Alta. extends grazing leases

Alberta ranchers who lease public land for grazing, and manage that land well, will be eligible for leases up to 20 years in duration once a new provincial policy comes into effect.

The Alberta government said the extended tenure for “exemplary stewardship” of water, land and air resources on leased public lands will come into effect in late fall 2019.

Aaron Brower, president of the Western Stock Growers Association, said it is welcome news and one of the recommendations his organization and others made to the government. However, extension of leases comes with responsibilities.

“It’s not like everybody gets a rubber stamp,” he said.

“You have to meet certain criteria to get the exemplary stewardship and then you’ll get a 20-year tenure, as long as the grass is in good shape and you haven’t had any issues with the department or (recreational) access stuff.”

At present, a 10-year lease term is most common, and near the end of the term, the leased property is inspected and an internal check is made to ensure necessary paperwork has been filed and lease fees paid.

“As long as everything looks like it should, you get a renewal. If you’ve over-grazed it or under-grazed it or whatever it might be, that’s when they’ll have the check,” said Brower.

Tom Lynch-Staunton, government relations and policy manager with Alberta Beef Producers, said the announcement sits well with that group as well.

“We’re quite pleased with it. We’ve been asking for tenure for stewardship for quite some time as a way to recognize the benefits that grazing can have on public lands,” he said.

“The other reason why tenure for stewardship is very important is because when you’ve got longer tenure on a grazing lease, you’re more inclined to treat it as best you can. It’s sort of like a snowball effect. You’ve got a longer tenure so that means you’re going to make sure you protect that resource.”

In its announcement of the pending policy change, the government said longer leases “will make good on government’s promise to help give ranchers the long-term certainty and investment opportunities they need to succeed, now and in the future. The change will allow ranchers to spend more time focusing on their business, and less time dealing with regulatory red tape through lease renewals.”

Guidelines outlining what is considered to be exemplary stewardship are expected to be available in the next few months. They are likely to include appropriate stocking rates, adequate protection of riparian areas and control of invasive weeds, among other responsibilities.

“Alberta’s ranchers play an important role in our province,” said Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon.

“Not only do they have a large impact on our economy, but they are responsible for protecting some of the province’s important grassland and wetland habitats. Extending grazing tenures for ranchers who go above and beyond our environmental standards recognizes their good behaviour and encourages others to do the same.”

The Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association said there are about 5,700 grazing leases in the province, covering about 5.2 million acres. About 20 percent of the feed supply for the province’s cow herd comes from crown grazing leases. The AGLA said the average lease size is just over one section and supports about 50 cows. Most crown leases are in natural areas where recreational users are also common, requiring mutual cooperation between those users and leaseholders.

Lynch-Staunton said he expects the government will outline a plan for periodic inspections of leased land that is subject to extended tenure.

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