Shelterbelt Program axed in 2012 budget cuts

A program that has helped maintain Prairie agriculture for over a 100 years is a casualty of the recent federal government budget cuts.

A program that has helped maintain Prairie agriculture for over a 100 years is a casualty of the recent federal government budget cuts.

Agriculture and Agri-food Canada said it will cut the Prairie Shelterbelt Program in 2013.

The program provided free tree seedlings in an effort to fight soil erosion, encourage building wildlife habitat and help reduce home heating costs.

Red Deer County conservation co-ordinator Ken Lewis said the reduction in free trees will definitely hurt a program that has been successful for the county.

“We have had close to 50 properties take advantage of the program in the last five years,” said Lewis about a county program that includes distribution of trees and educational programs about the advantages of shelterbelts.

“The advantages for the individual landowners is there is a proven heating reduction cost with a good shelterbelt around a home and yard.

“There is also benefits to fields as they work as a snow capture and prevents wind erosion to soil.”

Lewis added there are new findings about other great benefits they are just beginning to understand.

“We are finding that shelter belts are great habitat for pollinators and, as we know, canola producers are dependant on that.”

The county has not determined what their program can offer after this year but Lewis said they will still encourage people through education.

Pheasants Forever is just one of many volunteer groups that took advantage of the shelterbelt program by planting trees to build habitat for birds and other wildlife.

The Central Alberta chapter plants close to 20,000 trees every year and there will be an immediate effect on the group.

“There is more than one way to obtain trees but it looks like we have to pay some money going forward with the program,” said Dick Lemke, board member and chairperson for the group’s tree planting.

“I will have to check how much 20,000 trees cost but we might have to reevaluate how we can deliver the program.”

Lemke said it could mean more fundraising for the group, including a bigger emphasis on the annual fundraising banquet. It will also put a strain on group attempts to increase the pheasant population and improve the evasive erosion in riparian areas.

Lemke said they have places to plant trees lined up for next year but can’t say how they will be able to buy the trees for those jobs.

He said the best way to help them and other tree planting groups is through support by attending fundraisers and educational opportunities.

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