Wetlands, Riparian Areas & Land Use


Public and


of Terms


The Background Technical Report on riparian areas, wetlands and land use is available here:
Download report (16 MB PDF)

A draft of the report was released in mid-November 2012. The report was prepared by Calgary-based O2 Planning + Design and LimnoLogic Solutions. The Watershed Alliance’s Technical Advisory Committee supplemented by Technical Teams, reviewed the report and offered technical and professional advice.

From mid-November until mid-December, public and stakeholders had an opportunity to comment on the report. Two workshops were held in Red Deer for different stakeholder sectors:

Members of the public could attend the conservation/community workshop.

Results of the online response form can be found here.

The Alliance also made presentations to industry and agriculture organizations (see notes).

Stakeholder and Public Comments on the Background Technical Report
During the public and stakeholder consultation process, overall response to the report was very positive. A number of important technical comments were put forward at meetings, workshops and in an online response form. O2 Planning + Design, members of the Technical Advisory Committee and Technical Teams, and the IWMP Project Management Unit reviewed the comments and provided advice to O2 Planning + Design on whether they should be considered for inclusion in the report or not. A total of 52 comments were assessed and the rationales for including or not including them in the report are summarized below (also available to download as a PDF):

Technical Comment Rationale for accepting or not accepting in report
1. A discussion of riparian areas needs to look at different parts of the watershed differently. Loss of cottonwoods in the riparian area in the grasslands is important. Not accepted. Loss of cottonwoods is largely a result of the Dickson Dam and the loss of yearly flooding that brought about cottonwood regeneration.
2. Add a glossary of terms. Accepted.
3. Helicopter logging, if that is what is implied, will not be economically feasible in Alberta in the foreseeable future. Accepted. Reference to heli-logging removed from report.
4. Land use must be differentiated into those uses that leave the protective soil covers in place and those that do not. Already included in Figure 21 and noted in the text.
5. Need short, medium and long-term targets at least for some indicators. Not accepted. This will be useful for implementation but not at this stage.
6. Recognizing the difference between land use that permanently changes the landscape and land use that temporarily changes the landscape Accepted in part. This is recognized in the text of the report but land uses are not explicitly separated out.
7. This report makes reference to the headwaters being a fragile environment. The State of the Watershed Report said the headwaters were in good shape. Forested lands have a filtering capacity. Not accepted. The analysis in the final section of the report points to the headwaters as being the most sensitive part of the watershed. While the quality of water arising from the headwaters is good now, increased activities in the future — land use development, harvest of pine beetle infested forests, oil and gas development, recreation — are all potential risk factors. If protected, headwaters may continue to provide the cleanest source of water.
8. Use indicators based on “on-the-ground measurements” Not accepted. Indicators need to be based on easily measured information and data that is available over a period of time. Hence most indicators are based on broader level data.
9. Use percentages, not actual numbers for Stats Canada data on farms with buffered strips Accepted.
10. Within riparian areas the report makes reference to “perennial vegetation”. There is no definition for perennial vegetation – does a clear cut fall under this definition whereby the trees are harvested, but all ground (perennial vegetation) cover is left? Accepted. Perennial vegetation is defined in the report.
11. There are some targets made about the kilometers of road that should be built per square kilometre of road. The reference and context provided is around terrestrial animals. It was the forest sector’s understanding that this was a watershed management plan and not a land management plan. What is the context of potential harm to terrestrial animals or should the relationship not be back to the potential harm on water quality and quantity and the biodiversity of aquatic organisms? Accepted in part. Road development impacts both terrestrial animals and the aquatic system. The wording in these sections and the relevance of citing terrestrial studies was made clearer.
12. There is very little mention of mining that is occurring in the watershed. Not accepted. Aggregate and coal mining are mentioned in 2.2. Other references to aggregate mining are made in 3.2.4,, and,and coal mining in and There are no recommendations on mining.
13. No mention of dams and a discussion on how they might impact on the issues being considered for this report. Not accepted. There will be more on this in the surface water quantity background report.
14. No mention of deforestation of lands by other industries and how that might impact biodiversity or other values. Not accepted. Impact on biodiversity will be covered in the fourth technical report.
15. We question why the sensitivity analysis (Section 6) identifies the headwaters as high priority with forestry operations identified as the primary reason. Not accepted. The analysis and the map (Figure 30) do not say anything about the inherent risk of any individual activity (including forestry). The map shows where, all things being equal, a given activity (e.g., oil spill, confined feedlot operation, urban development) has the highest risk of impacting surface waters. Some significant changes to the text in Chapter 6 have been made to clarify exactly what the map is showing.
16. Section 2.5.1: Talks about “potential new risk indicators related to forestry.” Forestry has been occurring in the headwaters for decades and management practices have only improved over time. Combine that with a comprehensive regulatory environment and data that suggests water quality is excellent and we are unclear as to what the “new risk” could be? Accepted. This point was excerpted from a discussion of additional indicators in RDRWA’s data gaps report. The list of indicators was removed.
17. Section 3.2.4 indicates that forestry poses risks to further wetland loss. In our case, wetlands are deleted from the timber harvestable landbase upfront in the planning process and are therefore avoided so again there is little risk to wetlands from forestry. Accepted. Forestry activities indirectly affect wetlands but this is a minor issue compared to other risks in the list, so forestry was removed.
18. Section 3.3 and 4.3: Change wording of outcome #5 ("Wetlands appreciated and valued by producers . . ." to "The value and functions of wetlands are recognized and considered by stakeholders when making decisions and taking actions that may affect wetlands." Do the same for riparian areas. Accepted.
19. Section 3.3, Table 4: Concerning the draft outcome that states, “No further net loss of riparian areas,” removal of some riparian vegetation does not equate to “loss” of riparian areas, and Section 4.5.3: BMP states, “All industries, including agriculture, and governments should aim to avoid development or resource extraction in or directly adjacent to local variable-width riparian areas and associated steep slopes.” Some management in forested riparian areas is necessary to increase the variety of riparian habitats. All successional stages should be represented in riparian areas. Accepted in part. There is a need to explain “no net loss” better including a discussion of managed riparian harvesting. However, there is concern that there is not enough knowledge and understanding on how riparian harvesting should be done, how much forest removal can take place in riparian areas, and whether riparian areas with some harvesting would “function” as well as those left to “develop naturally.”
20. Section 3.3: Not clear what is meant by "land stewardship ethic" as stated in outcome #6. Change wording to something more familiar to stakeholders (e.g., "watershed stewardship approach"). Accepted.
21. Section 3.4.1, Table 5: could have another column listing the municipalities that cover each sub-watershed. Accepted.
22. Section 3.4.5, Table 6: Indicator #3 should be supplemented with another target suggesting that neighboring municipalities collaborate with each other. Not accepted. This is not a target. It is an action or principle, and it should be added to the text.
23. Section 3.4.5, Table 6: Indicator #4 should include raising awareness among land developers. Accepted. Changed wording.
24. Section 3.5.3 and 4.5.3: Change the specific BMP on "Restricting livestock access . . ." to "Managing livestock access . . ." for both wetlands and riparian areas. Accepted.
25. Section 3.5.3 and 4.5.3: last bullet under Protection and Conservation Tools (Integrate and implement riparian area issues within the land use framework planning process . . .”) is beyond scope for this project. Accepted. It is however very important for this report to align with the provincial land use planning process.
26. Section 3.5.3: Under the compensation considerations, any wetland impacts or loss in one part of the watershed should be compensated by wetland restoration or construction in the same sub-watershed or at least the same landscape unit. Accepted in part. Wording was changed to: “Locate compensation wetlands as close to the original wetland as possible, and within the same sub-watershed or landscape unit."
27. Section 5.2.4, states: Comments made about the use of herbicides during forestry operations are misleading. The amount of herbicide used by forestry operations is very small when compared to the amounts used by agriculture, utility/pipeline corridors, etc. Accepted. Wording changed to: “Silvicultural Practices: In areas undergoing reforestation, herbicides are sometimes used, although amounts used by the forestry industry tend to be very small.” There is actually only one mention of herbicides with reference to forestry in the report. There is nothing in the recommendations.
28. Section 5.2.4: Banff National Park has a prescribed burn plan and does not leave any buffers around waterways. Need to involve parks and get their feedback. Province does prescribed burns too. Forest companies do not. Accepted in part. Information was added to the text but no new data will be sought.
29. Section 5.2.4: Comments made about leaks from equipment creating harm to the environment.  No similar statement provided for all other sectors that use equipment. Not accepted. References are made to leaks in oil and gas sector ( and under linear development (5.2.7)
30. Section 5.2.4: First paragraph states, “and higher stream temperatures resulting from reduced forest cover for shade are also concerns (Waters, 1995; Forman et al., 2003).” I understood water temperature was controlled pretty well exclusively by groundwater, but if this is referenced elsewhere, then it is OK. Not accepted. Streamside vegetation is also important for regulating temperatures in watercourses.
31. Section 5.2.4: Log sorting is not done in Alberta. Not accepted. There are some log sorting yards in Alberta. In 2002, the provincial government produced a report on “Assessment of log yard runoff in Alberta,” which is now referenced in the report. A definition of what is meant by log sort yard is now in the report, which includes sites in the watershed.
32. Section 5.2.4: Slash burning comes in many forms. Our companies usually pile and burn slash, as opposed to broadcast burning that used to be found in BC. I don’t know if the citation covers both types. Accepted. The discussion of slash burning in small piles is now separated from broadcast burning / prescribed burning.
33. Section 5.2.4: Very specific comments related to forestry roads and the harm caused by those roads with no comments about any other industry, individuals or governments that builds roads.  Are roads built by forest companies the only problem? Not accepted. Roads are cited under urban development (5.2.1), oil and gas (, linear development (5.2.7,, 5.5.4), and recreation and tourism (5.3.5).
34. Section 5.2.4. Forest operation on steep slopes was provided as an example of a poor practice. What is considered a steep slope? What about road building, pipeline construction, rural development, etc. on steep slopes? Why are these presumably accepted? Accepted in part. Need to provide a definition of “steep slope.” There is reference to other development on steep slopes in Sections 4.1.2, 4.5.3, 5.2.5, and 5.4. The steep slope criteria in 6.0 was in relation to all land uses, not just forestry.
35. Section 5.2.9: The Dogrib fire that occurred in the headwaters near Bearberry in 2001 was a major widespread fire that impacted water quality and ecosystem dynamics. Are there results that should be included? Not accepted. The Dogrib fire is referred to in a text box in Section 5.2.9. It is beyond the scope of this report to cover more detail on the results of research into the fire.
36. Section 5.3.7, Page 75 – Campgrounds need to be added to parks and protected areas. The report does not deal with ATV and other motorized recreational uses in the watershed. There are no comments about the significance of recreational activities on wetlands and waterways. Not accepted. There is no data available on these areas. Recreation is listed as a primary use in the upper and lower headwaters (2.5.3, Table 2). Recreational impacts are mentioned in BMPs for wetlands (3.5.3), in riparian areas (4.5.3). Impacts also noted in 5.2.5, 5.3.5, 5.3.7 (parks and protected areas). The need for more research on recreation impacts is noted at the end of 5.6.2.
37. Section 5.4 Table 22: Not sure how Watershed Alliance collaboration can be called an "outcome for land use.” Not accepted.
38. Section 5.4: Goal #2 - Delete reference to "regional" objectives and just stick to watershed objectives. Accepted.
39. Section 5.4: Outcomes #7 and #11 regarding "enhanced knowledge of ecosystem services" should be combined. Accepted.
40. Section 5.5: For headwaters areas, add the following land use targets: stand % retention in cutblocks; age distribution of forest cover; riparian buffers; % seismic line linear distance reclaimed; % forestry road linear distance reclaimed; # of uncontrolled water crossings in trails in use; # random campgrounds Not accepted. The planning process can become very unworkable with a large number of targets that are closely related to the same outcomes.
41. Section 5.5: More land use targets for industry. Accepted. Programmatic targets for both oil and gas, and aggregate industries have now been specified.
42. Section 5.5.1: I am making the assumption that regenerating forests are included as natural land cover. Not accepted. There is a lack of clarity on the threshold to determine when a regenerating forest would be defined as natural land cover.
43. Section 5.5.2, Table 24: A high percentage of the watershed is not impervious. Of greater concern, are the changes to the watershed's ability to store and moderate run-off due to land use conversion or management practices. Indicators should reflect these broader issues in addition to the impervious area indicator. Not accepted. It was felt that this issue is covered in the natural land cover target.
44. Section 5.5.2: Description and treatment of impervious surfaces needs to be very different in rural areas versus urban. The report already differentiates between urban and rural impervious surfaces. The targets for impervious areas are only set for urbanized areas.
45. Section 5.5.3, Table 25: Livestock intensity is not a real indicator of ecological function. At best, it's an indicator of theoretical / potential environmental risk due to livestock. A better indicator might be the percentage of livestock operations following relevant best management practices. Not accepted. This indicator was chosen primarily because it is relatively easy to get data on livestock density and there are no good data on BMPs. Some of these issues are covered in the surface water quality report.
46. Section 5.5.4: There was some discussion about Linear Disturbance Thresholds – which threshold do we follow? It depends on which report you are reading because they are all different. There are recommended thresholds in the grizzly bear plan that companies follow. There are different numbers in this report and they are not right. Not accepted. The “surface road + rail density” indicator in Table 26 is a different indicator than that used in the grizzly bear recovery strategy. The targets in the report are based on existing conditions. The grizzly bear indicator uses what is called “open route density” and it is very difficult to compare the two indicators and their targets.
47. Section 5.5.5, Table 27: Delete the reference to specific provincial regulatory bodies and just state "relevant government agencies." Accepted.
48. Section 5.5.5, Table 27: Indicator “Number of forestry plans certified to CSA – Z809 Forest Certification Standard” is perhaps a poor indicator. Individual plans are not certified by CSA, operators are, although certified operators would translate into certified plans. CSA does not set standards; it audits the standard the company decides to follow, be it regulatory or otherwise. No other industry or government has been provided a similar recommendation. The ISO certification program, which has a focus on the environment, would be a better program because it sets standards for all industries and government, not just forestry. A target of 100% is currently unrealistic as these certifications are expensive and small operators cannot afford to be registered. Accepted. Report has been changed and includes CSA or ISO 14001 certification. Target has been changed so it says, “100% of major forestry operators to have CSA or ISO certification."
49. Section Oil spill leak detection should be a specific BMP. Accepted.
50. Section There are recommendations made in the report that forestry practices need improvement. There are no similar suggestions for other industries, agriculture or government development. Why is that? Not accepted. There are recommendations for other industries in the report. In the BMPs section (5.6.3), there are general recommendations for all land uses (5.6.4), urban and rural intensive uses (, rural residential development (, agriculture (, and oil and gas (
51. Section – why single out forestry on regulations? Report needs to make it clear that forestry industry is heavily regulated and that the provincial government has set out operating ground rules for the forest industry that it must follow. There is too much focus on the forest industry. Not accepted. The regulation of the forest industry is mentioned a number of times in the report. Regulation of other industries is also discussed — oil and gas, agriculture, development, etc.
52. Section What is the origin of the statement, “Where appropriate and feasible, conduct forest harvesting using alternative methods . . .” Most of our forests are pure or high percent pine. Clear-cutting is the best strategy to ensure continuous forest cover. Why is clear-cutting being picked on? It is simulating natural disturbances and it leaves lots of woody debris behind. Not accepted. It is important to point out the phrase: “where appropriate and feasible.” Alternative methods of harvesting are used in limited situations in Alberta.

The first Background Technical Report, which was on surface water quality, was prepared by limnologist Dr. Anne-Marie Anderson and is available here

In total, there will be four Background Technical Reports that build the foundation for the Watershed Alliance’s integrated watershed management plan.

The Watershed Alliance is beginning work on the third Background Technical Report, which will address surface water quantity and groundwater. Public and stakeholder consultation on that report will take place in the early fall.

Menu IconMain menuContent IconContent