Crown land sales deteriorating Prairie land: Saskatchewan conservationist

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Crown land sales deteriorating Prairie land: Saskatchewan conservationist
75 parcels of Crown land have recently been put up for auction in the province, causing concern for a Saskatchewan conservationist. Adam MacVicar with the story – Oct 12, 2017

Trevor Herriot is an award winning writer and co-chair of the Public Pastures Public Interest conservation group and has been writing about and studying Saskatchewan’s Prairie for years.

After the provincial government put more parcels of Crown land up for auction, Herriot became concerned about the future of the province’s natural landscape.

READ MORE: New conservation area aims to protect endangered grasslands in southern Sask.

“Every time we let go of Crown land and sell it off, Crown land with natural cover, we are really in effect continuing the colonization of this landscape and the de-indigenization of Saskatchewan,” Herriot said.

Last week, 75 parcels of land were put up for sale; 48 remain. This follows 92 parcels auctioned last spring.

Herriot claims much of that land is natural grassland (otherwise known as natural cover), and that it must be protected for its benefits.

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“Carbon sequestration, climate change mitigation, and adaptability in the future; we need it for biodiversity.”

Herriot also said keeping the public land allows Indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan access.

The provincial government says these land sales are nothing new.

“I think anytime there’s grasslands being sold, there’s always going to be a group of people that are interested in them,” said Wally Hoehn, who is with lands branch at the Ministry of Agriculture.

READ MORE: Prairie grasslands disappearing at an alarming rate in Canada

The government does have a system called the Crown Land Ecological Assessment Tool (CLEAT)  to determine if a piece of land should be sold with what’s called a Crown Conservation Easement (CCE).

A CCE is a legal agreement that the landowner will preserve natural sections.

“These easements protect the ecological and environmental integrity of the land,”  Hoehn said.

“Typically they don’t allow breaking, they don’t allow clearing, but they do allow any activity incidental to agriculture.”

Land tested under CLEAT is classified as low, moderate or high ecological and environmental importance.

“Anything that’s high is protected under the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act, anything moderate could be sold but only with a Crown Conservation Easement on it and anything low can be sold without a Crown Conservation Easement,” Hoehn said.

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But of the 75 parcels of land for sale, only 21 have easements.

READ MORE: NCC scientist pens essay to save world’s most endangered ecosystem, grasslands

Herriot acknowledges the importance of agriculture in Saskatchewan, but says all grassland must be considered important as well.

“We need to eat, we need to have a lot of land growing food here,” Herriot said.

“But does it have to be 80, 85 per cent of the land south of the forest? Can we leave a little bit more for nature?”

Herriot says he still wants to see a full independent review of the sale of natural grasslands in the province.

The auction for the remaining 48 parcels of land opens on Oct. 23.

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