2018 paper explores legislative frameworks for urban biodiversity

A home for wildlife does not often make a good home for humans. This is the (overly simplified) foundation for the challenge of biodiversity in urban areas.

Biodiversity management falls to all levels of government, from municipalities up to federal policies. As such, provincial regional plans have a part to play in maintaining or growing the biodiversity of plants and animals within urban areas.

The Canadian Institute of Resource Law published a paper in 2018 exploring the tools available to improve urban biodiversity in the province – Legislative Frameworks for Urban Biodiversity, Ecosystems and Wildlife in Alberta (by Sara L. Jaremko). Here is how regional planning can be used by Alberta municipalities to protect and improve biodiversity within their urban limits.


Threat of urbanization on biodiversity

More humans means less natural areas. As urban areas grow in size and density, habitat tends to be fragmented or reduced in size and quality. Alberta’s metropolitan regions have experienced considerable growth (both in population and size) over the past few decades.

From 1971 to 2011, Edmonton’s area grew by 220 per cent and Calgary’s area grew by 56 per cent. In terms of populations, Edmonton’s rose by 118 per cent and Calgary’s by 90 per cent. And this growth is expected to continue.


How biodiversity and urban areas can coexist

Urbanization is a significant threat to biodiversity, but urban management of biodiversity is not futile. Two main approaches to managing urban biodiversity are:

  1. Create a network of connected natural areas within and beyond municipal limits.
  2. Integrate plants, animals and habitats within urban areas.

Nature is resilient and there are opportunities to coexist, even in dense metropolitan areas.


All levels of government are involved

Legislative jurisdiction for biodiversity management falls to all levels of government. The federal government outlines the targets and strategy for national biodiversity through the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy (1992) and has authority over species at risk, inter-jurisdictional species, migratory birds and natural resources (along with the provincial governments).

Provincial legislation is the working horse for biodiversity management, especially for wildlife management. As an extension of provincial policies, municipalities manage the use of land in accordance to the provincial strategies.


At the provincial level – land use planning

Alberta’s regional plans are at the top of the planning hierarchy. As a result, the biodiversity targets and strategies outlined by the Land-use Framework (2008) and subsequent regional plans are the foundation to biodiversity strategies for urban areas.

The Land-use Framework provides this vision for healthy ecosystems:

“Alberta lands should be managed to ensure healthy ecosystems. Albertans accept the responsibility to steward our land, air, water and biodiversity so that they pass on to the next generation in as good or better condition as we received them. The means to achieve this outcome may vary from region to region and be different on public and private lands, but the goal is the same.”


Opportunities to improve urban biodiversity

Land use planning improves connectivity

A land use planning approach benefits biodiversity planning to emphasize connections – both within and beyond urban regions. The regional plans can promote connectivity based on land cover.


Less stringent zoning can create opportunities

If landowners and developers are not confined to strict zoning, there are opportunities to include land stewardship or conservation through voluntary measures. If there are less barriers, there may be more public participation.


Mandated goals but flexible options

Regional plans define the targets and vision for the province, but a lack of prescribed actions provides the flexibility for municipalities to define their own approach. The evaluation and monitoring features within Alberta’s regional plans will help to ensure the actions create the expected results.


Read the complete article from the Canadian Institute of Resource Law.

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