Protecting natural habitat | Property owner says he felt an obligation to preserve the land’s unique characteristics
Different people see beauty in different things.
Retired businessperson Bob Armstrong sees it in the trees and grass and rolling hills that border the North Saskatchewan River.
So when four quarters of native prairie and untouched riverbank came up for sale near Maymont, Sask., in the late 1990s, Armstrong was determined to buy the land and keep its natural beauty intact.
“It was just one of those serendipitous things where I was out killing time and enjoying the countryside in the fall of 1998 and I happened to see this interesting piece of property for sale,” Armstrong said. “I basically fell in love with it and was determined to buy it, if I possibly could.”
Armstrong, who grew up in the Qu’Appelle Valley northeast of Regina, has always had an appreciation for nature.
As a child, he spent much of his spare time in the valley, hiking and hunting with his dog.
When Armstrong bought the property near Maymont, one of his first priorities was preservation.
“It wasn’t long before I realized that (preserving the property) was the right thing to do,” he said.
“When you’ve got something special, you’ve got almost a moral obligation to protect it. (Natural habitat) is a finite resource and if we don’t protect some of it, coming generations will never know or understand what this country was at one time.”
Armstrong approached the Nature Conservancy of Canada, inquiring about whether it would be interested in negotiating a conservation easement agreement on the land.
At the time, the nature conservancy had not identified the North Sask-atchewan River near Maymont as a priority area in its overall conservation strategy.
However, the organization contacted Armstrong a few years later and asked if he was still interested in striking a deal.
Today, nearly 350 acres of Armstrong’s property are protected by an NCC easement agreement that prohibits development, cultivation, drainage, road construction, intensive livestock production and other activities that would jeopardize the land’s natural character.
The conservancy bought another 135 acres from Armstrong, increasing the amount of land under protection to nearly 500 acres.
On a walk through the property, Armstrong exhibits the tell-tale signs of nature lover and conservationist.
He identifies native plant species, observes birds and wildlife and removes invasive weeds that would not have existed on the land before the arrival of settlers, roads, agriculture and commercial development.
“It’s kind of a win-win situation,” Armstrong said.
“The nature conservancy gets what they want and I get a credit for doing what I was going to do anyways.”
The Nature Conservancy of Canada, established in 1962, bills itself as Canada’s leading land conservation organization.
Over the past 50 years, it has helped protect more than 2.6 million acres of ecologically sensitive land across the country.
The NCC’s protected areas consist of land that has been bought outright and easements established on privately owned properties, such as Armstrong’s.
The terms of a conservation easement agreement are registered against the title of the land and remain with the land even if ownership changes. This guarantees that the natural character of the land is protected in perpetuity.
Dale Gross, NCC’s director of conservation for the Saskatchewan region, said easements are established in different ways.
In some cases, the NCC will buy the right to establish a conservation easement on a landowner’s property.
In other cases, those rights are donated to the NCC and a tax credit of equivalent value is issued to the landowner.
In either case, the monetary value of the easement is on average equal to about 25 percent of the land’s pre-easement value.
Gross said conservation easements are becoming more common in Sask-atchewan.
The NCC has priority projects in several parts of the province and is continuing to protect land that has unique natural characteristics.
“Right now, we have about 150 easements across the province, and that totals about 100,000 acres,” Gross said.
It has six parcels under protection in the Maymont area alone, including two easement agreements.