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Okotoks honoured for natural asset inventory

The Town of Okotoks received the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators' Environment Award for municipalities of 20,0001 to 100,000 for its Natural Asset Inventory project.
NEWS-CAMA Award BWC 0333 web
The wetlands in Laudan Park in Okotoks on May 28. The Town received an award from the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators for its Natural Asset Inventory project.

Okotoks has been recognized for its dedication to the town’s natural assets.

The Town of Okotoks was presented with the Environment Award from the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA) at its virtual awards ceremony on May 11 for its Natural Asset Inventory project, which received council approval in October 2020.

Tony Kulbisky, CAO of the Town of Devon and Alberta CAMA rep, said Okotoks was one of 36 nominees and received its Environment Award in the category of municipalities with populations of  20,0001 to 100,000.

“Awards are presented to local governments and their chief administrators in recognition of their creative and successful programs, projects and services,” said Kulbisky during a presentation to Okotoks council on May 24.

The criteria for the Environment Award focused on the extent the project involved innovation and creativity; whether it exemplifies significant change; its potential to enhance the practices of other municipalities; and the sustainability or long-lasting positive effects on the municipality, he said.

“The Environment Award recognizes the commitment of the municipality to environmentally sustainable governance, to protecting the environment, and to combatting climate change, and is awarded to innovative programs, projects or services that have been a significant and positive impact on the environment,” said Kulbisky.

Sheri Young, climate change and energy specialist for the Town of Okotoks, was one of three lead members on the team that developed the Natural Asset Inventory. She worked alongside Bridget Couban from the parks department and Michelle Grenwich from the planning department.

“We’re quite excited,” Young said of receiving the award. “Our team worked hard on this project. It’s actually my favourite project, a totally cutting-edge way of looking at planning and at natural assets.”

The inventory takes a look at the natural assets on land in town, such as wetlands and native trees and grasses, and assigns a value to them based on the service they deliver to the Town, such as riparian protection.

A map layer was created with all of the natural assets, and can now be laid over planning maps to assess potential losses, said Young.

For example, the GPS co-ordinates for a potential bike trail would be laid over the natural asset inventory map to see whether the trail would cross over any high-valued lands, she said.

It’s going to be used for all planning and development in the future.

“It’s not just, ‘Oh, there’s a really great wetland there,’” said Young. “It’s, ‘Oh, there’s a wetland providing $80,000 worth of eco-system services every year, we need to do something about that.’”

She said it took a while to get the inventory plans off the ground, because it was groundbreaking work in Canada at the time.

Former environment and sustainability manager Dawn Smith first sought council’s approval to evaluate the Town’s eco assets in early 2019.

“She started the ball rolling and then we put our heads together to figure out what we were looking for and how best to get what we needed out of a project like this,” said Young.

The project got started in December 2019 and was completed in summer 2020, with council approval in October, she said.

Since it was presented, the Natural Asset Inventory has garnered interest across Canada, she said.

“I’m excited with the uptake and really honoured that we got awarded this national recognition for this project, which has been one of the coolest projects I’ve ever worked on,” said Young. “I’m really happy it helped get other people learning about natural assets and natural asset inventory.”

CAO Elaine Vincent said the Natural Asset Inventory team deserved kudos for the project, which she said was the first of its kind in Alberta and something that Okotoks will reap the rewards from moving forward.

“We will see the long-term rewards of this in our long-term planning, protecting the environment and ensuring that we plan accordingly, and recognize the assets we have in this community,” said Vincent. “That’s not something any municipality does.”