Alberta is fortunate that its prosperity, natural beauty, resources and opportunities have drawn people to the province. But it’s no secret the population boom of the past decade has also brought challenges, including tremendous pressure on the land.
Municipalities have expanded. Industrial activity has increased. The demands for everything from infrastructure to recreation have skyrocketed. This has dramatically increased the challenge of balancing these often-competing needs with those of conservation interests.
What might not be clear is that approximately 52 million of the 158 million acres in Alberta is classified as farmland. That makes farmers by far the province’s largest private landowners and land managers. Particularly for people in agriculture, it has not been hard to foresee that at some point the issues in these two worlds would converge. That time is now, with the launch of Alberta’s new Land-use Framework.
Farmers are encouraged to get involved in the public consultations for the Land-use Framework regional plans when these meetings come to their regions. These important talks will have a role in shaping the future of their industry and their role as landowners.
“It’s critical farmers are aware of how the Land-use Framework will affect them and have a strong voice in the public consultations in their regions,” says Jurgen Preugschas, industry co-chair of Agri-Environmental Partnership of Alberta (AEPA), a key organization involved in representing agricultural interests on this issue. “Now is the time to get involved, while the regional plans are still taking shape.”
Strongest policy shift in 20 years
As described by Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, the Land-use Framework sets out an approach to manage public and private lands and natural resources to achieve Alberta’s long-term economic, environmental and social goals. It provides a blueprint for land-use management and decision-making that is designed to address Alberta’s growth pressures.
The Land-use Framework was introduced in December 2008 and consists of seven strategies in various stages of implementation. The first strategy, which is the focus of the current consultations, is to develop seven regional land-use plans based on seven new land-use regions.
Each regional land-use plan has its own timeframe for development, including the public consultation period. The Lower Athabasca and South Saskatchewan regional plans are actively being pursued. The North Saskatchewan, Upper Athabasca, Red Deer, Upper Peace and Lower Peace are the five remaining land-use regions.
Eventually each regional land-use plan will go forward to the legislature for approval at which point it will become public policy. The expectation is the regional plans will look outward 50 years and will be reviewed and updated regularly throughout that timeframe.
What it means for farmers
The framework is arguably a major policy development for farmers. In fact, it is viewed as potentially the biggest development in Alberta land-use policy in 20 years. It represents a rewriting of the rules and guidelines by which land is used in the province and sets new management frameworks for land, water, air and habitat.
The framework is so big and all-encompassing that it can hard to interpret specifically what it will mean for farmers. But there’s no doubt it has the potential to have a strong influence on everything from annual farm management to long-term planning.
The regional land-use plans are expected to include details such as targets, thresholds and responsibilities for different types of land-use activity, including expectations for conservation practices and use of resources. Rules related to landownership, including transfer of landownership, are also expected as part of the mix.
The bottom line: because farmers are major landowners, the land-use framework has potential to have a major influence on how they manage that role. The details haven’t been ironed out but that’s the focus of the agenda now. The key is for farmers to have a strong voice in the consultation process, to ensure the regional land-use plans that are eventually implemented are ones that are practical, effective and account for their interests.
AEPA: A partnership to help agriculture
For farmers, a key organization involved in representing their interests in the Land-use Framework and regional land-use plan development process is the Agri- Environmental Partnership of Alberta (AEPA).
The AEPA is an organization that brings together the agricultural industry, government and public stakeholders, to support a collaborative approach toward resolving agri-environmental issues.
The AEPA grew out of a need identified by many agricultural organizations for a transparent partnership between government and the agricultural industry to serve this role. The 14 members of the AEPA board of directors provide direct communication links to 24 agricultural organizations, as well as federal, provincial and municipal government agencies and a public stakeholder.
How farmers can get involved
The most important thing for farmers at this stage of the Landuse Framework implementation is to have a strong voice in the process, to make sure their interests are represented. Farmers can do that in several ways:
Through AEPA. The AEPA has been directly involved with representing the interests of agriculture in the Land-use Framework development process from the outset. The AEPA board has encouraged and received input from agricultural organizations, and represented that in its discussions at the board level, in its numerous public documents on the issue and in its direct dealings with government and the other stakeholders involved.
The board has also welcomed input from individual farmers, both directly and through their organizations, and continues to do so. Farmers can learn more about AEPA and get contact information at www.agpartners.ca
Through farmer organizations. All farmer organizations have a role in providing input to the process. It is important for there to be representatives at the public consultations to ensure agriculture has a voice.
Participating in regional consultations. All farmers are strongly encouraged, whether they provide input through AEPA and other organizations or not, to participate in the public consultations in their region. Having a large number of farmers involved is one of the best ways to ensure agriculture and farmers have a strong presence and a strong influence.
The AEPA has developed and released a number of documents on key issues for agriculture in the Land-use Framework implementation process. More information is available at www.agpartners.ca.
To learn more about the framework and to view the latest information on schedules for the public consultations in your region, visit www.landuse.ca, or call toll free 310-4455.