Fraser Forum

Albertans closest to the land are often best suited to manage it properly

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The issue of property rights has slipped off the public radar in Alberta, as the province grapples with red ink.

But once budget matters fade from the news, population growth, oil and gas exploration, agricultural demands, recreational use, and an increasing ecological sensitivity will likely again swirl around land use issues—private property included. A useful debate will then arise about who is best positioned to provide informed analysis about Alberta’s land base, be it farmland near a river or ranch land near a wildlife habitat.

It’s occasionally assumed that an environmentally sensitive approach is opposite that of a commercial approach—that ecological protection is necessarily at odds with ranching and farming.

There is always potential for conflict, but as British professor Ken Atkinson wrote in a 2009 journal article on preserving grassland in southern Saskatchewan, “The prairies provide an example of how tensions between conservationists and other land-users can be healed and need not be permanent.”

Atkinson pointed out that while some conservationists accuse ranchers of overgrazing and using exotic grasses to reseed pastures (accurate in some cases), in response, “Ranchers regard themselves as custodians of the land and ‘conservers’ [and point out that] their open range give native flora and fauna some chance of survival.” And he points to evidence where “cattle grazing has [had] a beneficial role in managing prairie grassland.”

And Atkinson hints at what some people might forget: Those closest to the land often have the best chance of managing it properly.

Heightened understanding about how local knowledge can assist conservation efforts may help calm those unhelpful “us-versus-them” disputes. And we shouldn’t be surprised. People tend to care for their own property (or even their leased property) in a more careful manner than land in which they have no stake.

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