By Jamie Rieger
In an effort to raise awareness to their organization and to distance themselves from other conservation groups, representatives from the Alberta Conservation Association presented an overview of their objectives, as well as the MULTISAR program to County of Forty Mile council at their July 23 meeting.
Brad Taylor, who deals with land securement for the ACA, told council that they want to work with the landowners in managing the land.
“We want to provide more information about who we are, where we fit in, and address issues. My role is to deal with land management and we have seed money of $200,000 a year. We rely on donations. We acquired $1.3 million in land last year, basically at five sites,” said Taylor.
Taylor gave a step-by-step look at the land securement process.
“I make an initial visit to the landowner and discuss issues and liabilities with them. Then, is the legal process of land titles and environmental studies. Third, a third party determines market value for the land. There needs to be a transparent process,” said Taylor.
After going through the program manager where concerns may get flagged, the ACA prepares an offer to purchase the property.
“If there are other offers, we stand down,” he said. “We do not sell the land, but there are caveats for a few years. We want to work with the neigbouring landowners to manage the land.”
Taylor added that farmers and ranchers understand the ACA’s objectives in doing what they do for habitat purposes.
“You’re telling me you have something in place for this to mitigate and to make it work?” asked reeve, Bryne Lengyel.
“All of our organizations sign off on our management plan. In terms of prescription, everybody signs off on it. We try and get feedback from the provincial government, especially where the Species at Risk are concerned,” answered Taylor. “Our biggest push has always been our stewardship programs and support those traditional values.”
Taylor wanted to point out to council that the Alberta Conservation Association has been wrongly connected to other organizations who have taken a more heavy-handed approach to conservation in southern Alberta.
“We get lumped together with two other organizations with similar names. We try to work together, but the properties we own in the County of Forty Mile, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is not involved with,” he said.
Brad Downey then gave council an overview of the MULTISAR program and some of the ongoing projects that are showing signs of success. The MULTISAR (Multiple Species at Risk) program has been around for about a dozen years with numerous partners, including Alberta Conservation Association, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Prairie Conservation Forum, and agricultural producers.
Its mandate states, “MULTISAR strives to conserve habitat for SAR in the Grassland Natural Region and improve awareness about them on the landscape. This is achieved through habitat assessment, wildlife inventories, and providing detailed recommendations to landholders with SAR habitat.”
The MULTISAR region lies south of Foremost and spreads from the British Columbia to the Saskatchewan border, Their extension program runs to north of Hanna.
“It started on one ranch and has expanded,” said Downey.
Besides performing assessments of the land, they work with the landowner to maintain or create habitat for Species at Risk, including planting sage brush, a necessary habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse.
“With the sage brush, some of the plugs are growing, but the seed not as much,” said Downey. “However, the sage brush was coming back after just one year on land that had been cropped for 50 years. We work with land management to restore back to good. With our funding from the feds, we have to plant native grass. We will put in a cover crop of wheat the first year, then let the cattle come in,”
According to Taylor, the numbers for sensitive species improved at their Silver Sage project that had cattle on the land.
“Graze to manage the land, not graze for the sake of grazing. When there is grazing, you find lots of sage brush,” said Taylor.
“We need the cattle on the land. They are an important part of our landscape,” said Downey. “The feds need to acknowledge that the farmers and ranchers are doing something right and it doesn’t help when all the other stuff is going on to create anxiety.”
Downey said that when the Emergency Protection Order was put in place earlier this year on the Greater Sage Grouse, having a well-established working relationship with local landowners was beneficial.
“When this EPO came out, it was great for us having that relationship with people for the better part of a decade. Some will allow us on their land and nobody else,” he said.