Leaseholders who manage grazing on Alberta’s Crown lands provide almost $70 million in value each year to the province, a new report finds.
The Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association (AGLA) commissioned a value estimate assessment to determine the economic value that grazing leaseholders provide through the stewardship responsibilities required in their lease terms.
“We as an association undertook this project in an effort to help people better understand the value we as leaseholders provide in terms of boots-on-the-ground management,” said Kyle Forbes, AGLA chairman. “As leaseholders we have always been keenly aware of the value we provide, and having some concrete numbers to point to should help in our advocacy efforts moving forward.”
More than eight million acres of Alberta’s Crown lands are used for grazing, with about 5,700 grazing disposition holders managing these lands. Because these lands have a multiple-use mandate, grazing leaseholders are required to meet land stewardship standards, maintain and improve fences, watering systems and rangeland as well as manage access for industrial and recreational use. Leaseholders also pay for these improvements, without reimbursement from the government.
This assessment was conducted by Serecon, using existing surveys and stakeholder consultations to determine per unit cost estimates for the requirements of Crown land grazing leases. The report didn’t include grazing permits and licenses and forest reserve grazing permits.
“The cost data in the report illustrates that when the full scope of the costs are considered, there is significant economic value above and beyond the grazing fee provided by grazing leaseholders,” an AGLA press release stated.
In terms of region, the annual value to the province is $19,170,688 in the north grazing zone, $33,321,483 in the south grazing zone and $17,383,830 in the Special Areas.
“It’s important to show there are a variety of legislated costs borne by the leaseholder that many forget to take in to consideration or are unaware of,” said Forbes, noting that while proper stewardship of these lands is a cost borne by the leaseholder, both the rancher and the province ultimately benefit.
“Leaseholders in Alberta take a lot of pride in managing the lands they operate on and it shows in the level of stewardship and success of the system we have here in Alberta.”
In addition to breaking down the costs incurred annually by leaseholders, the report highlights the potential cost to the province should grazing leases be removed from Crown lands. For example, the estimated stewardship cost to the province would be around $56 million without the public land grazing program, and the province would lose approximately $8.76 million in grazing fees and property taxes. As well, removing grazing is “likely to result in ecosystem degradation and loss of critical habitat values,” the report states, given the type of disturbance needed to maintain rangeland health.
Forbes said that the association wasn’t sure what to expect from the report.
“We had an idea of the value we provided, but undertaking a project like this we weren’t really sure where the needle would ultimately land,” he said. “Our board was quite pleasantly surprised with the final result and feel that this will help our industry moving forward.”
AGLA plans to use the report’s findings to assist in its advocacy efforts “when it comes to some of the policy that affects our industry,” said Forbes. “With the urban-rural divide continuing to grow it will work as an education piece for the public to help them gain a better understanding of what comes along with ranching on a grazing lease.”
Forbes doesn’t anticipate the availability of Alberta’s Crown lands for grazing changing in the near future, citing the value to the province that’s highlighted in the report.
“The impact the loss of cattle grazing on Crown land would have on our beef industry would be disastrous,” he said.
“The benefits to Alberta are numerous, not just in dollars and cents, but with the prevention of conversion of some of the last vast swaths of native prairie, the benefits of cattle to reduce fire load in our forested areas along with the ecological goods and services provided by well-managed cattle grazing.”
The full report is available on the AGLA website.