Alternate land use services a win for all involved

By MPP Toby Barrett

In recent years farmers have taken leadership in an area where politicians have been slow to act. Or where they have acted, it has been to burden farmers, ranchers and property owners with bureaucratic rules and regulations.

The diverse nature of the rural landscape has been recognized for years.

In Europe, agricultural policies help ensure farmers are compensated for the services they provide for the whole of society in managing, conserving and enhancing the rural and natural environment.

In the United States, millions of acres of fragile farmland has been retired by paying landowners to “grass them down” through the Conservation Reserve Program.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, bureaucrats and politicians have sought to protect the environment, all too often by saddling farmers with restrictions and red tape that prevents them from using their land to its full potential.

In contrast to this approach over the past 15 years, landowners, as well as farm and wildlife organizations, have developed a plan that rewards producers for being responsible stewards of the land.

It puts the farmer in the driver’s seat and promises a well-managed and protected environment at a reasonable cost to all concerned.

It’s called ALUS and it stands for Alternative Land Use Services.

ALUS was first developed in 2000 by Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers and Delta Waterfowl and has gained significant support from farm organizations, outdoors groups, philanthropists, governments and other stakeholders.

ALUS is “the farmer’s conservation program” —  it links the environmental demands of society with farmers who supply environmental services – something that few programs in this country do. It’s a voluntary, farmer-led, incentive-based method of recognizing and rewarding property owners for maintaining, creating or enhancing environmental benefits.

Following a pilot to test ALUS in Blanshard, Manitoba from 2006 to 2009, and then another in Norfolk County, the Ontario principles behind ALUS were tested in the field. The goal was to motivate farmers to preserve and protect natural and fragile areas of land that have lower agricultural values, but can provide environmental benefits.

Dave Reid, formerly with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Norfolk Land Stewardship Coordinator, embraced the ALUS concept and brought it to Norfolk. He developed the concept of the Partnership Advisory Committee that keeps farmers connected to ALUS and to the community.

Prince Edward Island adopted ALUS early on following a meeting in Norfolk County. It became a provincial program in 2008. Since then, ALUS has been established in more than 20 communities across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Quebec.

Market-based incentives can preserve habitat.

“A market-friendly environmental philosophy emphasizes results, not process,”  wrote Conservative MP Bob Sopuck in his former role with Delta Waterfowl. “Activists love the current bureaucratic style of endless hearings based on ridiculously broad terms of reference and the free media coverage they generate.”

As one of the original developers of ALUS, Sopuck believes bottom-up incentives work far better than top-down planning and regulation. “It acknowledges the stewardship efforts of resource users like farmers, trappers, hunters, anglers and loggers by designing incentive-based policies that reward good works.”

By recognizing their potential contribution, the concept of ALUS empowers agricultural producers and rural communities to take the lead in environmental stewardship.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk.