Community pasture transition to provincial control on track

Saskatchewan agriculture minister Lyle Stewart says the transition of former federal pastures to patrons is proceeding on schedule.

Patrons of the first 10 pastures will have completed lease agreements by the time they need grazing land for their cattle in spring, he said.

“The Dec. 1 date for signing is not set in stone,” he said in response to a news release from the Community Pasture Patrons Association of Sask-atchewan (CPPAS), which said the deadline had come and gone without formal agreements.

Rather, he said it was a target to en-sure patrons were working toward developing their plans and that the first 10 were ready to go for 2014.

This includes Park, Fairview, Newcombe, Wolverine, McCraney, Ituna Lone Tree, Bon Accord, Excel, Keywest and Estevan-Cambria pastures.

Ottawa announced in 2012 it would no longer operate a community pasture program, and 52 pastures in Saskatchewan will eventually transfer from federal to provincial control. The process will take about five years to complete.

The province expects patrons will lease most, if not all, of the pastures.

CPPAS said patron groups had yet to receive lease agreements for re-view, but Stewart said draft agreements had been provided to the first 10 and he expected they would be signed by spring.

However, there are a couple of outstanding issues.

One is the matter of non-reversionary land, which is land in some of the pastures, including several of the first 10, that does not automatically revert to the province. It represents five percent of the federal land and is owned by the agriculture, environment and defence departments.

Stewart said an agreement between Ottawa and Regina to swap land to accommodate the non-reversionary land fell through after other departments stepped in and said a formal process had to be followed.

“(Agriculture) minister (Gerry) Ritz’s office operated in good faith with us,” Stewart said.

“We both thought we had a deal.”

Patrons will be able to continue to use the land in question until a permanent resolution is found.

“It’s business as usual under the licence to occupy,” Stewart said.

Bull ownership is another issue. Patrons can buy the bulls now owned by the federal government, but they don’t have to do so. The province is not directly involved in this aspect of the transition.

CPPAS said it wants all bulls subject to breeding soundness tests in spring before farmers consider buying them.

The organization has also said it wants reduced lease and land costs in recognition of the public benefits the pastures provide.

“In recognition of the tremendous uncertainty placed upon patrons, lease payments need to be based on use rather than preset grazing capacity,” it said.

“The (former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) was unable to keep these pastures full, and with increased costs and an ever decreasing time frame, patron groups will struggle to fill the pastures in the transition period.”

Stewart said the lease rates are established through a formula under provincial land regulations that govern provincially owned pastures and are not subsidized in the same the way as the federal rates. Staff will conduct carrying capacity reviews if needed, he added.

Despite these issues, he said the transition is going well, and he is grateful for the co-operation from the patrons’ groups representing their pastures.

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