Alberta's Minister of Environment and Water Diana McQueen
Credits: DAVID BLOOM/QMI AGENCY
More than 10,000 Albertans, including individuals, aboriginals, industry, municipalities, environmental organizations and other stakeholder groups, were included in three years and three rounds of consultation on the LARP, Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen said.
"Alberta has every advantage -- abundant resources in a beautiful and diverse natural landscape -- but in our busy province, we need to make smart choices about the way we grow," McQueen said.
The first of seven regional plans under Alberta's land-use framework, the regional plan is touted as unprecedented in Canada. The plan considers the cumulative effects of all activities on air, water and biodiversity, with limits to protect air and surface water quality and increases the total conserved land within the region to more than two million hectares three times the size of Banff National Park.
"I see this plan as a blueprint for dealing with present challenges and opportunities, as well as one that will ensure this important and sensitive region continues to thrive well into the future," said Melissa Blake, Mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
LARP, which takes effect Sept. 1, sets the stage for the next 50 years. It addresses infrastructure challenges and new strategies to plan for urban development around Fort McMurray, and sets regional environmental limits for air and surface water quality and regional groundwater management framework with interim triggers. It also commits to development of tailings management, biodiversity, and surface water quantity frameworks
The plan establishes six new conservation areas, bringing the total conserved land in the region to two million hectares, or 22% of the region.
It creates nine new provincial recreational areas, and changes the Dillon River Conservation Area from a public land-use zone to a wildland provincial park and increases the size by 27,245 hectares to 191,544 hectares, securing a larger tract of caribou habitat.
LARP engages the aboriginal community in tourism and environmental planning, and supports diversification of the regional economy, Wednesday's release said.
Greenpeace Canada spokesman Mike Hudema said LARP is "an improvement from the previous version" that is "still fraught with holes."
"The plan fails to protect our water by establishing downstream limits for hydrocarbon pollutants or to limit withdrawals from the Athabasca River during low-flow periods," he said.
"While the government has increased the amount of protected areas, these have been chosen based on what areas the oil industry doesn't want rather than what is demanded by science and critical for environmental protection. This may be a small step forward for the Alberta government, but it is a long way from a scientifically based, ecologically sound management plan for the embattled tar sands region," Hudema said.
Other response was more positive.
Biodiversity is fundamentally important to the health of the economy, communities and to the stewardship of Alberta's environment, said Kirk Andries, Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute executive director.
"This plan represents a significant step forward in proactively managing the health of living resources in one of the busiest regions in our province," he said.