By Alex McCuaig
Southern Alberta Newspapers
The issue of grazing leases has become a growing concern in recent years, exasperated by increasing industrial, recreational, environmental and urbanization pressures coupled with more legislation covering species at risk, water and land-use.
More often than not, southeastern Alberta’s ranchers are finding themselves pinched between competing interests.
But a recent report from the University of Alberta’s Land Institute is suggesting at least one thing should remain the same when it comes to provincial leases of public lands for grazing.
“The report makes it clear that the grazing leaseholders receive compensation for disturbance and they’re not collecting access fees on public land,” said Eran Kaplinsky, co-author of the report, “Alternative Models of Compensation on Alberta’s Crown Grazing Lease Lands.”
The law professor at the University of Alberta said such compensation for disturbances by industrial activity on grazing dispositions is a legal right and serves an important economic function.
“We didn’t find any compelling reason to tinker with the compensation but the government might want to take a look at the whole picture and re-evaluate how grazing rights are granted and at what benefit to Albertans,” said Kaplinsky.
The reasons for the current compensation model are two-fold, according to Kaplinsky.
“One, it protects the legal interests of the grazing leaseholders. And the other one, which is extremely important, is it sends the right economic signal to the market,” he said.
Kaplinsky added that there is also a trio of factors that should be considered when trying to get the best utilization of public lands.
“The province sells the grazing rights for the right price. Second, that it sells the oil and gas rights for the right price. And third, the compensation that the grazing leaseholders receive from oil and gas companies reflect the actual cost of interference by the oil and gas companies,” said Kaplinsky.
“That’s the best and neutral way to ensure all Albertans get the most out of their public lands.”
Southeastern Alberta rancher James Hargrave said the objective should be, “to have a functional eco-system, functional grassland,” adding that can’t happen without cattle grazing on the range.
Hargrave, who is on the executive for the Alberta Grazing Leaseholders and Western Stock Growers’ associations, said, “the adverse effects of surface installments have a profound effect on the functionality of a grassland.”
Those effects need to be managed and the current system of compensation provides the financial backing to allow for that oversight, he said.
That includes watching for invasive weeds, ensuring oil and gas operators are informed of the importance of rangeland species and managing cumulative surface disturbances from not just wellheads but the access roads needed to reach them.
“The effects of drilling on your operation are profound. There are almost too many to number,” said Hargrave.
And it’s not just wellsites but also transmission and pipelines, windfarms, cell and radio towers that can add to the overall effect on the range and that has an impact on grazing habits of cattle.
“We’ve fenced huge areas off to allow other areas to recover so they can drill one area in summer so we can go back in two years,” said Hargrave.
Industrial activity results in a net loss to the eco-system, “and essentially, that is a loss on our part, it’s a loss on society, for everybody and it is up to us to manage for that loss,” Hargrave added, “and that shouldn’t have to come our of our pocket.”