On August 22, 2012 the Government of Alberta approved the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP), making it the first regional plan to be completed under Alberta’s Land-use Framework.  The plan came into effect on September 1, 2012.

Alberta’s Land-use Framework (LUF), released in December 2008, set out an approach to managing Alberta’s land and natural resources to achieve its long-term economic, environmental and social goals. The LUF established seven new land-use regions and calls for the development of a regional plan for each.

The Alberta Land Stewardship Act supports the LUF and establishes the legal basis for the development of regional plans.  The first of the regional plans, the LARP, was released in draft form on April 5, 2011.  The region covers approximately 93,212 square kilometres and is located in the northeast corner of Alberta. It is bordered to the north by the Northwest Territories and to the south by the County of Vermilion River, the County of St. Paul and Smoky Lake County. To the east, it is bordered by Saskatchewan and to the west by Wood Buffalo National Park, MacKenzie County and the Municipal District of Opportunity.

The development of the LARP used a three-phase consultation process which gathered:

  • input on the region’s issues;
  • feedback on the advice from the Lower Athabasca Regional Advisory Council; and
  • feedback on the Government of Alberta’s Draft Lower Athabasca Integrated Regional Plan.

The Lower Athabasca Regional Plan:

  • Establishes a long-term vision for the region;
  • Aligns provincial policies at the regional level to balance Alberta’s economic, environmental and social goals;
  • Reflects ongoing commitment to engage Albertans, including aboriginal peoples, in land-use planning;
  • Uses a cumulative effects management approach to balance economic development opportunities and social and environmental considerations;
  • Sets desired economic, environmental and social outcomes and objectives for the region;
  • Describes the strategies, actions, approaches and tools required to achieve the desired outcomes and objectives;
  • Establishes monitoring, evaluation and reporting commitments to assess progress; and
  • Provides guidance to provincial and local decision-makers regarding land-use management for the region.

The Lower Athabasca Regional Plan has four key components:

  • Introduction – includes the purpose of the regional plan, land-use planning and decision-making in Alberta, and how the regional plan will inform land-use decisions.
  • Strategic Plan – includes a stated vision for the future of the region along with desired regional outcomes. Builds on existing policies and initiatives by establishing a set of strategic directions that help achieve the regional vision and outcomes.
  • Implementation Plan – includes regional objectives, strategies and actions that will be undertaken to support achievement of the regional vision and outcomes and indicators to measure and evaluate progress.
  • Regulatory Details Plan – designed to make it possible to achieve the strategic direction and strategies and actions.

Up to 19 oil sands leases that are currently undeveloped will be cancelled to provide for conservation areas.  While the matter of compensation for these leases is likely to be an important issue in the coming months, there is presently a lack of clarity surrounding particulars as to what that compensation will look like. 

While there are relatively few substantial changes from the draft version of the LARP released a year ago, one significant change involves the Dillon River Conservation Area, which stretches along the eastern border of the province north of the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range. The final revisions call for this area to be increased by 27,000 hectares to a total of 191,500 hectares and to receive greater protection by being designated a Wildland Provincial Park.  This particular area is considered key habitat for woodland caribou.

A copy of the LARP is available at:https://www.landuse.alberta.ca/RegionalPlans/LowerAthabascaRegion/Pages/default.aspx

A copy of the LARP 2012-2022 Map can be accessed at the Government of Alberta’s Land-use Framework website, located at:https://www.landuse.alberta.ca/RegionalPlans/LowerAthabascaRegion/Pages/default.aspx