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Town picks up award for natural asset inventory

AUMA Convention: Innovative and cutting-edge project recognized
Coun. Brent Robinson, from left, Rachel Swenseid, Mayor Tanya Thorn, Coun. Cheryl Actemichuk, Oliver Hallmark and Gord Lang, accept the Alberta Municipalities Environmental Award for municipalities with populations of 10,000 or more during the Alberta Municipalities Convention in Edmonton on Nov. 18.

The Town of Okotoks was recognized at last week’s Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) Conference for the natural and naturalized assessment project that was completed in July 2020.  

“I’m thrilled,” said Sheri Young, the town's climate change and energy specialist and project lead. 

“It was really exciting to be on the front end of this, so it’s really great to see that recognition and that acknowledgement of Okotoks as an environmental leader.”  

Mayor Tanya Thorn and councillors Cheryl Actemichuk, Oliver Hallmark, Rachel Swenseid, Gord Lang and Brent Robinson accepted the Alberta Municipal Environmental Award for municipalities with populations of 10,000 or more on Nov. 18.  

According to AUMA, which has recently rebranded to Alberta Municipalities, the award recognizes member municipalities that have demonstrated excellence in environmental practices in their municipal operations, administration and governance.  

The first-of-its-kind project measured every natural asset within town boundaries using GIS mapping. In collaboration with Fiera Biological Consulting and Nichols Applied Management, the team completed a literary review and with that, placed a value on each assets’ service to the ecosystem, Young said.  

“Usually what a town is reliant on to provide services to the people that live in the town are our grey infrastructure. So, things like pipes and water utilities – they’re often stuff we build,” Young explained. “Natural assets are things that grow, that we don’t necessarily build — maybe we do something to encourage them to grow, but we don’t actually build them ourselves.”  

Some of the natural assets in the Okotoks area include the Sheep River Valley, pastures, wetlands, treed areas and woodlands.  

For example, she said, one part of the project was assessing the level of carbon sequestration of group of trees in a wooded area. Carbon sequestration is the process of collecting and storing carbon dioxide.  

“We did some literary review and found out how much the carbon sequestration of those trees were and how valuable in today’s dollars it would be worth if we could put it on our books, if we could sell carbon sequestration potential,” Young said.  

Natural and semi-natural assets within town limits were valued at approximately $84 million when the project was completed 16 months ago.  

“We wanted to provide a value for things that are green field. So basically, when planning looks at a field and says ‘OK, it’s kind of useless’ or ‘We can build something on there, because it’s not really providing anything right now,’ we’re able to quantify the value of what was growing there before we built anything,” said Young of the inspiration behind the project.  

“Financial systems don’t actually allow that.”  

Young said the upcoming projects in town are directed by the Climate Action Plan and include green building guidelines for preserving conservation spaces and increasing energy efficiency, as well as a clean energy improvement program which she is working on to be introduced next year.  

“It’s a really big honour to have this inventory this very cutting-edge, kind-of cool way of doing things recognized by our fellow municipalities,” she said.