"Ok, so we couldn't get away with selling a big piece of prairie directly to the potato industry, but there are other ways to get that wasteland to turn a profit. . . ." Not an actual quote from Alberta's Premier Stelmach, but this week I can't help wonder if things like that do get said in the backrooms of his legislature.
Monday I had a call from a consultant biologist in Alberta (he wishes to remain anonymous),telling me of a new scheme for destroying the native grassland that belongs to the people of Alberta. In his mind it is "The Great Alberta Land Giveaway."
"They are selling 84,000 acres of mostly prairie land to counties and municipal districts for a dollar a quarter section. If we don't stop this, it will virtually eliminate the western extent of the mixed-grass prairie in Alberta. Most of this land is contained in the MD of Taber and County of Vulcan and most is native prairie or land that has reverted back to some semblance of prairie, and a lot of it is contiguous with existing blocks large blocks of regular public land that is native prairie. This is all being done for $1/parcel. A parcel is generally a quarter section (160 acres or more).
The acreage here is immense. Almost 100 square miles of land is being given to the MD of Taber alone; 30 square miles in the county of Vulcan. Lets compare that to Potatogate, which was 25 square miles of land. The land that is being given away in these two counties alone is slightly less than the size of the Suffield National Wildlife Area."
Ok, that sounds pretty bad. The fear, of course, is that once this land is sold it will be converted into pivot irrigation cropland like much of southern Alberta.
Here is the original government press release announcing the fire sale on prairie.
As with Potatogate, the Alberta conservation community is getting into swing to stop the sale. Here is what Cliff Wallis of the Alberta Wilderness Association said in their press release:
The large areas up for transfer in the Counties of Vulcan and Taber raise big red caution flags since provincially and nationally environmentally significant lands occur there,” says Cliff Wallis, AWA president. “Yet there is no commitment to protect these areas: just a vague suggestion to ‘retain’ environmentally significant land near rivers, water bodies and coulees. Once again important native grasslands are being short‐changed.
The Edmonton Journal printed a piece on the story called "Fleecing the flock -- the great public land giveaway"
If you want the longer background story of all of this, check out AWA's article on it back in 2007, written by Joyce Hildebrand.
Those acres that Stelmach is looking to launder through the books of rural counties are some of the last stretches of native grass in the region. To sneak them onto the auction block in this way is yet another sign that a government that can turn a blind eye to the evils of the tar sands is not likely to see what it is doing to its treasure of grasslands.
Several waterfowl habitat projects run by Ducks Unlimited and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan are located in the land up for sale: Medicine Wheel, Circle E, Vauxhaul and Cameron. Countless grassland birds, already in decline, would be affected if the land is broken by its new owners.
Good people of Alberta--open your eyes and see what your government is doing to Wild Rose country on your behalf.
Write a letter or email to your Premier and to his Minister of Sustainable Resource Development. Here are the addresses:
The Hon. Ed Stelmach
Premier of Alberta
Room 307, Legislature Building
10800 – 97th Avenue
Edmonton, AB T5K 2B6
Honourable Mel Knight
Minister of Sustainable Resource Development
Alberta Legislature Building
10800 – 97 Avenue
Phone: 780 415-4815