Weyburn group negotiates interim lease for former shelter belt centre

The federal government is negotiating an interim lease with HELP International of Weyburn, Sask., to operate part of the former federal shelter belt centre at Indian Head, Sask.

The lease is expected to be for a portion of the site for six months and at market value, but a government spokesperson said the exact terms are still being finalized.

The interim lease came about after negotiations with the Carry the Kettle (CTK) First Nation were not concluded by the March 31 deadline. The First Nation wants to acquire the property through the Treaty Land Entitlement process,

“This interim lease solution is supported by the CTK,” Agriculture Canada’s Patrick Girard said in an emailed statement.

“This will allow for a timely start of tree harvest and distribution for the 2014 season.”

Ottawa announced two years ago that it would no longer support the tree nursery at Indian Head. Established in 1901, the centre shipped more than 610 million free trees across the Prairies to establish field shelterbelts and protect farmsteads.

The program employed about 60 people at peak season and cost the federal government $3 million a year. Funding ended at the end of 2013.

HELP (Health, Education and Livelihood Project) International is a not-for-profit organization that has experience with agro forestry and phytoremediation, which is the process of growing trees to help break down soil contaminants.

Chief executive officer Rodney Sidloski has said that HELP has a 300,000-tree nursery of willows and hybrid poplars. Several million trees are in the ground at Indian Head.

Last fall, Sidloski criticized a decision to lease the shelter belt centre to the Rural Municipality of Indian Head, which fell through because the RM didn’t have the manpower to operate the facility.

He said in an email that the current lease will involve First Nations. He also said the trees will cost about $1.50 each to start.