on a variety of environmental components need to be evaluated and mitigation measures, including rerouting and alterations of trails may be needed for a variety of reasons, be it safety of its users or safety of other species. Some species, such as grizzly and caribou, are impacted by the cumulative linear footprint on the landscape, and therefore trails must be managed and regulated within the broader environmental context.
Third, the Trails Act should include mandatory periodic review of trails by an independent scientific review committee and mandate public participation in the planning process. A 5 year review of trails is likely appropriate. There should also be a legislative mechanism to allow the public to petition the Minister to initiate a review of a specific trail and its management.
Fourth, if user fees are to be maintained there is a need to clearly link those fees to trail planning, maintenance and restoration. This can be done in the Act by linking revenues to a trail administrator (similar to wildlife related fees and its funding of conservation initiatives of the Alberta Conservation Association). This trail administrator would then ensure fees are allocated to priority areas and are equitably distributed among user groups.
Finally, the legislation should mandate that certain terms be included in trail agreements. This includes the considerations and design criteria for sustainable trail maintenance, construction and decommissioning. Engineering and design standards should be incorporated by reference in the agreements and the Trails Act should ensure that these trail agreements are publicly disclosed and subject to periodic review.
There is a need to recognize that all our activities, whether industrial or recreational, bring impacts to the natural world. The cumulative footprint and pressure on Alberta’s natural systems must be met by substantive evaluation, planning and adaptation to ensure the environment is protected. This is particularly the case if the management of these areas lies with third parties.
For additional context see the ELC’s report Managing recreation on public land: How does Alberta compare? and a subsequent addendum looking at additional jurisdictions’ approaches to trail management.
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