The Other Battle of Alberta
Set-Up for Conflict: Albertans’ Values vs Alberta’s Resources
Opinion Editorial Submission by Brenda Heelan Powell, Environmental Law Centre
May 16, 2022 – As Albertans, we are blessed with a wealth of public lands and resources. The provincial government has been entrusted to manage our lands and resources for the benefit of all current and future Albertans. But it seems that the provincial government has lost sight of this. Important land use and resource decisions are being made without talking to the real land and resource owners: the Alberta public.
It is clear that Albertans want to be involved in decisions around public lands. This is illustrated by the public outcry around the provincial government’s decision to rescind the longstanding Coal Policy in the Eastern Slopes. Once that decision was announced, it became very clear that Albertans did not want coal mining in the Eastern Slopes. After much public consultation, the rescission decision was reversed and it was acknowledged that regional planning needs to be completed to address coal mining activities in that region.
Similar outcries were heard in 2020 when the provincial government announced it was going to de-list numerous provincial parks. Again, on hearing the public’s opposition, the provincial government seemed to back off on that decision. Albertans made it clear that they place immeasurable value on their provincial parks.
Albertans want to be heard. Decisions about public land use and allocation of natural resources need public input.
Yet, the provincial government continues to make significant decisions around public lands and resources without public input. An example is the decision process relating to forest management agreements (FMAs). An FMA is an agreement between a company and the provincial government which allows the company “to enter on forest land for the purpose of establishing, growing and harvesting timber in a manner designed to provide a yield consistent with sustainable forest management principles and practices” (Forests Act, s. 16). In other words, an FMA grants the holder the right to manage and harvest forests on public lands, usually for a 20 year period.
Over the last few months, the provincial government has renewed three FMAs, covering over 7,080 km2 of public land. Again, this was done without public input.
There are currently 21 FMAs in Alberta allocating over 66% of Alberta public forests for commercial forestry activities. Since many of these FMAs were made about 10 to 15 years ago, there is potential for more FMA renewals over the next few years. Shouldn’t Albertans be consulted on whether these renewals should be made? Albertans own these forests, why shouldn’t we have a say?
The lack of public consultation is definitely a problem with how the provincial government has been making decisions about Albertans’ public lands and resources. There is another problem, decisions are not made in a context of fulsome land use planning.
Alberta does have a legal framework for regional land-use planning called the Alberta Land Stewardship Act. The intention is that land-use planning will be done for the whole province which is divided into 7 regions. But only 2 of 7 regional land-use plans have been completed so far. It is imperative that regional land-use planning be completed for the entirety of the province. Furthermore, the regional planning must be done with significant and meaningful public participation.
Regional plans have the potential to address the cumulative impacts of multiple activities within a region, as well as to direct which activities are or are not appropriate in certain areas (which also helps create certainty for industry). Fulsome regional planning – which requires significant and meaningful public participation – can help set out a road map for public land and resource use, conservation, and appropriate levels of development.
But seeking the input of Albertans should not wait on regional planning, it should start immediately. The provincial government must start consulting with Albertans on important land and resource use decisions such as upcoming FMA renewals. As experience with both the Coal Policy and provincial parks de-listing show, Albertans do not envision only short-term economic gain for Alberta’s lands and resources. Our lands and resources provide a myriad of benefits and values, and it is only by talking to Albertans that balanced decision-making can be achieved.
ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTRE:
The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) has been seeking strong and effective environmental laws since it was founded in 1982. The ELC is dedicated to providing credible, comprehensive and objective legal information regarding natural resources, energy and environmental law, policy and regulation in Alberta. The ELC’s mission is to advocate for laws that will sustain ecosystems and ensure a healthy environment and to engage citizens in the laws’ creation and enforcement. Our vision is a society where our laws secure an environment that sustains current and future generations and supports ecosystem health.
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