MLA Report (14 May 2010)
Wildlife Habitat Protection
On December 2, 2009, the Government of Saskatchewan introduced amendments to the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act (WHPA), which can enable the Province to sell certain parcels of land that are currently owned by the Crown. This proposed change has come at the request of farmers and ranchers that have managed these lands for, in most cases, generations. It is the Government’s belief that these producers are outstanding stewards of the land and that they are in the best position to ensure the future protection of the land they have devoted so much of their lives to.
WHPA protects approximately 3.5 million acres of Crown land by preventing significant alteration, while allowing compatible traditional uses, such as grazing. When lands were originally identified for protection in 1984, they were primarily assessed for importance as habitat for big game animals. Since then, emphasis has shifted to consider additional ecological values such as rare or endangered species.
This current review and approach considers a range of modern tools to manage conservation values on land beyond Crown ownership. As part of the new land management approach, WHPA is proposed to be updated to include ecological, social, and economic values, in addition to wildlife habitat.
Early stage science-based assessments by professionals within the Ministry of Environment have shown that the vast majority of WHPA land will continue to remain under protection -- either through the WHPA, or under private ownership with a conservation easement that will stipulate which activities are permissible on that parcel of land in perpetuity.
Conservation easements have been used extensively by conservation organizations for this purpose. To date, conservation easements are held by agencies such as the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Currently, more than 82,000 hectares of land in the province are managed through conservation easements. In addition, maximum penalties for violation of the easements have been increased from $2000 to $100,000 for individual violations and from $5000 to $500,000 for corporations. Amendments to the act also now allow for stop work-orders, the ability to seize equipment and court ordered injunctions.
Farmers and ranchers are, in many cases, avid hunters and sportsmen that care deeply about preserving the natural environment for the enjoyment of future generations. The privilege to access deeded or leased agricultural land for hunting is, and will remain, at the discretion of individual landowners and lessees. Access to these lands for the purpose of hunting is based primarily on trust between landowners and hunters and is not affected by the land being owned by the crown or held privately.
In addition, the Province of Saskatchewan currently has 14,739,255 acres land protected under the Representative Areas Network (RAN). This includes the most ecologically sensitive lands such as the Great Sand Hills, migratory bird sanctuaries, Fish and Wildlife Development Fund lands, Ducks Unlimited Lands and other important ecological reserves. It is important to note that these lands will not be affected by any proposed chances to the WHPA.
Our goal is to find the most appropriate balance for protecting conservation and ecological values while enabling private land ownership for those who have proven to be the best stewards of the land – our farmers and ranchers. We are committed to continuing to work in cooperation with conservation agencies to protect native habitats in our province.
After further consultation with our stakeholders we have committed to the following changes to the Wildlife Habitat Protection Amendment Act 2009:
- Devote a portion of the proceeds from sale of WHPA lands to the Fish and Wildlife Development Fund to be used for further conservation activities
- Use our science based ecological assessment on all Crown owned land to determine possible additional lands to be given enhanced habitat protection
- Establish a Crown Land Conservation Advisory Committee made up of stakeholder groups to allow for greater transparency and participation in the process of habitat protection. Any request for the removal of a conservation easement would also go through this committee.
- Protect through legislation lands that have been identified to be of high ecological sensitivity. This will ensure that WHPA land in the highest value category can only be changed through a legislative process as opposed to regulation.
Past MLA Reports