|cultivating sage brush prairie in Montana|
Well, the inevitable is starting to happen. Yesterday I received news that someone in the southwest of the province is plowing land that until recently was protected under the Crown. Apparently, an Alberta farmer bought the land from a Saskatchewan resident who had originally purchased title for it from the Province and then flipped it for a profit. Local people reported that the new owner has a hired man running a 24 foot breaking plough through the sod. So far, he has broken forty acres of native grass and 160 acres of crested wheatgrass. The land in question adjoins the west flank of the Govenlock PFRA pasture and therefore supports its ecological integrity as a single block of intact native grass.
The rumour is that the owner plans to break more native grass if the land produces well enough.
He is entirely within his rights as a landowner and there is nothing any of us can do to stop it, just as someone who owns title to tropical rainforest is entitled to log it.
This is why Public Pastures--Public Interest and prairie conservationists in general believe that the best way to protect our largest pieces of Crown grassland is to keep them under the Crown. Once they are sold to a rancher the land can be re-sold to someone who wants to plough it and plant crops or destroy it in other ways for profit. Conservation easements provide some protection but the legislation leaves room for the easement to be removed if a second buyer takes it to court and demonstrates undue hardship. Also, with no one monitoring the easements the government puts on Crown land before they sell it, there is little risk for a landowner who goes ahead and plows and then asks for forgiveness later. Still, if any Crown grasslands are sold--whether it is WHPA or not--it should have a conservation easement on it.
Our cattlemen in the southwest will tell you that there are areas where virtually all of the land is being bought up by Albertans--farmers and ranchers flush with oil and cattle money from just over the border where their Province gives them better terms on Crown lease rates, as well as a bigger share of the oil and gas income extracted off their land. This leads to an uneven playing field that is virtually guaranteeing that our cattlemen are not as competitive as their Albertan counterparts and will be out-bid for land time after time.
And with our aging ranchers in the South West and few of their children able to afford the costs of getting into cattle (again in part because our Animal Unit Month rates on lease land are much higher than Alberta's, Montana's or Manitoba's), our lands are going to go to out of province land lords--some of whom many not have the same conservation ethics that have always kept our native grass intact as habitat for species at risk.
And yet I meet cattlemen who say they like to have the option to purchase outright the land they lease from the Crown so they have more control over it. Well, folks, the down side of having that right and control is that the purchaser also has the right to re-sell and when he does the new land owner might do exactly what is happening now on the West side of the Govenlock PFRA pasture.
This province is long overdue for a thorough public review of all of our Crown native grasslands--co-op pastures, Provincial and Federal community pastures, and the 7 million acres of Crown grassland leased to private cattlemen. First, to find out what we have remaining, and then to determine its ecological value (biodiversity, carbon sequestration, soil and water conservation), its heritage resources (Metis and First Nations' ancestral sites), and its food security values, and then to decide in a full consultation with all stakeholders, how we want these incredibly valuable and endangered landscapes to be managed for the good of all and generations to come.
|Val Marie PFRA pasture, image courtesy of Colin Hubick of Redhat Studios|