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Monday, December 22, 2014

The Government of Saskatchewan has embarked on a modern, science based approach to evaluate and manage ecological values on Crown land designated under The Wildlife Habitat Protection Act (WHPA) in the southern surveyed portion of the province.

The Wildlife Habitat Protection Act protects approximately 1.4 million hectares (3.5 million acres) of Crown land by preventing significant alteration, while allowing compatible traditional uses, such as grazing. Initially passed in 1984, WHPA was designed to conserve wildlife habitat. When lands were originally identified for protection they were primarily assessed for importance as habitat for big game animals. Since then, emphasis has shifted to consider additional ecological values such as rare or endangered species.

This current review and approach considers a range of modern tools to manage conservation values on land beyond Crown ownership. As part of the new land management approach, WHPA is proposed to be updated to include ecological, social, and economic values, in addition to wildlife habitat.

It is also proposed that the penalty provisions be increased so that they provide an appropriate deterrent to those who would negatively impact these lands. In the case of an individual, fines go from a maximum of $2,000, and up to $200 a day for each day or part of a day the infraction continues, to a maximum fine of $100,000, and up to $100,000 a day for each day the infraction continues. In the case of a corporation these fines go from a maximum $50,000 and $5,000 per day to a maximum $500,000 and $500,000 per day.

At the same time The Conservation Easements Act is also being amended to enhance its use by Environmental Non Government Organizations, increase the penalty provisions and enable a new type of easement, the Crown Conservation Easement. These new easements will enable the Crown to place appropriate restrictions on lands prior to sale to ensure protection of the ecological values of land is maintained through time, regardless of land ownership.

The review of lands designated under WHPA will use a newly-developed Crown Land Ecological Assessment Tool. This computer model is being used to assess and identify lands that have a low ecological value and can be sold outright, lands that have a moderate ecological value and may be sold subject to a Crown conservation easement to protect that value, and lands that have a high ecological value that will be retained by the Province and managed under revised provisions of WHPA.

Once completed, this approach may be applied to other unprotected Crown lands in southern Saskatchewan that have not already been assessed for their ecological value. However, it is important to note that the majority of lands currently protected through WHPA will continue to be protected either through a Crown conservation easement or by remaining within the Act. In addition any lands protected under other legislation or policies are not going to be considered in this approach and will remain protected. For example, Provincial Parks, Ecological Reserves and Fish and Wildlife Development Fund Lands will not be included in this approach.

This new program seeks to balance the protection of natural ecological values with the desires of potential purchasers, who are often long term lessees and stewards of the land who have expressed interest in acquiring these lands that at present are not generally available for sale.

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