Mayor Maryann Chichak is just over a month away from retiring from the Mayor's seat, but that doesn't mean her role as a voice for the region ends. Recently appointed to the Berland Caribou Task Force, Mayor Chichak will be working to bring the perspectives of municipalities forward. Having sat on the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association board for years, working to support the needs of communities within rural Alberta, she already knows how to advocate for positive change.
"I had already sat on the Upper Smokey Task Force before, so I'm excited to sit on another task force that will affect our area," she explained. Her position on the Berland Caribou Task Force came through her work with AUMA as that association chose her to be a voice for them at the table. "AUMA has representatives on these task forces to give the perspectives of potential economic outcomes that could materialize based on received recommendations. We are there to consider all of the evidence presented by all parties. We will provide input to reduce the impact on the land base while looking at ways to preserve industry on the land base as well."
Task forces work to put together solid recommendations to the Minister of Environment and Parks, Jason Nixon and feature representatives from all sectors potentially impacted by decisions made. "Industry is represented, whether that be energy, coal, forestry. The Trapper Association is represented as are Indigenous communities. Different environmental groups and municipalities are on there, and this time around, the Chamber of Commerce representatives are on there too," explained Mayor Chichak. "Having all those different perspectives will bring forward a wholesome recommendation for Minister Nixon." She said that having a diverse group of representatives at the table is important because each area is very different, with different needs and concerns.
From the provincial government's website, Caribou Sub-Regional Task Forces were created to advise the government on land-use planning at a local scale. Along with the representatives mentioned above, task forces also include recreational users, knowledge holders, and other local stakeholders. Task forces are working within multiple areas of the province, including Wandering River, Berland, and Chinchaga, which cover the East-Side-Athabasca, Little Smokey, A La Peche, and Chinchaga caribou ranges.
The topic is information-heavy, but the reason for the task forces is simple. They preserve Alberta's caribou herds while supporting industry and keeping jobs viable for the residents within the province. Caribou are a threatened species, and the task force's purpose is to find ways where everyone wins; industry and the caribou. Back in 2019, Minister Nixon said that the solution to the problem would be unique for Alberta and would require industry and environment to cooperate.
For Mayor Chichak, caribou range planning is something she is well-versed in. "I've always taken an interest and been very vocal and outspoken at the AUMA table on the potential consequences for the municipalities. My appointment from AUMA to be on the Berland Caribou Task Force came from my constant lobbying about caribou, the Species At Risk Act and what impact potential range planning could have for municipalities both in the short term and in the long term," she explained.
"I'm honoured to do it. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the Upper Smokey Task Force and concluding that with recommendations to the province and the minister, and I'm just as honoured to be asked to sit on this one." She said she anticipates that the final recommendations put together by the Berland Caribou Task Force will be handed into Minister Nixon in the next six months, months after her last term as Whitecourt Mayor ends.
Whoever takes over the Mayor's seat will be tasked with keeping up the push. "It is important that whoever takes the Mayor's chair moving forward continues having good relations with the government and the various associations along with their colleagues across the province to ensure we are up to date and lobbying collectively and collaboratively on issues that affect municipalities." For herself and her role, Mayor Chichak said it's all about being part of the process. "I think it's important to be at the table to provide input. You've got to consider that all types of groups, each protecting their interests, need to come to the table to make wholesome, viable recommendations. So, I'm putting my best foot forward."
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press