Conservation Easement letter to Minister Moe

Dear Minister Moe:

Unfortunately many of our RM’s and ratepayers throughout the Prairie Pothole Region are facing some undue hardships as a result of some loosely structured legislation that has been in place for a number of years. The Conservations Easement Act in effect since January 31, 1997 has been utilized by numerous conservation groups and individuals to ensure the properties affected are placed into long term control by the easement holder in many cases for perpetuity. Although noble by design this has provided some long term issues for many jurisdictions.

The major group at the heart of the concern is Ducks Unlimited. They have been making a policy of purchasing a strategic parcel of land, contouring the land to increase water retention, filling in old watercourses and redeveloping the parcel to increase water holding capacity. Although they are not breaking any laws or statutes they are conveniently affecting significant areas surrounding their protected lands. Water levels in years of high water infiltration will then fill and spill well beyond their original easement. According to Ducks Unlimited 2013 financial report they proudly proclaim that they have 1,867,810 acres of secured land and they influence another 1,477,788 acres.

As agriculture producers we certainly respect any land holders rights to designate what they want to do with their land as long as they are within reasonable boundaries. However we have serious concerns when easements issued under the Conservation Easement Act affect other surrounding landowners including those further upstream and downstream. We are certainly aware that illegal ditching also fits into this category. Unfortunately some producers have been forced to take drastic measures because their ability to manage their land is now being curtailed due to increase water encroachment from surrounding wildlife lands. As this water leaves and the soils dry out, salinity levels have increased, adversely affecting the land’s ability to produce at levels previous to the water encroachment.

In numerous RM’s, Ducks Unlimited and other wildlife groups have become the single largest property owner. A multitude of issues have been arising with this domination. Decreasing land values due to their management practices has resulted in a lessening of tax revenues for the rural municipalities. Their overarching influence on the surrounding parcels they do not own has also resulted in the long term lowering of property values and taxable assessment further decreasing working capital for RM’s and increasing tax levels for the remaining tax payers. Increasing incidents of beaver damage have been noted with extra costs incurred in removing their natural structures and protecting municipal infrastructure. Also many conservation groups severely limit or even inhibit the municipality’s ability to control the pests on easement bound land. In the most severe cases the inability to maintain water levels has resulted in RM’s losing infrastructure. Replacing them has resulted in significant costs to the ratepayers.

A simple recommendation we would like to make to the Ministry is to amend the Conservation Easement Act to limit the water levels that exist on the easement land. Levels need to be maintained at a point that is agreeable to surrounding land owners to minimize surrounding land encroachment.

A second recommendation is to lessen the time a conservation easement can be taken out over, perpetuity is not a responsible option. Many situations and opportunities change over the decades. There are now numerous instances where, because of extremely long term easements, actions have been taken by the easement holder that have significantly reduced the ability of surrounding land owners to capitalize on rental or sale opportunities.
We would certainly be willing to consult with any further improvements to the Conservation Easement Act to ensure all stakeholders are treated fairly.

Sincerely,

David Zerr
President
Sask Farm Stewardship Association
PO Box 147
Yorkton, SK
S3N 2V6