Alberta land use planning to protect habitat and promote healthy interactions between humans and wildlife
To thrive, wildlife need a place to live and their interactions with humans need to be healthy. The goal of land use planning for wildlife coexistence is to ensure that animals have space and resources.
Explicit or not, wildlife considerations are an important part of land use plans. By promoting healthy and efficient use of land and water, land use plans aim to balance the needs of plants and animals alongside other environmental, social and economic considerations.
How wildlife respond to land use planning
The evolution of land use management has improved the understanding of what wildlife need in order to coexist. Demands for social or economic land uses need to be balanced with conservation values – which often means that policies and land use plans need to provide room for wildlife.
A 1970s book on land use planning and wildlife – Land Use and Wildlife Resources (US National Research Council) – explored the influence of land use on wildlife. The researchers concluded that information is the foundation to sound land use planning:
“In most situations, from city to wilderness, management is feasible if enough biological and economic understanding can be brought to bear. The research effort in support of land-use management is well established in public agencies and educational institutions. A reasonable level of support will enable this research effort to furnish information essential to continued progress as populations build and the scene on this continent changes.”
Strategies for wildlife management
Wildlife management is a complex challenge that every land use plan – in some degree and fashion – will consider. There is broad interest and appreciation of wildlife, but conservation activities can come up against economic priorities. Researchers in a 2020 paper (Human-wildlife coexistence in a changing world) explored this topic to consider approaches and strategies that have been effective to promote human–wildlife coexistence.
The origin of conflicts between human and wildlife has typically arisen from uses that make animals and humans compete against each other.
“Conflicts increasingly arise in agricultural landscapes and in relation to transboundary wildlife management, for example, where humans have modified nature in such a way that farm land provides new forms of habitat to species that are perceived as pests and where people and wildlife follow different systemic boundaries.”
Approaches to minimize conflict don’t just rely on land use decisions, but also on the perceptions of land users to wildlife.
“People’s perceptions are central to achieving coexis-tence and are ideally based on equitable participationamong relevant stakeholders. Coexistence is not fixed, but can rather be understood as a dynamic process of continuing negotiations between the different stake-holder groups.”
Wildlife coexistence in the Land-Use Framework
A broad categorization of public land in Alberta divides land into populated (“White Areas”) and forested (“Green Areas”) regions. For the most part, cities and farms are located within the White Area and forests (mostly in the foothills and mountains) are in the Green Area.
The Land-use Framework identifies fish and wildlife habitat as an important land use in both the Green and White area. This mirrors the goals of the area – even though they have different characteristics, the ultimate goal of healthy and efficient use of land is the same.
A strategy of the Land-use Framework is conservation. Strategy 4 of the Land-use Framework says: “Clean water and air, healthy habitat and riparian areas, abundant wild species and fisheries are all “public goods” that Albertans enjoy and value.”
Government of Alberta wildlife land use guidelines
To assist with navigating the specific requirements for regions, species or projects, the Government of Alberta has compiled wildlife land use guidelines and directives. There are guidelines that are only relevant to highly specific scenarios, and there are other guidelines for broader regions or across the province.
Wildlife management in the Bow Valley
Along with the Government of Alberta, the towns of Banff and Canmore collaborated on developing a series of recommendations to improve human-wildlife coexistence in the Bow Valley.
The valley is known for many noticeable interactions with wildlife – for good and for not as good. Local and international tourism come to the Bow Valley to explore incredible nature and wildlife, but negative experiences can be a risk to both humans and wildlife.
A working group developed a set of strategies to improve coexistence between wildlife and humans. These strategies include:
- Exclude wildlife from developed areas
- Improve habitat security in wildlife corridors
- Reduce human-caused mortality
- Remove natural and unnatural attractants in developed areas
- Enhance habitat away from developed areas
- Increase capacity for enforcement
- Improve interagency collaboration
- Improve communications