Helping Rural Municipalities to Use ALSA's Tools
Municipalities are at the front lines of conservation in Alberta. Every land use process either starts or circles through their offices at some point. Their role ranges from developing a land use bylaw, to issuing building permits for industrial operations, to maintaining road networks, to managing invasive plants. And more. So it is no surprise that municipalities, especially rural municipalities, factored heavily in the Government of Alberta's thinking when the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) was developed.
ALSA has essentially two parts: the regional planning provisions (laying out the goals) and the conservation and stewardship tools (instruments to help achieve those goals). Recognizing that municipalities would be critical delivery vehicles for much that was envisioned in the Act, the tools either target municipalities directly, or create significant opportunities for them.
However, there is a weak link in that chain. Municipalities as a whole have a limited understanding of the conservation and stewardship tools, and especially how those tools might work to address the conservation and development issues currently facing them.
In 2010, Miistakis and Water Matters began a partnership project aimed at addressing this issue. The "ALSA Tools" project, created with support from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation and two other vital donors, developed a workshop series aimed at rural municipalities in Alberta. Those resources allowed us to engage two municipalities, the MD of Foothills and the MD of Ranchland.
For each municipality, Miistakis and Water Matters began by reviewing their Municipal Development Plan and other key sources of information. This allowed a picture to emerge of the unique conservation and stewardship needs of each community. We then conducted surveys to better understand each municipality's needs and challenges, familiarity with tools, and conservation aspirations.
Two workshops were held with each municipality, aimed at engaging council, senior staff, and planners. The first workshop reviewed in detail each of the conservation and stewardship tools in ALSA: Conservation Easements, Conservation Directives, Conservation Off-sets, and Transfer of Development Credits. The goal was for participants to gain a sense of which tools are appropriate for various development-conservation challenges at the local level. Strengths and weaknesses of each tool under various conditions were presented.
The second workshop made it personal. This day gave participants an opportunity to consider the tools in a local context through workshop exercises. Instructional scenarios were prepared for each MD which illustrated how the tools could be applied in a local context. The goal was not to specify how tools could be adopted into municipal planning procedures, or how they could be applied to specific proposals before council. Rather, each scenario exercise was theoretical, but based on the local issues, and challenged participants to think how the tools could be applied to resolve those issues, their issues.
There are no easy answers, no silver bullets. The scenarios were challenging because the dilemmas were real, and no one came away feeling they could wield the ALSA tools to slay any dragon. They did tell us they came away with a better sense of what the tools were and how they could be applied in general, and feeling they could better represent to their constituents when these tools might or might not work in their community. We came away feeling they were better equipped to use these tools both in the context of the up-coming regional plans and for the innumerable conservation and stewardship challenges they currently face.