This producer in Foothills County put the plow to the right-of-way and has locked the gate on each end – farming public land – for free – restricting public access
Pheasants Forever Canada (PFC) has been active in advancing the conservation of ditches and right of ways with the Government of Alberta (GOA). The goal, as set out by the United Conservative Party (UCP) states “Enforce actions against “trespass farming” i.e. protect the 66-foot-wide public right of ways against conversion to crops or draining of ditches next to rural roads.”
PFC commends the UCP leadership for recognizing the value this public infrastructure provides to the landscape.
It is well documented that wetland loss on the prairies exceeds 85%. It is also well documented that wetlands provide natural benefits to the landscape. In the absence of wetlands on the prairies, ditches and right-of ways provide the first line of defense in flood attenuation that saves municipalities from having to repair and replace culverts, bridges and roads. As importantly, healthy ditches provide a necessary buffer that filters nutrients applied to agricultural fields that would otherwise run off into our rivers and lakes, contributing to deteriorated water quality. Other benefits of these ditches include their contribution to carbon sequestration, biodiversity and the provision of critical habitat for pollinators and other insects, songbirds and upland gamebirds.
GREY PARTRIDGE WILL BE BENEFICIARY OF HEALTHY DITCHES – PHOTO BY CARL MARR
Right of ways provide all of the above and more. Studies show that healthy vegetation surrounding cereal crops enhance predatory insect populations that pray on agricultural pests, resulting in less use of insecticides for the producer and a win-win for society. Right of ways also provide corridors for recreational access and use, from berry picking to bike rides to dog walks, right of ways get Albertan’s outside
and help keep us healthy.
Healthy ditches and right – of – ways, in a landscape that is heavily managed to optimize cereal grain production, are critical for our upland gamebird population. Pheasants and Hungarian partridge in particular depend on edge effect, and ditches and right – of – ways provide that in spades. Trespass farming of them is illegal and if we are going to allow them to be farmed – at very least, we should be receiving rent or taxes from them. It is simply unfair for one producer to be allowed to get away with this while others obey the rules.
In the coming months PFC, in cooperation with GOA is developing an awareness strategy targeted at producers in Southern Alberta focusing on the societal benefits of intact and healthy ditches and right of ways.