The target is clear policy, with measurable progress and a system to manage it
By any account, this is a bold move with robust targets. Lacombe County, with a rapidly growing population eager for land, home to some of the richest agricultural soils in the province, and a beautiful landscape that straddles several popular recreational lakes, is developing a County sustainability policy to prepare for its next generation.
Bringing together that many diverse groups is something that others across the province will be watching with interest, especially the agricultural community. How to get input appropriately? How to determine priorities? How to actually implement a useful management process?
The thinking that drives the Lacombe effort is simple. The coming backdrop to things sustainable in Alberta is legislation such as Land Use Framework and the Water for Life strategy. The Lacombe County belief is that these legislated solutions are inevitable and it is better to meet that challenge head on with a local policy that deals with the issues more on local terms.
Blayne Petrowicz, whose environmental coordinator position heads up the Lacombe County effort, knows that with the right commitment it can be done. In fact she's been part of successful efforts in her work in similar situations in Australia.
She also knows it won't be easy.
In many ways Petrowicz' life experiences mirrors the communities she represents today. She had a carefree childhood as the daughter of parents running a guiding and outfittting service in the Porcupine Hills northeastern Saskatchewan. That area hugs the top end of the broad productive farmlands that stretch south to the U.S border.
That natural love of the land led eventually to degrees in environmental management. She has spent several years on rural community sustainability efforts in Australia, an experience which convinced her that that country was ahead of North America in managing for sustainability and educating its people accordingly.
A short stint in England working in the commercial sector helping companies reduce their environmental footprint, rounded out her education. That showed her the right goals can translate into bottom line, measurable impact such as energy savings at a company level.
She considers the Lacombe County opportunity the best of all these worlds, a ground floor opportunity on the front lines of sustainability.
One simple lesson in all her international experiences drives this Lacombe process for Petrowicz. There is no progress unless it is measureable.
"My starting point is always to define the ultimate goal, then work backwards to fill in the blanks," she says. "I could have come in and designed a sustainability policy, but that was not likely to be very successful. It had to be the right policy and that came from good process, one that reflects the community values."
The starting point has been many input "visioning" sessions from staff and the community. Next steps will be to collect necessary scientific information. From those efforts will be produced the draft policy. Once that is approved, the management system complete with monitoring recommendations will be developed.
"We can't do all things quickly," she says. "We will set priorities that are accomplishable and once those are in control, we will move onto the next. That will take two or three years to get on track. We have already had some pushback from the community wondering what it will look like. In fact it can move as quickly or slowly as they like.
"Once we have this set up it is really a matter of the county deciding how big or how small this will be. It depends on the resources and drive that's here."
One interesting part in this process is where a tool like the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) fits into Lacombe's plans. Petrowicz thinks it has a natural fit in several ways.
For one thing it provides critical information at a specific landscape level. That scientific data will be very useful in developing a county perspective. "It can be critical information for achieving the bigger vision," says Petrowicz.
"It's a fantastic tool from what I've seen and we would encourage producers to complete on or update theirs.
"Ideally I'd like to see it tie to specific measurable goals and for us to be able to develop supporting programs at a county level that help producers meet their goals."
More information on EFPs in Alberta is available at www.albertaefp.com.