Alberta briefs – August 31

The Alberta government is asking for proposals to turn a parcel of native grassland in the province’s water-challenged south into irrigated farmland.

Government seeks to sell grassland, despite advice to the contrary

EDMONTON — The Alberta government is asking for proposals to turn a parcel of native grassland in the province’s water-challenged south into irrigated farmland.

The potential sale of a 65-square-kilometre spread southwest of Medicine Hat comes despite advice from a government-appointed panel to leave such rangeland alone.

“We are in the process across the province of looking at additional opportunities for agricultural development,” Mel Knight, minister of sustainable resources development, said Tuesday.

“I think that it’s a tremendous opportunity for agricultural projects there.”

A Taber-area potato farmer had expressed interest in buying the land last fall in a private sale. Knight said the application from Louis Ypma of SLM Spud Farms was rejected, but the minister confirmed that the land now on offer is the same block. Knight said he expects Ympa to try again.

His original bid blew up a windstorm of protest from environmentalists and ranchers, who use the area for grazing. The president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association wrote a letter of objection to Premier Ed Stelmach.

“So little of Alberta’s grassland region is left,” said Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association. “Only 30 per cent remains and, of that, less than two per cent is protected.”

Nearly three-quarters of Alberta’s endangered species live in grasslands, she said. The land being offered is home to the endangered ferruginous hawk and burrowing owl.

Knight countered that the area for sale represents about .15 per cent of the province’s remaining natural prairie. A buyer would have to abide by federal and provincial regulations for endangered species.

Money from the sale would go into a fund to help pay for other tracts with high conservation value, he added.

Tory leadership candidate OK with proposed movie studio

EDMONTON — One of the candidates for the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership says she’s open to the idea of the province helping fund a new state-of-the art movie studio.

Alison Redford says she first wants to crunch numbers on what would be called the Alberta Creative Hub in Calgary, but adds the concept meshes with her proposal to expand the role of the arts in the province.

“I think it’s important to look at it,” Redford said Tuesday before outlining her arts policy at a downtown Edmonton park.

“If it makes economic sense and it’s actually something that supports what I’ve been talking about, then I’m very open to looking at it, because when you get that kind of a combination, it’s the right way to go.”

The $32-million proposal for land at Calgary Olympic Park includes two massive sound stages along with offices, editing and production suites.

The idea would be to lure filmmakers now choosing other cities such as Vancouver to take advantage of the Rockies and southern Alberta badlands as sites for exterior movie work.

The City of Calgary has already committed to about one-third of the cost. Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett would like another third from the province, with the balance sought from the federal government and private investors.

The project would keep homegrown artists in Alberta, which Redford said is critical to her vision.

Autistic woman missing

GLEICHEN — An extensive search for an Alberta woman with autism has come up empty.

Mounties used an aircraft, dogs and about 40 searchers on the ground to search a three-square-kilometre area near the Siksika First Nation for Desiree Oldwoman.

The 21-year-old was last seen Saturday night at her residence on the First Nationabout 100 kilometres southeast of Calgary.

Oldwoman does not speak but can write her name, and police say she can’t take care of herself.

She is five feet, four inches tall, weighs about 165 pounds, with short brown hair and brown eyes.

She was last seen wearing a brown sweater and black pants with a red stripe.