Alta. ranchers look for solutions as tension builds between those who lease public land and those who want to use it
BROOKS, Alta. — An email sent to Fort Macleod, Alta., area rancher Bill Newton last fall was initially polite. A prospective hunter requested access to grazing land that Newton leases, specifying when and where he wanted to hunt.
Newton sent a polite reply, refusing access due to excessively dry conditions and the heightened risk of fire.
The prospective hunter’s next email was not so polite. It said Newton had no right to refuse access because leased land is also public land.
After a few more exchanges, Alberta Environment and Parks settled the matter. The hunter was refused access because a fire ban was in effect for the region.
The incident is one example that illustrate the push and pull of public access to public grazing reserves and the concerns of leaseholders about that access.
“There’s a new attitude,” Newton said about hunters and others who want access to grazing reserve land.
“What are the issues facing us leaseholders? Well, I think there’s an escalation of conflict. There’s increasing demand from hunters, it seems like, partly because of technology,” Newton told those at the March 7 meeting of the Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association.
That technology includes various smartphone applications that allow people to mark GPS locations where they see game, quickly learn who owns or leases the land, and make fast and repeated requests for hunting access.
AGLA secretary treasurer Darcy Wills said there’s a safety issue associated with allowing too many hunters onto a lease at any given time. He suggested the best person to make that call is the leaseholder.
Alberta’s provincial regulations specify that “recreationalists are welcome on grazing reserves but are reminded that use of these areas may be restricted during certain times of the year.”
Before entering leased land, potential users must contact the leaseholder, according to the regulations, and must be allowed “reasonable access.”
“What’s reasonable is still probably what’s causing us some angst,” said Newton.
Provincial regulations indicate that access can be denied if:
- users are not on foot
- livestock is present in a fenced pasture
- A crop has not yet been harvested
- a fire ban is in effect
- users wish to shoot a firearm or use an explosive near livestock
- users want to camp
The regulations further direct people to contact regional grazing offices or a website, recagpublicland.alberta.ca, for information. Users must keep motorized vehicles on roads or trails within grazing reserves, must leave gates as they find them and are prohibited from camping within those reserves.
Newton acknowledged that many hunters are respectful of the land and the leaseholders but many are not.
He suggested leaseholders could use technology themselves to manage access through such things as a dedicated email for access requests or outsourcing them to a third party for later consideration by the leaseholder.
His other idea is to implement an application fee. Under provincial legislation, hunters can’t be charged for access, but a fee for administering requests might be possible, Newton said.
However, a system that pays ranchers and leaseholders for ecological goods and services is the ideal.
“Certainly, my preferred solution is a marketplace system of goods and services. Paid hunting. Call it what it is.
“I’m providing the habitat on my freehold lands. I’m managing my leased lands to accommodate the wildlife and put up with the fact that they come off of the leased land to my stack yard in the winter. These things are not silos independent of themselves, leased land and freehold land, so why can’t I charge for access? So that’s certainly my preferred, but the Wildlife Act prevents that.”
A system of payment for ecological goods and services, which acknowledges the landholder’s role in such things as wildlife preservation, provision of habitat and biodiversity, has been studied by various groups and organizations but has not been established in Alberta.