If grazing leases were recognized as biologically diverse lands worth protecting, public recognition of good stewardship could be enhanced.
Protecting biodiversity is an international project. Canada was among 196 countries that signed the United Nations convention on biological diversity in 2010 to halt the decline of biodiversity on land and water.
Canada’s conservation vision report was released in March 2018 and it said that by 2020, at least 17 percent of terrestrial areas and inland water areas needed to be conserved through networks of protected areas and other effective conservation measures.
So far, less than 12 percent has met the target.
Grazing leases might qualify for protection and could continue as the primary land use, said Tom Lynch-Staunton, government relations and policy manager for Alberta Beef Producers.
“There is a very good story for the public. We know when we tell people how we are stewarding the land it may not have the same impact… as an organization like the UN,” he said at the beef producers annual meeting in Calgary last month.
Canada contracted the independent think tank International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources to develop guidelines for protected areas and other effective conservation measures.
Canada has recognized its national, provincial and wildlife parks and ecological reserves as contributing to this target.
“They were trying to get at what sort of lands have high conservation value, have high biological diversity and ecological integrity,” he said.
The IUCN talked about various means of environmental protection including the idea of “other effective area-based conservation measures”(OECMs).
An OECM can have a different primary objective like grazing as long as the biodiversity remains intact.
An OECM must have defined boundaries and is governed and managed over the long term to preserve ecological values. It needs sustained governance and management that includes a third party.
This kind of protection could improve the public perception of both cattle on public lands and general environmental impacts, however no one knows if the result would be more regulations and government oversight, said Lynch-Staunton.
In its report, the IUCN said areas unlikely to meet the criteria for protection include agricultural lands managed in a way that limits biodiversity. This might include pasture grazed too intensively to support native grassland, ecosystems or species. Grassland monoculture or non-native species for livestock would not likely qualify.