Alberta Environmental Farm Plan has introduced a tool to analyze the habitat potential for species at risk, highlighting the concept of every farm and ranch having wildlife habitat.
The Habitat and Biodiversity Assessment Tool was launched in March as part of a new chapter in the Alberta Environmental Farm Plan workbook on habitat management, meeting the program’s need for a component on biodiversity for species at risk, says Lisa Nadeau, Alberta Environmental Farm Plan’s director.
“Biodiversity is very broad, and it can be a little bit cumbersome to tackle since there’s so many different angles, whereas species at risk provided us a lens to focus on,” says Nadeau, adding that Alberta Environmental Farm Plan is exploring how it can help producers promote the sustainability of their operations to the public.
Of Alberta’s species at risk, around 75 per cent are found in the Grassland and Parkland regions, which are major agricultural areas. Habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to these species. “The recovery of these species is dependent on environmental stewardship of agricultural producers and land managers,” she says.
The tool helps producers use the natural features found on their land to inform a plan that benefits the wild species that may call their farm or ranch home.
The tool’s development was made possible by funding from the Species at Risk on Agricultural Land (SARPAL) program through Environment and Climate Change Canada. “It’s been about five years in the making, and we’re very excited to have finally launched it,” she says.
When a producer works through the new Habitat Management chapter online, a button will take them to the Habitat and Biodiversity Assessment Tool. The tool asks the producer to enter the legal land description for one quarter section of their property. “They can either pick a representative quarter section or they can pick one that they’re particularly interested in managing biodiversity,” says Nadeau.
The producer then answers questions about the habitat features on this quarter section. This includes information on whether the land is cultivated, if there’s a farmstead, if it’s irrigated, what bodies of water and wetlands are present and types of pasture and grazing methods, as well as other natural and man-made features.
After answering these questions, the tool provides three examples of stewardship opportunities that could promote biodiversity on this quarter section and asks if these practices are already implemented, and if not, whether or not you’d consider using them in the future. This builds the practices into a habitat management plan, and the producer can add comments here.
Based on this information, the tool creates a customized habitat management report that lists the potential species at risk that may be present on their land, based on the habitat features they indicated and location in the province.
“We emphasize that we have not asked them if they have species at risk on their land,” Nadeau explains.
“There can be some contention around that, and we have not told them that they have species at risk on their land. We’re just saying that you have the potential to create or maintain habitat for these species at risk.”
This report provides prioritized lists of recommended stewardship opportunities, divided into different packages that the producer can choose from based on what works best for their farm or ranch.
“Generally the first package is the largest package, and that’s the one that we would encourage people to choose from since it has the most potential for impact,” she says. Details on why and how to implement these practices are also included.
“We also provide a list of easy-to-do stewardship opportunities, so a lot of these are passive things that they can do like not planting trees and shrubs that aren’t native, preventing fragmentation, protecting water quality.”
The customized plan is voluntary, as is all of the Environmental Farm Plan workbook. Nadeau notes that making larger changes to your operation without an expert’s opinion isn’t recommended. The report includes a list of related organizations to consult when considering implementing these practices.
Nadeau reports that producers are finding the tool easy to use. “There really isn’t any preparation that they need to do, but just to try not to overthink it when answering the questions and go based off their gut what they think they have on their farm,” she says, adding that it’s not necessary to know what species live on your land.
The tool itself will be available in other provinces through similar programs in the future, also funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada.