Kevin van Tighem, who has worked for several years to try to get land use reform on our Eastern Slopes, particularly with regard to motorized disturbance, recently sent out an email encouraging everyone to complete this survey and support the plan. With his permission here as some key parts of his message:
"The plans are not perfect but frankly, in my opinion, they are pretty darn close when compared to what we’ve seen over the past couple decades. Some of the most significant things about the Land Footprint plan (which will have regulatory weight, so it’s a very big deal) are:
- it prescribes a maximum density for publicly-accessible roads and OHV trails of 0.6 km/km2 of land for most of the area, and an even lower density of 0.4 km/km2 for areas of high biodiversity and watershed values and for areas near native trout streams. This would be a big reduction in muddy gullies and eroding quad trails (currently more than 2 km/km2 in many parts of the area). That will mean far less flood runoff and mud every spring, better watershed health, and recovery of damaged trout habitat. These densities are based on research studies that have shown levels at which sensitive species like grizzly bear and elk start to avoid habitat, and levels at which stream health starts to suffer. This kind of conservative, science-based land management is unprecedented in Alberta.
- it requires government staff to apply the precautionary principle (essentially: don’t wait for definitive proof before deciding to act to protect sensitive land, water or wildlife) in their decision making. This too would be precedent setting. I’ve never seen government policy-makers formally embrace the precautionary principle before in Canada.
- it includes a commitment to restoring existing landscape damage — something that there has never been a program or budget to do before. The wounds of past failures won’t just be left to fester.
- it requires forest plans, the coal policy and other operational plans to be amended to bring them into alignment with these much more conservation-focused requirements
- and, if approved, it establishes the model on which future Land Footprint plans (for the Bow, Red Deer, North Saskatchewan and Athabasca watersheds) will be built. Of course, if the government blinks and backs off, that will set a precedent too — a potentially disastrous one for land, streams, wildlife and water security.
The recreation plan sits under the Land Footprint plan — fortunately, as it includes what I personally consider to be overly-generous concessions to random campers and OHV users. But I suppose they had to do that in order to actually deliver a fair and balanced plan for all. Even with those concessions to the more damaging kinds of recreational use, however, it greatly reduces motorized trail densities and moves those trails away from trout streams, sensitive habitats and private homes that border public land, and it reserves large areas for those of us who enjoy hiking, fishing, camping, birding and hunting in quiet, undisturbed landscapes. It’s very much a plan to bring vandalism to an end and make our public lands worth returning to for the many responsible Albertans who have been displaced by the motorized anarchy of recent years.
So that’s a brief summary of some of the reasons I’m impressed by the draft plans. But they are just drafts, and this is a nervous government. The OHV community is angry and motivated after having lost their trails in the Castle Parks farther south. A lot of them have decided to fight anything that would restrict them any further and they have fanned the flames of discontent with conspiracy theories and hyper-partisan attacks. That is why currently, based on what I’ve been hearing, there are more “strongly opposed” responses to the draft plans than “strongly in favour.” We could yet lose what is our best — possibly only — chance finally to put responsible stewardship values ahead of destructive behaviour on our Eastern Slopes.
Hence this email. After years of watching the places I love damaged and degraded by laissez-faire management and recreational vandalism, I’d be ashamed to let this opportunity to change course for the better slip out of our hands because I didn’t try enough or was too embarrassed to pester my friends.
I’m writing to ask you — if you haven’t already — to please consider taking half an hour to fill out the public feedback form.
And to encourage your friends, family and anyone else whom you know who cares about landscape health, clean streams, water security, native fish and wildlife populations and the quiet and beauty of wild places to also take the time to fill out the survey. The health of our headwaters is, literally, in our hands right now."