Policy

After a tremendous effort on the part of conservation-minded Albertans, legislation was passed in 1996, giving Albertans the ability to grant conservation easements.

Alberta's landowners, land conservation organizations, and agencies quickly embraced conservation easements. The great power of this tool was its flexibility and the fact that it enabled private contracts for protecting land in perpetuity. As such, it appeared in various places and in various forms.

Alberta Land Stewardship Act and Regional Planning

In spring 2006 the Government of Alberta initiated a consultation effort about land use in the province. It took 2 years, hundreds of people and many meetings; in the end the Land Use Framework (LUF) was drafted. The LUF identified that important to Alberta's future, is the care and conservation of its natural resources; many of which are on privately held lands. It also recognized that private landowners have made an investment in their land and if they choose to limit development activities in order to ensure its environmental protection they should receive something in exchange. With that in mind a number of conservation and stewardship tools were described for private land and private interests in public land.

The LUF led to the enactment of the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) in October 2009. At that time conservation easements were moved from Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA) to the ALSA. Conservation easements were the only tool already established and in use in Alberta at the time ALSA was created. The move to the ALSA brought some minor administrative changes as well two changes to the allowable purposes of CE's in Alberta - added was the conservation of agricultural land and amended was the conservation of biodiversity to the conservation of the environment.

ALSA divides the province into seven regions. The act requires the creation of regional planning for each region. Regional plans are created through a process that involves the Land Use Secretariat (LUS) drafting a TOR, recruiting a Regional Advisory Council (RAC), the RAC providing advice to the LUS and LUS drafting a regional plan. The plans include ways to balance land uses including conservation and development. The plans are likely to include a certain number of conservation objectives that affect private land. Conservation easements are one way conservation objectives on private lands can be achieved. Municipalities and land trusts are organizations that can contribute to private land conservation goals by using conservation easements.

The Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) is complete. That region has a relatively low amount of privately owned land and makes no mention of conservation easements. The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) has not been completed but the RAC advice has been submitted and public consultations on it completed. Conservation easements are highlighted in the recommendation section of the SSPR RAC advice to the government:

"Respect private property rights by developing a suite of conservation and stewardship tools (e.g., economic and market-based incentives, conservation easements, transferable development credits, mitigation banking and paid access for hunting) that can be voluntarily used by landowners and disposition holders to help sustain biodiversity."

In Alberta, to date CE's have been used to achieve private land trust goals and objectives. In Alberta these have been predominantly for biodiversity conservation. Municipalities in Alberta have entered into CE's in concert with development approvals. Implementation of the regional plans throughout Alberta may encourage new applications of CE's such as a backstop for transfer of development credits, conservation offsets or payment for ecosystem service programs.


Conservation Easements for Agricultural Land

One of the purposes for conservation easements as described in the Alberta Land Stewardship Act is the protection, conservation, or enhancement of agricultural land and land for agricultural purposes. This was an addition to the allowable purposes of conservation easements in Alberta when ALSA was enacted in October of 2009. Alberta is the second province in Canada to explicitly include agricultural lands in its CE purposes.

It is important to note that the ability to use conservation easements for agricultural land has been done within the same legislation as conservation easements for environmental or aesthetic purposes. This is significant because it shows there is only one conservation easement in Alberta but that it has three broad purposes - environmental, aesthetic, and agricultural.

There is some question as to what is meant by "agricultural land and land for agricultural purposes" and what the government intended by including it in the legislation. One of the reasons this is a concern is it is important that the purposes of conservation easements are not contradictory. With the basis that conservation easements should result in the protection of the environment the Miistakis Institute and the Environmental Law Centre wrote a report for the provincial government providing proposed policy direction around conservation easements for agriculture. That report suggests that the following be the basis for the Alberta Government's policy for conservation easements for agricultural land:

  1. Sustainable agriculture - protection of the lands where Alberta's agriculture and environmental systems positively intersect;
  2. Food production - conservation of Alberta's food growing capacity; and
  3. Agricultural Heritage - preservation of Alberta's agricultural heritage and associated rural culture.

There are currently no land trusts in Alberta that are focused on agricultural land conservation. There is one regional land trust that includes agricultural land in their mission and another that is currently exploring the addition.


Alberta Land Trust Grants Program

http://srd.alberta.ca/LandsForests/AlbertaLandTrustGrantProgram/Default.aspx

The Alberta Land Trust Grants Program is a provincial granting program that funds the purchase and administration of new conservation easements and acceptance of land donations by land trusts in Alberta. The goal of the program is to conserve ecologically important areas, prevent habitat fragmentation, maintain biodiversity and preserve native landscapes. Land trusts apply to the program by requesting and completing an application package from the program administrator. To be successful, projects must align with the provinces' conservation objectives. Any land trust working in Alberta that also has matching funds is eligible to apply to the program. For more information interested individuals can e-mail Landtrust.grantprogram@gov.ab.ca.

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