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Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs) Report

Updated Data & Map

Environmentally Significant Areas - Provincial Update 2009 is an update of the 1997-98 Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs) of Alberta data and map.

The ESA map and data are widely used by municipal land-use planners, energy companies, consultants, environmental organizations, academic institutions and others. Essentially, ESAs are

  • Important to the long-term maintenance of biological diversity, soil, water, or other natural processes, at multiple spatial scales.
  • Areas that contain rare or unique elements or that include elements that may require special management consideration due to their conservation needs.

ESAs do not represent government policy and do not necessarily require legal protection.  They are intended to be an information tool to help inform land-use planning and policy at local, regional and provincial scales.

ESA Methodology

The update identified a total of 754 ESAs using seven defined criteria. Each ESA was assigned a significance rating according to the elements present: (1) International, (2) National, and (3) Provincial. The ratings do not reflect respective importance.  Rather, they signify the scale at which each ESA is significant or rare.

The spatial distribution of the updated ESAs is generally similar to those identified in 1997-98.  However, additional areas were also identified. Environmentally Significant Areas - Provincial Update 2009 incorporated updated information and changes to the land base that occurred in the preceding decade.

Application of systematic conservation area design principles using seven well defined criteria resulted in a scientifically defensible portfolio of ESAs in Alberta. The methodology for delineating ESAs was transparent and repeatable.  This means the ESA network can be easily updated as new

  • Information becomes available for existing criteria (e.g. updates on listings of elements of conservation concern), and
  • Criteria are added (e.g. human disturbance).

Consistent application of this methodology ensures ESAs are a relevant decision support tool for land-use planning and implementation in Alberta over the long term.

Further Analysis

Further analysis may be required at the regional scale to

  • Refine ESA boundaries
  • Prioritize ESAs for management
  • Develop ESA-specific management strategies

This analysis would highlight areas for closer scrutiny by land managers and stakeholders during the land-use planning process.

Historical ESA

The original ESA studies in Alberta were done from 1983-1996.  A provincial review and synthesis of ESA work was completed in 1997-98.