Farmers, ranchers pitch in for regional ag plan

Regional District of East Kootenay has appointed a new steering committee to assist with development of a region-specific agricultural plan

In an effort to develop a localized, publicly accessible agricultural plan for the East Kootenay, the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) has appointed a new steering committee to assist with development.

The 10-member volunteer committee includes representation from each of the RDEK areas, something that Area G representative Paul Galbraith says is important to the formation of the plan.

“The most important thing is to have people from different geological areas, but you also have to have people with different interests,” Galbraith explained.

“We’re beginning to see in the community the importance, and ecological role, that working landscapes and farms play in the East Kootenay.”

The committee is formed of local ranchers like Galbraith, but also local producers, farmers and business owners.

Galbraith says the committee is really a technical group whose role is to find a viable and sustainable agricultural system for the East Kootenay region, and then communicate these findings not only to the RDEK, but also to the local agricultural community as well as the general public.

“Having a steering committee in place is of critical importance in this process,” said RDEK Planner Karen MacLeod in a release.

“These individuals are directly involved in agriculture in our area and will provide us with technical advice and input in addition to liaising with the agricultural community.”

The East Kootenay region is also a unique area to plan for, thanks to natural geographical constraints offered by the surrounding mountains.

Agriculture in the area runs in a thin line through the valley, with a large amount of wildlife habitat that directly borders much of the agricultural land in question.

Galbraith points to this as another reason why an agricultural plan would be beneficial, as wildlife habitat and farmland are not “mutually exclusive.”

“I think there are some synergies between operating good farms and maintaining good natural habitats,” Galbraith said.

“When we maintain our farms, the habitats are also being maintained, and this can help prevent urban sprawl to these areas because of the value of the land.”

The first act of the committee will be to appoint a chair, before beginning to work with RDEK staff and elected officials to develop terms of reference for the plan.

The first draft of the official agricultural plan is expected to be completed by early 2013.

“The main goal is to develop sustainable agriculture for this area,” Galbraith said. “That is, ecologically, culturally and economically sustainable.”

Members of the committee are also hoping to hear feedback and suggestions from the community.

The full list of committee members includes: Area B — Noreen Thielen; Area C —  Tyler Beckley and Jody Murdoch; Area E — Karen Barraclough, Chris McCurry and Sharon Mielnichuk; Area F — Eric Rasmussen, Lin Steedman and Dave Zehnder;  Area G — Paul Galbraith.