Aerial view of roads and forest


New Trails Act Not a Substitute for Land Use Planning

November 3, 2021

Newly announced Bill 79 – the Trails Act is not a replacement for sorely needed land use planning.

The Trails Act introduces new powers to government to be able to create trail management plans, designate trail managers and designate provincial trails and provincial trail areas. While Alberta has needed a better system of trail management for years, a number of questions remain regarding the implementation of this new legislation. Any changes to trails across Alberta’s landscape should prioritize the integrity of habitat, and the needs of sensitive wildlife species such as endangered native trout, or threatened caribou, while still enabling people to get out and enjoy nature.

“There are many instances where industry, recreation, and the needs of wildlife conflict on public land, and while we hope that the newly announced Trails Act can alleviate some of that conflict, we remain concerned about the implications that this will have on public land use, and the way it will be integrated with land use plans that are still lacking across the province,” said Tara Russell, Program Director with CPAWS Northern Alberta.

A number of questions also remain regarding the implementation of ‘trail management plans’ as the province has yet to complete the regional land use plans which are intended to supersede these trail plans. Land use planning is essential to determine appropriate trail density, location, and allowed uses to meet the needs of people, and the environment. Land use plans are long overdue across the province, and many areas already far exceed sustainable densities of trails and roads. Increased management through the designation of trails, revaluation of routes, and closures is needed. “I have hesitations with user groups carrying out trail management and planning without the overarching guidance of a land-use plan,” Russell added.

“Any trail management plans created under this legislation must prioritize ecological integrity of the landscape, while meeting the needs of all recreational users,” said Becky Best-Bertwistle, Conservation Engagement Coordinator with CPAWS Southern Alberta.

The new legislation also gives the Minister the ability to designate a ‘Trail Manager.’ “The designation of trail managers raises concerns of accountability for us. The provincial government must remain the planner, manager and final authority of any trails developed under this legislation,” added Best-Bertwistle.

Public consultation opportunities regarding trails were limited to an online survey on sustainable outdoor recreation in early 2021. The online survey overwhelmingly focused on the introduction of user fees, and support for increased enforcement on public lands. Both issues could be addressed through existing public lands legislation, but are absent from the new Trails Act.

“We are disappointed to see that the government has chosen to not consult further on this new legislation. As we all know, Albertans are passionate about recreation on public lands and need to be consulted on any changes that will impact the management of these activities,” said Becky Best-Bertwistle.

“This legislation must be used to ensure that Alberta has a sustainable, responsible trail system on public land. One that works for the environment and all recreation types, not just motorized trail users,” she added.

For more information, please contact: 

Becky Best-Bertwistle
Conservation Engagement Coordinator, CPAWS Southern Alberta