Thursday, December 1, 2016

SALTS and NCC make joint presentation to MD council

Chris Davis - A private land conservation joint delegation by Justin Thompson of the Southern Alberta Lands Trust Society (SALTS) and Craig Harding of Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) appeared before council for the MD of Pincher Creek on November 22. Harding and Thompson gave council a detailed overview of land trust activities in the MD and also touted potential collaboration opportunities.

SALTS is an Alberta-based non-profit society "dedicated to protecting the environmental, productive, scenic and cultural values of southern Alberta's grasslands, woodlands, and wetlands, both along the Eastern Slopes and in our prairie regions." NCC is a national non-profit "dedicated to securing ecologically significant areas through outright purchase, donation or conservation easement." In October of 2015 NCC was the recipient of the Ted Smith Award for Conservation Collaboration, which was established by Y2Y to "recognize individuals or groups who collaboratively contribute to conservation in the Yellowstone to Yukon region."

One way the two organizations differ is that NCC can buy land but SALTS doesn't. According to the delegation, SALTS and NCC "have slightly different priorities at times in terms of lands we focus on" and "because of our differences there are different projects and landowners who we are each better suited to work with. Neither of our organizations alone would be able to serve the conservation needs/demand within the MD."

SALTS and NCC has in recent years worked to help preserve more than 30,000 acres of wildlife habitat in the Waterton area through private land purchases and conservation agreements, spending more than $50 million on what has become one of Canada’s largest land conservation projects. All three of those organizations work closely with Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative, another non-profit, which works toward creating and maintaining a more than 2000 mile continuous stretch of protected habitat in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Both organizations focus on lands of high ecological value including important wildlife habitat and corridors, intact blocks of native prairie, and wetland and riparian habitats. 

During the presentation to MD council Thomson used maps illustrating various regional aspects such as native ungulates, water, and the travel patterns of wildlife, to demonstrate how important connectivity is for successful conservation efforts. He said SALTS hopes to help achieve an open landscape that works for habitat and agriculture. He talked about how the organization protects what's "best" about living in the MD, to whit its rural lifestyle. The delegation asked the MD to consider collaborative mapping efforts, including community values for the purposes of planning, areas of high tourism value, areas of high visibility and aesthetic value, areas of key wildlife habitat and important native vegetation, riparian areas and areas of high watershed importance, Waterton and Castle, and areas of low rural residential density and low road density. "If the MD were to map areas that they felt were important for preserving community values this would help SALTS and NCC to know where to focus efforts to align with the MD."

Definitions excerpted/paraphrased from the delegations report: Land trusts work with landowners on a voluntary basis where the landowners wants to see their land stay undeveloped in perpetuity, facilitated through either a conservation easement or through a land purchase. With an easement, the landowner continues to own and manage the land and can sell or transfer the land with the easement on it at any time. In return for the easement the land trust can typically provide a charitable receipt and some cash ranging from 20-60% of market value based on land size and restrictions. A conservation easement is a legal agreement negotiated between the landowner and a land trust that include restrictions on the property’s future use to maintain conservation values, including no breaking of native prairie or altering water bodies, no subdivision or new roads, no new buildings or industrial development, but allows many uses compatible with ranching and low-impact recreation. Landowners can choose to retain some development rights when negotiating a conservation easement.

Thomson also referenced a Southwest Alberta Sustainable Community Initiative (SASCI) community values assessment prepared by The Praxis Group that was released in March of 2012. That project included partnership funding from the MD.

Excerpted from the 2012 Community Values Assessment: "Both survey and group session participants recognized the natural environment as an important aspect of the MD and identified environmental conservation as a priority. Again, five of the 15 highest rated 'value statements' pertained to environmental conservation (protecting the natural environment within the MD, conserving and protecting water resources, practicing sustainable agriculture, protecting the natural environment around the MD, and maintaining natural wildlife and fish populations). Survey participants also strongly supported setting aside land in an undisturbed state for habitat protection as a land use option, and identified the beautiful scenery as the best thing about living in the MD. Consistent with the survey results, small group session participants spoke about the importance of: maintaining functioning ecosystems, conserving ecological diversity, sustaining wildlife habitat, saving native fescues and grasslands, maintaining land productivity, and protecting water resources."

Afterward council had no questions but thanked Thomson and Harding for their presentation.

*corrected for accuracy

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