Updated, May 15 — Over 1.8 million acres of Crown wildlife habitat in southern Saskatchewan may soon be up for sale under a new provincial land management plan.
The province on Monday announced what it calls the Southern Conservation Land Management Strategy, which it said will offer ranchers and farmers now leasing the Crown land an option to buy eligible parcels previously designated under the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act.
The new strategy includes legislative amendments to both the WHPA and the Conservation Easements Amendment Act plus new regulations.
All WHPA-designated land in the province’s south has been evaluated using a “science-based ecological assessment tool” and classified into three categories.
About 1.7 million acres with “high ecological value” will stay under Crown ownership and WHPA protection, while another 1.3 million acres with “moderate ecological value” may be eligible for sale, but would still be protected with a new Crown conservation easement.
The new Crown easement can be applied to eligible Crown lands before sale. “Compliance tools” applicable to such easements can include stop-work orders, equipment seizures and injunctions, the province said.
The amendments also boost fines for contravention from $2,000 to $100,000 for individuals and from $50,000 to $500,000 for corporations, plus “additional” fines for continuing offences.
Another 525,000 acres with “lower ecological value,” meanwhile, may be eligible for sale with no restrictions, the province said.
Letters will be sent to current lessees to notify them of their land classifications, purchase options and the sale process, the province said, and if lessees choose not to purchase the land, they can continue leasing it.
Lessees can also search their land locations online to find out if the land has been classified as potentially available for sale.
Not all land classified as low or moderate will be available for sale, the province emphasized. An “additional review” will take place to assess other factors that may influence land eligible for sale.
Vacant Crown land in the south with “high ecological value” will also be considered for protection under the WHPA, the province said.
“The new strategy accommodates both public and private ownership, using modern conservation tools to make sure that ecological values are maintained, regardless of ownership,” Environment Minister Ken Cheveldayoff said Monday.
Seven per cent of proceeds from any sales of WHPA lands will go to Saskatchewan’s Fish and Wildlife Development Fund to support conservation and habitat protection work.
The province didn’t say Monday whether any of the land up for sale includes any land from the former federal community pasture program, of which about 9,000 acres provincewide are WHPA-protected.
However, while the province now holds the community pastures, it has also previously pledged to transfer control of those lands to pasture patron groups by 2018, and not to sell them to outside bidders.
Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation president David Pezderic, in the province’s release, hailed the amendments as providing “real and enforceable transparency in identifying saleable lands from within WHPA, while also affording the conservation community the opportunity to identify other suitable Crown lands for inclusion under WHPA protection.”
Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association president Harold Martens, in the same release, said the move “will provide farm and ranch families with the stability and long-term security that comes with ownership as well as equity for financing their operations.”
Martens added it’s “due to the responsible management of producers that the remaining native prairie and ecologically valuable lands in Saskatchewan have been preserved.” — AGCanada.com Network