The Western Stock Growers’ Association is joining the conversation around a controversial land use proposal in Alberta.
The provincial government’s Bighorn Country proposal, a project that could create a larger parks area with multiple designations, was one of the issues discussed at the WSGA’s annual general meeting, held March 12 at Red Deer, Alta. This area includes public lands east of the boundary of Banff National Park as well as the existing Bighorn Backcountry management area, Clearwater County and the majority of Brazeau County.
The proposal, according to the Alberta Environment and Parks website, “would expand, amend or create four parks, four recreation areas and two public land use zones” to better support recreation activities and industrial activity on public lands. The department states that most activities allowed within the area will not be subject to changes, with “certainty and the ability to plan long-term to provide more opportunity and better protection” listed as the benefits.
The consultation period for the proposal ran from November 2018 to February of this year, and the next step is for Alberta Environment and Parks to review this public input. However, some stakeholders have expressed concerns about the communication around the consultation process.
“I am of the opinion that there needs to be a lot more direct conversation with the landowners that are going to be directly affected than there has been,” Aaron Brower, WSGA president, stated in his President’s Report. “This will be the largest park designation in our province’s history and it is being pushed through too fast to be any good for all parties involved.”
Stakeholders in the beef sector also contend that the proposal doesn’t respect the land use framework process already in place. For example, the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan Advisory Committee supported some conservation areas, but ultimately didn’t support all of the conservation areas included in the plan, according to Alberta Beef Producers release notes.
In light of these concerns, the WSGA passed a resolution to encourage the provincial government to adhere to the North Saskatchewan Regional Planning process in relation to this proposal.
Another topic arising at the meeting was the federal government’s Recovery Strategy for Wood Bison as it relates to disease prevention. The strategy recognizes brucellosis and tuberculosis as threats, with a recommendation to “contain and prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis from wood bison local populations with diseases to disease-free local populations of cattle and ranched bison, and evaluate current disease management options.” Accordingly, WSGA membership resolved that it would hold the federal government liable for any spread of disease from these bison populations, and encourage the government to proceed with the strategy and offer the association’s collaboration on the strategy and its delivery.
The enactment of Alberta’s Bill 6 Labour Laws remains a topic of discussion. The membership resolved to lobby the provincial government to repeal Bill 6 if the United Conservative Party of Alberta becomes the ruling party after the upcoming provincial election. The United Conservative Party has campaigned on the promise of repealing this legislation.
The meeting also included an update from the James Hargrave Legacy Foundation. The foundation was established to honour the memory of former WSGA first vice-president James Hargrave, a young rancher who died in an accident while fighting a grassfire in southeastern Alberta in 2017. The foundation’s first year of operation was positive. The inaugural $3,000 award, which supports an individual interested in the beef industry, grassland stewardship and ecosystem services, was presented to Chancey Guichon of Strathmore, Alta. Applications for the 2019 award are now being accepted, and more information is available at jameshargravelegacy.com.
The WSGA executive for the previous year will continue into 2019. Aaron Brower of Aden, Alta., continues to serve as president, while James Jenkins of Okotoks is first vice-president, Cam Clark of Bassano is second vice-president and Phil Rowland of High River holds the past president position. Callum Sears and Travis Reesor were elected as new directors-at-large. The board extends its thanks to retiring director Toivo Miller for his time on the WSGA board.