Mandate letters have been issued to various ministers by Premier Danielle Smith, with Todd Loewen, Minister of Forestry and Parks, receiving one last week.
Loewen told the News there weren’t many surprises in the letter and the Ministry had already been working on many of the items.
It was unexpected to see permit and licence approval times being shortened on the letter, however. It had been on the previous one and the Ministry says it had done extensive work in this area, shortening some approval times from months to weeks or from two or three years to under one year.
“In the end, it was good to see it again because I know we have to keep that focus going,” stated Loewen. “It’s to make that process as short as possible.”
Smith has called up Forestry and Parks to plan for more than 900 new campsites and some initial reviews have been done by the Ministry to discover where to increase campsites or add new campgrounds.
“We look at (usage) off the database and that will drive a lot of it right there because we know where we are always full and we know where we always have some openings,” he said. “We want to focus where we are always full.”
Nature-based solutions for carbon sequestration was also in the letter. Smith calls upon the Ministry to develop a plan with industry and use active forestry and grasslands management techniques toward this end.
“We know our forestry industry and our grazing land does sequester carbon and I think sometimes it’s not appreciated as much as it should be,” explained Loewen. “I think sometimes the federal government doesn’t recognize that, and we need to make sure we do our best to make sure the whole world knows what we are doing there.”
While the conversion of native grasslands to agricultural lands is part of the issue, the mandate letter is more focused on healthy grazing.
“Hundreds of years ago we had the buffalo that were out there grazing and now we have cattle there grazing,” said Loewen. “Grazing it properly and allowing that grass to grow again does that job of carbon sequestration.”
Using rotational grazing and other techniques provides a nature-based carbon sequestration solution, rather than allowing the area to be over-grazed. Under-grazing is also a problem as the grass isn’t utilized and it is the regrowth that provides additional carbon sequestration.
Attracting young Albertans (16-24 years) into ministry-specific jobs was one of the other items in the letter. The tourism industry is always facing labour shortages, particularly in parks and associated businesses, and the goal is to provide pathways so skilled labour is available for those areas.
While the forestry industry historically doesn’t have much trouble attracting labour, Loewen said they want to work with the Advanced Education Ministry to focus on creating opportunities for the skilled tradespeople required in that industry.
By SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jul 27, 2023
Second report as Lowen talks up his ministry’s mandate
If more campsites is your thing, then you may be just as excited as Todd Loewen is.
Alberta’s Minister of Forestry and Parks says that being responsible for bringing more than 900 new campsites and several new locations for comfort camping greatly appeals to him as much as he knows it appeals to Albertans. “Parks are for people,” he says.
The bitter irony for him is that his job frequently precludes the possibility that he can escape to the great outdoors. He admitted that he’s only managed to get away for a few nights this year so far.
“I’m hoping to do a lot more this summer yet, but it seems like there’s always lots of work to do that gets in the way of being able to enjoy some time in the outdoors,” he said.
“I do plan on spending some time because I do really want to tour some of the parks in Alberta and just see firsthand what people are experiencing so that I know when I get comments and positive and negative feedback and all, I know where it’s coming from.”
Those camping opportunities are just a small part of his platform commitments as set forth in the mandate letter that Premier Danielle Smith delivered to him just last week. They are the only items that indicate a timeline as well. He has 10 years to fulfill on those pledges.
The other items on the platform include:
- investing an additional $5 million in trail upgrades for Kananaskis Country and building new trails and campgrounds across Alberta;
- enabling the expansion of trails, campsites, and other public land use opportunities by Alberta entrepreneurs and other organizations;
- bringing stakeholders together to develop a Crown lands recreation and conservation strategy to expand public access while protecting natural spaces; and
- working with the minister of Treasury Board and Finance and minister of Jobs, Economy and Trade to develop an incentive program for the forestry industry that is similar to the Agri-Processing Investment Tax Credit.
That last item regarding the forestry industry was actually first on the list in the mandate letter.
Loewen says that it’s a tricky balance to manage the economic demands of industry with the recreational interests of the public at large.
“Alberta always has multiple things going on: we have the oil and gas; we have forestry; we’ve got agriculture; we have recreation; we’ve got fishing and hunting. There’s lots of different things going on in the landscape at any given time, and it is a bit about balancing it all up together to make sure that we can get the job done on all fronts.”
The forestry incentive program is like an investment tax credit, he explained, which is very popular and works well for job creation.
“And then but, of course, we do have a booming tourism industry that I think we need to protect and make sure it’s alive and well, too. With that, we need to be able to make sure that when we get people here that they have things to do and places to see so that they can return again to see more or tell their friends and family to come and visit Alberta, too.”
The way he sees it, they aren’t necessarily mutually-exclusive fields. They can serve each other. He hopes to direct his ministry so that it can partner with entrepreneurs and organizations and other stakeholders to facilitate the development of opportunities for both industry and recreation.
Furthermore, he wants to do more recreation and conservation strategizing for Alberta’s Crown lands with expansion of trails, campsites and other public land use activities.
Along with that, he wants to improve the infrastructure services in places like Kananaskis, Canmore, Waiparous Creek, Crowsnest Pass and other high-traffic recreational areas.
He also spoke of his interest in staying connected with the Ministry of Environment and Protected Areas helmed by Rebecca Schulz. The two ministries have a lot of overlap, he said, with occasionally competing interests. Ultimately, they need to be able to work closely together.
“We may be at times at odds, but I think overall, we have a lot more in common than not. It’ll work good together. We both have our mandates and our jobs to do, but in the end, we both have to have things happening on the landscape.”
He vowed also to make improvements with Alberta’s wildland firefighting program, including learning different styles from other jurisdictions and employing new technologies.
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jul 27, 2023