The province has released a draft of its southern Alberta conservation plan and while it will expand park territory, it also allows for more industry and development.

The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan outlines land and water use, as well as mining and extraction policies for the next 50 years. As part of the plan, Alberta would add to existing provincial parks — but also permit forestry companies to cut trees within some of those new areas.

"It's never easy when everyone wants something different," said Diana McQueen, Alberta's environment minister. "What we're trying to do is hear all of the voices, and I think this plan in that area reflects that."

Under the plan, the Castle Wildland area would be converted into a new provincial park.

However, it's also one of the areas where forestry companies could log, and that has environmentalists concerned.

"I'm afraid I'm disappointed," said Wendy Francis with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. "Our organization was looking for a much more conservation-oriented approach to this plan."

In the report, the province lists protection of headwaters and water security as a priority while also stating the development potential for coal fields in the mountains and foothills, given anticipated future demand from Asian markets.

Water management a priority

One of the challenges Alberta will face in the coming years will be matching water supply and demand in the South Saskatchewan region, according to the report.

The province says it anticipates climatic conditions to alter the amount of available water in the future.

To combat this, the report states a need to plan to support climate change adaption and ensure preparedness for both drought management and flood response. 

The report also notes the potential high economic costs that could result if aquatic invasive species are not prevented.

Zebra mussels, quagga mussels and Eurasion water-milfoil are listed as concerns because of their potential to disrupt healthy aquatic ecosystems.

The report is still in draft stage and the Alberta government will hold hearings across southern Alberta in November.

The goal is to have the plan finalized by April 2014.