Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Town council hears SSRP concerns from Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative president

Toni Lucas, Pincher Creek Voice

Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (YYCI) President Karsten Heuer appeared as a delegation before Pincher Creek's Town Council during the regular council meeting of Monday evening, November 25, 2013.

Heuer said he was disturbed by the small amount of change in protected areas represented in the Draft South Saskatchewan Regional land use Plan (SSRP), and that he wanted to inform the council about what stage the SSRP process is currently at.

"We are now at one of the final stages of the process, they put out the draft, and it is now open for consultation and comment from individuals and municipalities until January 15th.  Then they're hoping to go back and make any adjustments and make a final plan in April."

"The idea behind our initiative is not to have a huge national park from Yellowstone to Yukon," said Heuer regarding the YYCI organization that he represents, "But rather to have a landscape that has linkages in between protected areas so you can have a flow of wild life that can adapt to things like climate change, and that will have protection for the headwaters."

He spoke of how the growth in economy, industry and human population affects the water supply.   He also spoke of the the areas affected by the SSRP, and spoke specifically about Waterton Glacier, Rocky Mountain National Parks, Castle protected areas, and the Porcupine Hills.  He addressed concerns regarding the species at risk in this region, along the watershed, and from Yellowstone to the Yukon.   "The South Saskatchewan affects almost half of the population of Alberta."

"We need protected areas, it is a big driver of our economy, and the provider of the basic services that we need to live and prosper in community," said Heuer.  "There were things in that advice committee that were really, really important to consider from a conservation position in that draft plan.  We not only have to think of individual conservation areas on their own, but the integrity of them. the principle of connectivity.  This idea of connecting parcels of conservation lands is basically an antidote to extinction.  It allows them to escape disease, re-colonize areas after fire, flood or extreme weather."

Heuer expressed concern regarding the retention of the integrity of all the headwaters areas.  "The flood really brought home that just words could not convey what happens in the headwaters happens to all of us."

Showing a map of the Castle area that displayed what is now proposed to be protected he said "All those areas missing from the dark green, all those missing are the valuable lands, the actual forest.  It's not addressing any of the key conflicts of that region."  He spoke about the role a forest plays in water filtration and retention.  "They are not doing anything to maintain that natural sponge."  He showed the forested area, and the overlay of the proposed protected area.  "You can see how they're almost mutual exclusive to one another."

"If you look at the portion that they are protecting that 's actually new, it's less than 1% of the entire south Saskatchewan Region.  You can imagine our surprise when the draft came out,"said Heuer.  "All of these areas are already basically protected under the eastern slopes policy from 1984.  They're all high elevation forest and above.  The vast majority of what they're proposing to protect is actually rock.  Which is a huge problem if you are concerned about watersheds.  You can see how meaningless this proposed protection is, not just for forest dependent wildlife, but for downstream communities our water sources."

"We are going back to a policy that's been in place for 30 years now, and the science is older than 30 years that fed into that policy decision.  It's basically saying, 'Let's take care of the rock', and we know so much more now.    If we any hope of actually fulfilling this challenge to co-exist with wildlife we are living in one of our best chances we have to do that.  It's not going to happen by default.  It has to happen through conscious decision."

"This regional plan is one of our best opportunities for getting serious about some of these issues and trying to resolve them with some brave steps forward.  I hope that you are thinking about your response to the Alberta government during this critical time of input, in this critical part of the province, on such critical issues.  A municipal government voice is a voice that the provincial government takes very seriously."

Mayor Don Anderberg thanked Heuer for his presentation.   Heur lleft contact information and the offer to talk more in depth with any interested Councillors.

Related links:
Alberta Land Use Plans
South Saskatchewan Regional Land Use Plan

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