The results are in and the people of Alberta’s Southern Foothills have spoken.
After months of community forums and thoughtful collaboration, the Southern Foothills Community Stewardship Initiative has completed its final report. The document, a year in the making, reflects the clear and widely shared belief in the importance of ensuring that the southern Alberta foothills be managed to maintain the region’s healthy, functioning ecosystems, which provide the ecological goods and services that are essential to a healthy, functioning society.
Three hundred people participated in a series of eight community forums in the Alberta communities of Turner Valley, High River, Nanton and Cowley, as well as three workshops south of Longview. These discussions resulted in six major recommendations for maintaining the ecological and social values of the region.
Residents call for co-ordinated land-use and water planning, with proactive, long-term, integrated plans based on sound science and local consultation. They strongly urge watershed protection as the highest priority for land-use planning and management. Similarly, they would like land managers to maintain connected, functioning landscapes, which in turn will help maintain healthy ecosystems and the region’s traditional economy and culture.
Foothills residents also suggest community education is an important way to develop an understanding of stewardship as a shared responsibility, as well as to enable local people to carry it out. They also encourage planners to set thresholds or limits for human activity and development on the landscape, backed up by effective monitoring of potential impacts. In addition, they want planners to provide economic incentives to support landowners whose good stewardship helps to provide ecological goods and services to society.
The Southern Foothills Community Stewardship Initiative (SFCSI) grew out of a need expressed by local residents to better understand the value of Alberta’s Southern Foothills landscape in the words of the people who live, work and play there, and to determine their priorities for maintaining healthy ecosystems across the region. From November 2010 to June 2011, landowners, local residents, community leaders, land managers, conservationists and other interested people gathered in community halls and meeting rooms to share perspectives and information.
The dialogue was structured in two phases: one focused on identifying landscape values and priorities; the other focused on developing strategies for maintaining the ecological integrity of the Southern Foothills. The resulting recommendations — intended to inform and provide direction for regional and community planning, land and water management, and conservation decision-making — reflect the perspectives, culture and experiences of SFCSI participants who live in this iconic region of Alberta.
Participants identified eight values of the Southern Foothills landscape as highly significant to society, and vitally important in any land-use decisions. These are: water security, or the reliable supply of clean water produced by a properly functioning landscape; the traditional lifestyle and culture epitomized by ranching in wide-open spaces; the region’s renowned aesthetics; its diverse wildlife and ability to sustain it; opportunities for low-impact recreation; clean air; the ability to produce food sustainably; and the ethic of stewardship shared among many of the region’s residents.
The future ecological integrity of Alberta’s Southern Foothills depends upon a combination of forward-thinking provincial and municipal governance and ground-up local stewardship. Based on the voice of SFCSI participants, the foundation of sustainability in the region is a healthy, functioning landscape that supports the full diversity of ecosystems and traditional cultures that exist today.
The SFCSI report, Values and Voices: Stewardship Priorities for the Southern Foothills, will be available for downloading in November 2011 at the following websites:
The Pekisko Group: www.pekisko.ca
Water Matters: www.water-matters.org