Project aims to preserve natural areas

Red Deer County farmers could be compensated for preserving natural areas under a new pilot project.

Red Deer County farmers could be compensated for preserving natural areas under a new pilot project.

The Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program was founded in the late 1990s by Winnipeg-based Keystone Agricultural Producers and Delta Waterfowl Foundation, a U.S. organization whose Canadian operations are based in Winnipeg.

ALUS provides a financial incentive for farmers and land owners to protect environmentally sensitive land to maintain its ecological benefits.

Red Deer County will be the third Alberta rural municipality, after the County of Vermilion River and Parkland County, to champion the program, which provides per-acre compensation for farmers for land left in its natural state.

Ken Lewis, Red Deer County’s conservation co-ordinator, said previously when farmers left potentially productive land in a natural state, it came at a cost. ALUS attempts to recognize farmers’ contributions to allowing nature to provide its benefits.

Farmers are free to end their agreements early and there is no requirement that public access to natural areas be allowed.

Compensation is based on typical land rental rates in a given area.

“I think it’s a great way for farmers to get paid for some of their ecological services,” said Coun. Philip Massier.

While he supports the program he said a fund must be built up to support it using outside money, not tax dollars.

“I just think this program is excellent. It is something that is needed in the county,” said Coun. Jean Bota.

Funding for ALUS projects comes from a variety of sources, including provincial and federal governments, private foundations, angler and hunter groups, stewardship councils, and environmental groups.

Lewis said the county signed a memorandum of agreement with Delta last April and that organization has provided $15,000 in start-up cash.

To get the project rolling, council voted to set up a partnership advisory committee. It will include the council and public members who sit on the county’s Agricultural Services Board, as well as a representative from Delta.

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