Conservation Planning in Northwest Alberta

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  • This report provides the results of a study on conservation planning and the optimal location of new conservation areas in Alberta’s Upper Peace, Lower Peace, and the Upper Athabasca planning regions.

    The Alberta Land-use Framework (LUF) was developed as a regional planning framework to manage growth and balance the economic, environmental, and social goals of Albertans. One of the main mechanisms for achieving environmental goals under the LUF is the establishment of new conservation areas, following the precedent established with the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan. These conservation areas also contribute towards the Government of Alberta’s commitment to protect 17% of ecosystems under the Convention on Biological Diversity, which was reconfirmed in the Alberta Environment and Parks 2016 business plan.

    The Northern Alberta Conservation Area Working Group was established in March 2015 to undertake a study of conservation options to support the Upper Peace, Lower Peace, and Upper Athabasca planning processes. It is anticipated that the province will begin planning in these regions in the near future. The experience gained with the first two regional plans indicates that short timelines limit the amount of research and analysis that can be done once the actual planning process begins. The planning teams must generally work with the information that is available to them at the time.

    Our objective was to provide scientifically-grounded information on conservation planning, including the optimal location of new conservation areas, leaving the decision of how much of land to protect (i.e., the balance between economic and environmental goals) to the regional planning process. Our approach to identifying conservation priorities was grounded in the principles of systematic conservation planning. We also sought alignment with the Convention on Biological Diversity, the LUF’s planning criteria for conservation areas, and the planning approach used by Alberta Parks.

    Our working objective was to design a reserve system that provided the greatest overall conservation benefit given limits on the amount of protection available. Not knowing how much land would ultimately be available for protection, we produced reserve designs across a range of sizes. The reserves were generated using the Marxan conservation planning software, which identified optimal designs for representing a wide range of conservation features across multiple scales. Our analysis also incorporated disturbance intensity, climate change, and resource conflict.

    The report describes the inputs and methods used to generate the reserve designs, and it provides a series of maps that illustrate the steps in our analysis, leading to the identification of a set of regional priority sites. The report and supporting data have been provided to the Government of Alberta for use in upcoming regional planning initiatives and are also available to the public.

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    Attribution 4.0 International