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Alberta Beef Producer’s view on Bighorn Country proposals

Cattle group supports conservation of sensitive lands, but the details raise concerns

Editor’s note: This is a condensed version of an ABP briefing note. The full PDF version can be found at the Alberta Beef Producers website.

The Bighorn Country proposal by Alberta Environment and Parks consists of four provincial parks, four recreation areas, and two Public Land Use Zones (PLUZs).

There are several beef producers who hold grazing leases, permits or are members of a grazing reserve in the area, and therefore may be impacted (either positively or negatively) by the Bighorn proposal.

ABP has been a strong supporter of environmental stewardship and conservation of sensitive lands and riparian areas for many years.

We have seen how well-managed grazing livestock can not only complement conservation, but also enhance the health of rangelands, riparian areas, and forests. For example, cattle can be used to curb forest and brush encroachment onto valuable native grasslands and to mitigate the growth of fire hazards in rangelands.

ABP recognizes that there is increased pressure from many users and land use planning is essential for long-term environmental health in the Bighorn area. Security of tenure on both private and public lands is essential for maintaining or improving health of rangelands. On most Crown lands under agricultural dispositions, the grazing disposition holders have relatively secure tenure. This security of tenure provides a strong incentive for leaseholders to manage the land sustainably.

Secure tenure and sound oversight by Alberta Environment and Parks rangeland agrologists are key reasons why the land, water, and biodiversity on these lands are in good health. Secure tenure for grazing dispositions serves Albertans and disposition holders well and does not preclude the use of the land for other compatible activities or land uses.

We are pleased to see the Government of Alberta’s commitment in the Draft Bighorn Proposal and particularly the West Country Public Land Use Zone to honour all grazing leases, permits, and established grazing reserves and that there will be no change to the administration of grazing leases and permits within the Bighorn proposal. We strongly support continued long-term, secure grazing disposition tenure in the Bighorn PLUZs and parks.

Concerns:

  • Although the North Saskatchewan Regional Plan Regional Advisory Committee supported “conservation areas” for the Kootenay Plains, Job/Cline, Upper Clearwater Basin, and North Saskatchewan River areas, they did not achieve consensus on the conservation areas of Job/Cline 2, Blackstone/Wapiabi 1&2, North Ram, and Upper Clearwater Ram and therefore did not recommend them to be part of the conservation area. However, it seems these latter areas were included in the Bighorn Wildland Park which expands the park’s size.
  • While grazing leases have relatively secure tenure, grazing permit holders are concerned about security of grazing permit tenure. These stakeholders need assurances that grazing permits will not be affected, and that they have long-term secure tenure.
  • The proposal is unclear on whether a permit or leaseholder will continue to be able to renew or transfer permits or leases in the long term.
  • There is a lack of detail on how the PLUZs will be managed, especially on government staff oversight, development of grazing management plans, and how conflicts between user groups will be mitigated.
  • Beef producers are concerned with the speed of implementation of the Bighorn Proposal and perceived secrecy in the fall of 2018 on the government’s intentions with the Bighorn area.
  • Grazing disposition holders need greater assurance (to build trust) and more details on how grazing will be affected and managed in Bighorn Country.
  • (It’s) unclear whether the Pembina or Rocky Grazing Reserves would still remain intact within the Bighorn.
  • (It’s) unclear how displaced recreational users will be managed in the PLUZ and other neighbouring lands.
  • No new grazing permits allowed in the Wildland Provincial Park. Blanket restrictions should not be made without consideration of using livestock for rangeland improvements and rejuvenation.
  • No commercial forestry permitted in the Bighorn provincial parks. Commercial forestry is an important management tool for forest encroachment and fire hazard mitigation.
  • The Bighorn proposal doesn’t seem to allow for further expansion or creation of new grazing reserves within the area.

Recommendations:

  • The (government) commit to long-term (20-year) secure tenure of leases, grazing permits, and grazing reserves within the Bighorn area.
  • The (government) commit to automatic lease and permit renewal based on proper stewardship (Tenure for Stewardship) within the Bighorn area.
  • Recreation planning and user conflict mitigation plans need to be developed in consultation with grazing disposition holders.
  • Allow for new temporary or shorter-term grazing permits within the Bighorn Wildland Park for brush control and improvements to the park’s rangeland health.
  • Allow for commercial forestry as a forest encroachment control and fire management tool within the Bighorn Park and Bighorn Wildland Park.
  • Consider removing the areas from the Bighorn Park and Wildland Park that did not achieve consensus in the RAC (regional advisory committee) recommendations. There will always be opportunity to add these in at a later time when/if concerns are addressed.
  • Ensure grazing reserves, leases, permits, and the PLUZs are overseen by Public Lands and their rangeland resource managers and scientists, in collaboration with grazing disposition holders.
  • Any new or updated grazing management and riparian management plans must be developed with grazing disposition holders to ensure best management practices are practical and have mutual desired outcomes.

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