Review of Conservation Easements for Agriculture in AB


Conservation easements (CEs) are the cornerstone tool of the private land conservation community. In 2009, the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA), expanded Alberta's 13 year-old conservation easement provisions to include agriculture. In Alberta, this tool may now be used to protect ecological, scenic, and/or agricultural lands.

Though the wording changes were minor, the implications were significant. There is little direction contained within ALSA as to the intent and possible applications of conservation easements for agricultural land. Despite the oft-expressed desire for conservation easements with such a purpose, there is little sense of the capability of existing land trusts and municipalities to implement this new twist on an old tool.

In 2011, the Environmental Law Centre and the Miistakis Institute, at the request of the Government of Alberta’s Land Use Secretariat, undertook an applied research project seeking to better understand the limitations of the current policy in order to inform a more robust policy on conservation easements for agriculture.

More specifically, this project sought to understand:
• The legal and policy context surrounding the application of CEs for agriculture in Alberta;
• The experience of other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States with legally enabling and applying CEs for agriculture;
• Refinements needed in government policy around the purposes for CEs for agriculture; and
• Challenges and opportunities for program delivery for CEs for agriculture in Alberta. 

This analysis of the existing policy and practice of CEs for agriculture in Alberta and around North America forms the basis of a series of policy-related recommendations for the Government of Alberta on addressing questions of purpose, structure, and delivery for CEs for agriculture.

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