By Cole Parkinson
As a part of the Municipal District’s ongoing talks of their municipally-owned grasslands, council sought consultation with how best to move forward.
A delegation from the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) was present in council chambers during the M.D.’s regular meeting on June 12 to highlight some of their past work, as well as weigh in on how to approach the M.D.’s vast amount of owned land.
“Larry (Simpson, associate regional vice-president and director of strategic philanthropy and conservation with NCC) called me up about a month or two ago asking if there was any interest.
Certainly you’ve heard about some of the grasslands that we have, and (he) was wondering if there was any opportunities to work together on it,” said M.D. Reeve Brian Brewin.
The M.D. partnered up with NCC last year to do an assessment of 381 quarter sections of tax recovery land. The review focused on degree of nativeness, regional and local biodiversity, risk of loss to agricultural conversion, levels of linear disturbance and irreplaceability with 341 of 381 quarter sections ranked as having high or medium conservation value.
Simpson, who has been with NCC since 1990, originally joined the group after learning what the organization was trying to with conservancy across the country.
“I heard of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which I had never heard of before, and what I liked about their approach was it was win-win. They weren’t advocacy, they were simply trying to make arrangements that people think are in their interest and working together to try and figure out how to conserve lands,” he explained.
The NCC has been busy with a vast amount of projects, including several in southern Alberta. Over the last few decades, the group has racked up a project list.
“We’ve done about 300 projects in the past 25 years,” added Simpson. “We’re a land trust, we conserve lands and waters of high conservation value. We want to enter into arrangements that are durable.”
One of the particular focuses in western Canada is the large amounts of farm land. From Alberta to Manitoba, Simpson says the area is incredibly compressed considering the size of the country, but it also houses a large majority of exceptional agriculture.
“Canada, all of our prime agricultural land fits into an area about the size of Montana and North Dakota. That surprised me because we’re a large country with low population density, but we’re more concentrated than I thought. There’s about a million people living in Montana and North Dakota and probably 20-30 million living within our prime agricultural landscape.”
The M.D. on the other hand is an oddity when it comes to municipalities owning land, as they control quite a bit more than the average.
With their tax recovery lands being mainly grasslands, there is an opportunity for the M.D. to team up with NCC to talk about conservancy options for the land. If the two were to agree to move forward, the process would begin relatively soon to access exactly what each would want to see out of the partnership.
“The main reason we wanted to talk with you folks was about tax recovery lands that are owned by the municipality which are significant grasslands. There are some adjacent lands owned by the province and we don’t know if we can be the catalyst to those discussions about if there is something that the community and council see as beneficial that could lead to a durable conservation. If there were to be interested in that, we would be thrilled to meet with a small subcommittee of council to work with them over the course of a few months to learn about everything. Then come back to council with a recommendation, but it would give us a chance to see if we could go to work,” said Simpson. “It would take us 20 years to assemble an area of grasslands which you have. That’s why it makes sense to explore.”