At their regular meeting on Feb. 12, M.D. council discussed the draft of Bylaw 1845: The Prairie Conservation Bylaw, which would apply to all grasslands owned, controlled, or managed by the M.D., and which are subject to the Grazing Lease Agreement.
According to Derrick Krizsan, the M.D.s municipal administrator, the goal of the bylaw is to ensure there is proper stewardship of all municipally owned and managed grasslands.
“The purpose is to manage those lands in a healthy and natural prairie rangeland environment,” he said. “And ensure those lands are managed in a manner which promotes a sustainable ecosystem.”
Reeve Brian Brewin said the bylaw essentially allows the M.D. to manage the land in the same manner the Province of Alberta did for many years.
“A lot of it is exactly the same policy the province had,” he said. “It was something we found a little loose in our bylaws that we should tighten up.”
Land management is a big issue for the M.D., and one which is about to get a lot bigger. Currently, the M.D. holds title over 50,000 acres. As a result of recent transfers from the provincial government, however, that number is expected to grow to 80,000 acres by 2016 – the majority of which coming as a result of tax recovery land. The leases held on these lands are not expected to be disrupted by the transfer, the vast majority of which are grasslands.
“The conservation of the tax recovery land we have coming back is extremely important to the M.D. of Taber, so we want to make sure it’s managed properly,” Brewin said. “Now and into the future.”
Division 5 is where the majority of the tax-recovered land will be located, and Coun. Robert Wallace said the bylaw demonstrates the commitment of the M.D. to conserve prairie grassland for grazing for generations to come.
“It’s the current leaseholders who have kept this asset pristine,” he said. “They’re an important cross-section of the economy which keep our local economies alive.”
“The leaseholders have been tremendous stewards of the land,” agreed Krizsan. “One thing we want to ensure is that it continues. Municipal land occasionally transfers to new lease holders and new stakeholders.
“What we want to do is ensure the expectations of the community are upheld, and these lands are upheld in a manner which is environmentally sound.”
Brewin said traditionally there have been few issues with how leaseholders manage the land they are using.
“Our current lease holders have (held their leases) for years and demonstrated great stewardship,” he said. “We’d like to carry on with them.
Included in the bylaw draft is a mechanism for grading land as healthy, healthy with problems, or unhealthy. As long as the land remains classified as “healthy”, there would be no need to issue a conservation order. A listing of “healthy with problems” or “unhealthy” might force the M.D. to issue a conservation order to address the issue.
A conservation order identifies the area where action is needed, as well as problems found with the area and remedies for those actions. The nature of remediation could include fencing areas to restrict livestock, restricting grazing, or even the complete removal of all or some livestock from the area for the season. Ultimately, it would be up to the director of municipal lands and leases to decide what action should be taken.
Classifications would be based on evaluations of the land taken in order to allow the M.D. to have a benchmark for the condition of any given area, something previously done by the provincial government.
“This bylaw will entrench our responsibilities in managing this land,” Krazsan said.
Grasslands provide opportunities for ranchers to earn a living through grazing, and they are important for plant and wildlife habitats. In addition, grasslands have been listed as an important carbon sink and have an important role to play in managing global climate. Grasslands are the single most important type of land available to humans for agricultural use.
“Many of these parcels are significant in that they are contiguous,” Krazsan said. “Because of that size, they are conducive to the proliferation of wildlife and plants being maintained and allowed to flourish.”
“Details of the draft bylaw can be found on the M.D. of Taber website by visiting http://www.mdtaber.ab.ca (no dashes or spaces).