Government of Alberta Introduces New, Flexible Wetlands Policy

On September 10, 2013, the Government of Alberta announced its new Alberta Wetland Policy (Policy), which has been developed in an effort to conserve, restore, protect and manage Alberta’s wetlands while providing regulatory certainty, clarity and predictability to proponents and regulators. This Policy will eventually replace the current wetland policy in Alberta, Wetland Management in the Settled Area of Alberta: An Interim Policy (1993). The Policy will be effective from the date of approval but the timeline for its implementation has yet to be developed. Noteworthy aspects of the Policy include the following:

  • The Policy will apply to natural wetlands in Alberta, including bogs, fens, swamps, marshes and shallow open water; all restored natural wetlands; and wetlands constructed for the purpose of wetland replacement.
  • The Policy will introduce a “Relative Wetland Value,” which acknowledges that not all wetlands in Alberta are of equal value. The value of a wetland will be determined through the consideration of different factors, including biodiversity and ecological health, water quality improvement, hydrologic function, human uses and relative abundance.
  • The Policy will introduce a “Wetland Mitigation Hierarchy,” which is a three-stage approach to achieve the Policy’s objectives and goals. The primary and preferred response of resource developers is to avoid all impacts on wetlands. If avoidance is justifiably ruled out, resource developers are expected to minimize impacts on wetlands. If avoidance and minimization are not feasible, wetland replacement is required as a last resort and will fall into one of two categories: (1) restorative replacement, which will include the restoration, enhancement or construction of another wetland; and (2) non-restorative replacement, which will allow resource developers to pay financial restitution for wetland loss. The use of the Wetland Mitigation Hierarchy will be informed by the Relative Wetland Value.
  • The Policy will be further supported by forthcoming decision-making frameworks, codes of practice and standard operating procedures for some commonly occurring activities.