Conservationists call upon Province to scrap Controversial Program to Sell Off Public Lands

Federation of Alberta Naturalists
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society - Calgary/Banff Chapter

For Immediate Release August 9th, 2004

Conservationists are calling upon Minister of Sustainable Resource Development, Mike Cardinal to cancel the Farm Holdings Consolidation Program (FHCP).

On July 23rd, SRD Minister Mike Cardinal's office sent a letter to lease holders announcing the FHCP. The stated aim of the program is to "further diversify and strengthen the agricultural industry."

The program allows grazing leaseholders and farm development leaseholders in the "White Zone" to request the sale of portions of their lease through a public tenure process, but gives the leaseholder the right to match the highest bid. Once the tendering process is initiated it cannot be reversed or stopped by the leaseholder.

Conservationists are concerned the program will lead to a sell off of public land with little or no scrutiny.

Where transparent, open processes should have occurred, the FHCP has arrived by fiat, quietly buried in the back of the government's website and with notice only being sent to leaseholders.

"Our public lands belong to all Albertans. Why then should would the government make a major policy shift without consulting the public?" asks Joe Obad, Conservation Director - Southwest Alberta for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). "Who benefits from this policy? I don't think the government has taken the time to consider all the implications this program could have."

Obad notes that the program has no provisions to ensure sold grazing or farm lease land is maintained for those purposes. He worries that property developers could search out desperate ranchers hit hard by the BSE crisis to finance deals that take advantage of the leaseholder's right to match the highest bid.

Glen Semenchuk, Executive Director for the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, is equally concerned. "I sit on the Grizzly Bear Recovery Team and The Woodland Caribou Recovery Team, and watch as the government insists that every industry stakeholder get input, but here where this policy affects all Albertans, the majority of Albertans are getting completely shut out. That 's an intolerable double standard."

Semenchuk notes that the white zone contains a great number of Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs). He is unconvinced that land will not "be made available for sale if it is not needed for conservation or other government programs" as the FHCP states.

"We have some IRPs in this province that are 20 years out of date, and a department that has a track record of ignoring its own biologists, " says Semenchuk, "When a policy like this has no clear rules up front to address environmental concerns, you can't hope for them to be applied later by a development-minded department, or after the sale by cash-strapped MDs looking to increase their tax base."

"Albertans rejected the Grazing Lease Conversion Policy in the late 80s and they should reject this policy for the same reasons," adds Obad "We ask the Minister to scrap this policy and engage in true consultation with Albertans on a meaningful process for the few cases where public land sales are warranted."

For more information contact:

Glen Semenchuk, Executive Director, Federation of Alberta Naturalists (780)427-8124
Joe Obad, Conservation Director Southwest Alberta, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (403)232-6686
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