Businessman puts dollars behind concerns over land use

Applied research Agriculture the main focus for new institute at the University of Alberta

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Calgary businessman and outdoorsman David Bissett has seen a lot of changes in Alberta land use over the past 30 years. He’s concerned — in fact so concerned that he has donated $4.9 million to create a new research body called the Alberta Land Institute (ALI).

The institute opened on Sept. 5 and is currently housed in the HUB building on the main campus of the University of Alberta.

Bissett is concerned that environmental outcomes and wildlife habitat are not being considered in land use decisions. Vic Adamowicz, the research director for ALI, said Bissett funded the institute mainly to provide evidence-based research on land use changes and policy.

Adamowicz said the institute’s goal is to work with academics to communicate options to policy-makers and other stakeholders.

“This is a great opportunity for folks in the university who want to see their research make a difference,” he said.

Adamowicz, a U of A professor in Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology in the faculty of agriculture, said Bissett’s priority is mainly in private lands used for agricultural purposes.

“We very much want to identify what the issues are,” said André Tremblay, executive director of the ALI. “Once we’ve established those issues, it’s about identifying specific research questions that we can pose to an academic team to try and find clarity around the issues and what strategy or policy options we can focus on.”

The institute has a community advisory board which includes producer/landowners and representatives from non-governmental organizations such as Delta Waterfowl and the Alberta Conservation Association. They will also add two government policy representatives to the board.

The institute will be working in the agriculture sector on governance issues and municipal development. “It’s really that interface between growth and expansion of municipal zones, whether it is industrial or residential developments and such, and the agricultural land base,” said Adamowicz.

Agriculture main focus

Forestry and energy will not be ignored, but agriculture is the main focus for now.

“The whole plan for the research is to identify what the challenges are on the landscape. What are the conflicts and issues that we’re facing or will face. What are the different policy options and what consequences will we face by choosing these options?” said Adamowicz.

The Institute will hold a land use conference in 2013 to bring some of these ideas together.

Researchers affiliated with the institute will soon launch several projects exploring wetlands, irrigation and fragmentation of land. The ALI has identified four major theme areas for research this fall. The first is property rights. Researchers will be consolidating their information, a description of what they know about property rights, a guide to property rights and comparison with other jurisdictions.

Area two is fragmentation and conversion of agricultural land. Researchers will be looking at the current situation, losses and gains, policy options and future challenges created by fragmentation.

Area three is focused more on the southern area of the province and irrigation, and area four is wetlands.

“In all of these, we’re trying to get ahead of the game, project what is going on and think about what problems might be there,” said Adamowicz. The institute will soon be calling for research proposals and will be translating its findings into outcomes and policy briefs.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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