The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP)

From the native prairie to the jagged peaks of Kananaskis and the Castle Special Place, southern Alberta is a treasured land for the people of the province and all of Canada. The South Saskatchewan River Basin region contains a diversity of ecosystems including grasslands, foothills and mountain that support our way of life in Alberta. The region is globally important for people, water, wildlife and wilderness.

In July 2014, the Government of Alberta released the final South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, which sets the direction for conservation and development of southern Alberta for the next 50 years. Although small steps were made, overall the plan failed to make the necessary tradeoffs to create appropriate protected areas and care for our valuable headwaters.

The South Saskatchewan regional planning area includes the lands and waters of the South Saskatchewan River Basin.  The forested headwaters of the Rocky Mountains are vital to providing water to the people and communities in Southern Alberta. The region also supports native prairie grasslands, one of the most rare and imperiled ecosystems in the world.  These natural areas provide habitat for rare wildlife, produce clean water, regulate floods and provide many recreational opportunities. Along the way, these resources support thousands of jobs and families.

The South Saskatchewan Region is also the most populated region in Alberta, containing 45 per cent of Alberta's population and our largest city, Calgary. The region also includes seven First Nations reserves that were established through the Treaty 7 process in 1877.

Why a Regional Plan?

The Land Use Framework and associated South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) is a Government of Alberta initiative intended to balance environmental, economic, and cultural well-being across a landscape that encompasses a diversity of land-uses. Albertans have seen too many beautiful and productive natural areas lost to poorly planned development and sprawl. We must plan ahead to maintain our natural values, as we grow our economy. This requires community and science-based solutions and effective land-use planning.

Applying land use planning best practices to limit cumulative effects and conserve environmentally significant areas and corridors protects Alberta's landscapes and ecosystems. If done right, regional planning can also set a clear path forward, protecting Alberta’s outdoor way of life, strengthening our economy and building a healthier environment as we grow and manage our resources.

Unfortunately the final SSRP did not create this balance and failed to make the necessary commitments to ensure we maintain the important natural functions of this region. Some of the main disappointments in the plan were the lack of clear on-the-ground actions to protect headwaters and that the new protected areas were largely above treeline, leaving the lowland forests, streams and riparian areas unprotected.

Within the next few years the government will be drafting the Biodiversity Management Framework, the Linear Density Management Framework and a regional recreation plan as part of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP). These management frameworks must include strong commitments and hard targets.

CPAWS is actively engaged in this process providing feedback to government on the management frameworks and encouraging people to get involved.

What CPAWS is doing

CPAWS Southern Alberta chapter has been involved throughout the regional planning process. After the release of the Draft South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP), CPAWS visited many communities and groups to talk about the draft plan and encourage people to participate in the consultation process. We also submitted our recommendations to improve conservation outcomes in the final plan.  

During previous stages of the process, the chapter also submitted documents to the RAC and comments to the government. Throughout the regional planning process, CPAWS SAB was dedicated to raising public awareness of the plan and encouraging public participation.

Some of our key recommendations for the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan were:

• Full legal protection of the entire Castle Special Place;
• Additional protected areas that represent all of the region’s ecosystems:  grasslands, foothills and mountains;
• Wildlife habitat linking protected areas and other areas of core wildlife habitat;
• Evaluate and recognize the full value of benefits that the healthy ecology provides;
• Encourage recreation within the ecological limits of the region, including common-sense regulations and enforcement on inappropriate off-highway vehicle traffic;
• Clear standards for the numbers of roads and trails, to fit the biological needs of wildlife and protect our water;
• Provide incentives to landowners to conserve native grasslands on private lands.

Although very few changes were made between the draft and the final plan we are confident that our work and the commitment of our members and other concerned citizens made a difference to these small steps forward.
As the regional Management Frameworks are developed CPAWS SAB will continue to provide recommendations to the government and encourage public input into their development.

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