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Provincial Conservation Laws


What is it?

(this page is derived from a more complete summary created by the Environmental Law Centre in Edmonton)

Although the primary legislative authority for Alberta’s municipalities is the Municipal Government Act, there are several other provincial laws that both bind and enable municipalities with regard to conserving their natural infrastructure. These include ecological conservation laws (Wildlife Act, Provincial Parks Act, and Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands Act), regional planning and stewardship tools law (Alberta Land Stewardship Act), and environmental laws of general application (Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, Water Act  and Public Lands Act). The Agricultural Operation Practices Act regulates agricultural operations including confined feeding operations (CFOs) which may influence municipal efforts to conserve natural infrastructure, and while municipalities can use planning powers to limit CFOs to certain areas, a Natural Resources Conservation Board permit takes priority.

How can municipalities use it?

While a municipality cannot pass a bylaw conflicting with provincial (or federal) law, that does not mean they cannot pass a bylaw dealing with a matter addressed by those laws, nor does it mean they cannot augment those legislated requirements. A municipality may also work with the provincial government to have land designated under provincial conservation laws, or even protect a “work of nature” with the Historic Resources Act. The Alberta Land Stewardship Act enables a variety of conservation and stewardship tools which may be used by a municipality to achieve conservation goals (conservation easements, conservation offsets, and transfer of development credit schemes).

While the Water Act gives ownership of the water, beds, and shores of water bodies within a municipality, the MGA gives municipalities the ‘direction, control and management of bodies of water within its boundaries.’ This means a municipality can engage in land use planning activities around water, can pass bylaws regulating and protecting surface water, and can develop policies to manage bodies of water with biodiversity and ecosystem health in mind. And while the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act has provisions dealing with contaminated lands, all municipalities can take steps to address contaminated sites through their bylaw, planning or taxation powers.

What are the advantages?

Provincial Conservation laws provide municipalities with the following advantages:

  • Provides access to a suite of tools not available under the Municipal Government Act

  • Creates opportunities for collaborating with the provincial government

  • Creates a legal foundation on which municipalities can build further

  • Municipalities can seek to have notations attached to public lands within their boundaries.

What should you watch out for?

There are factors to be take into consideration regarding Provincial Conservation Laws, including:

  • The land-use planning provisions of the Municipal Government Act do not apply to designated public lands in a municipal district or specialized municipality

  • Under the MGA, a decision made by the Alberta Energy Regulator, the Alberta Utilities Commission, or the Natural Resources Conservation Board takes priority over municipal land-use planning and decisions

How can it help maintain natural infrastructure?

There is a variety of provincial legislation that can impact conservation in Alberta municipalities.  In some cases, this legislation provides direct tools to municipalities for conservation (e.g., ALSA’s stewardship tools, control and management of bodies of water under MGA, designation of municipal historic resources and areas).  In other cases, a municipality can work with the province to achieve conservation of natural infrastructure (e.g., seeking designations under the Wildlife Act or notations under the Public Lands Act, addressing contaminated lands). Municipalities should remember that, in the event a person is seeking an approval or licence for an activity that may impact upon the municipality, participation in the related process may be a possibility.


Municipalities and Environmental Law - As part of the Community Conserve platform, the Environmental Law Centre created several information guides that speak to municipalities powers relative to the provincial government.

Habitat Law in Alberta - The Environmental Law Centre created a  four-volume series providing a review of habitat law and policy in Alberta. The volumes are as follows: an Executive Summary, The State of Habitat Laws in Alberta (Vol 1), Barriers to Habitat Management and Protection in Alberta (Vol 2), Jurisdictional Review of Habitat Laws (Vol 3), Recommended Reforms to Habitat Management & Protection Regulations in Alberta (Vol 4)

Subsidiarity In Action: Effective Biodiversity Conservation And Municipal Innovation – This Alberta Land Institute report examines the important contribution that municipalities can make to biodiversity conservation.

Provincial environment and conservation legislation

Did we miss something?

If you know of a resource that should be on this list - or your municipality has a sample or case that should be here, please let us know!

Thanks for helping us out!

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