Cattle producers develop conservation charity

SASKATOON — The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association has established a charitable foundation primarily to conserve agricultural lands.

President Bill Huber announced the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation at the organization’s recent semi-annual meeting.

“The foundation is unique in Saskatchewan because it is the first and only provincial land conservation organization based in Saskatchewan and is the first to offer term conservation easements,” he said.

Huber said the foundation’s goals are also to advance education, relieve poverty and help victims of disaster.

It will fill a need in the ranching community for voluntary, private-sector options for conservation, he said.

Maple Creek rancher Ray McDougald is interim chair of the board of directors, which includes current and former producers and two academics.

Cameron Carlyle is an associate professor in agricultural life and environmental sciences at the University of Alberta, and Jeremy Pittman is assistant professor in the school of planning at the University of Waterloo with an interest in environmental policy.

SSGA general manager Chad MacPherson said the foundation was several years in the making and is meant to be an agriculture-friendly option for those who want to conserve land.

“It’s unique in that it’s ag-led and addresses a gap in conservation,” he said. “It will help with succession planning because people will be able to renew.”

Although the details are still being worked out, he said the easement terms could range from 10 to 25 years.

Most conservation easements take over land in perpetuity.

Landowners have expressed concern that this takes land out of agricultural control forever. They also don’t like the fact that governments fund organizations to buy this land, forcing landowners to compete against their own tax dollars.

“We’ve had resolutions in the past opposing government dollars going to compete against us,” he said. “Being able to facilitate conservation goals and agriculture goals (through the foundation) is a win-win.”

MacPherson said work is still underway on determining what easements are worth. Funding will come from different sources. One group interested in preserving native grass and species at risk has already come forward, he said.

The foundation will also pursue funding through the National Conservation Plan, which would allow the government to invest in existing land managers.

Also at the semi-annual meeting, SSGA members passed a resolution to lobby the provincial government to develop a Saskatchewan Conservation Trust to help meet Canada’s Target 1 biodiversity goals that call for at least 17 percent of land and inland water to be protected.

MacPherson said Manitoba recently announced a $100 million endowment to help reach the goals.

Another resolution called for research into innovative water treatment options.

The SSGA annual convention will be June 7-9 in Assiniboia.

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