REGINA – Nearly 2 million acres of crown land that was previously protected from being sold is being put on the market.
“We generally feel that land like this shouldn’t be owned by the government,” said Ken Cheveldayoff, Minister of Environment.
The parcels, approximately 1.825 million acres in all, were previously designated under the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act; the majority is already being leased, mostly for grazing.
“There’s been considerable interest [in purchasing the land],” said Lyle Stewart, Saskatchewan’s Agriculture Minister.
The land is divided up into three categories:
Lower ecological valued land: 525,000 acres may be eligible to buy sans restrictions.
Moderate ecological valued land: 1.3 million acres may be eligible to buy with the protection of a new Crown conservation easement.
High ecological valued land: 1.7 million acres will not be sold.
The plan has been in the works for years.
“The message in 2010 was that more consultation was needed,” said Cheveldayoff.
The government met with environmental and agricultural groups for guidance on the plan.
The new version also raises fines for easement contraventions – from $2,000 to $100,000 for individuals, and $50,000 to $500,000 for corporations.
“If that evaluation and that monitoring and that working with the landowner isn’t there, then it’s not going to mean very much,” said Joe Schmutz , a board member of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society.
The plan is getting mixed reaction from environmental groups.
“Imagine that you’re in a family with a whole bunch of family heirlooms which are very valuable, and somebody whose turn it is to look after those heirlooms announces one day they’re going to sell a bunch of them,” said Trevor Herriot, chair of Public Pastures – Public Interest.
Herriot said that there isn’t enough public land in southern Saskatchewan, but he is glad the land is being judged on its ecological value.
Seven per cent of the money generated from the sales will go the Fish and Wildlife Development Fund.
“We are grossly underfunding our environment department in this province, and it’s not just under this current government. It’s been happening for 20 years or more,” said Herriot.
Current lease holders will get letters in the coming days with information of land purchase options and land classifications. Along with getting first dibs on buying their leased land, lease holders will be able to renew their leases regardless if someone else want to purchase the land.