In several of our previous newsletters, we have profiled the loss of habitat in Southern Alberta due to trespass farming, more appropriately trespass cultivating of our public ditches and right of ways.  These ditches not only provide habitat for many species of wildlife, birds, insects and pollinators, they also provide many other natural benefits such as carbon sequestration, flood and drought mitigation and filtering of nutrients including phosphorous and nitrogen and other broadly applied agricultural chemical products.

Although quantitative science is lacking on all of the values that ditches and right of ways bring to society, experts do understand that they function not dissimilar to wetlands and other riparian features on the landscape.  We hope to find the money to determine these answers moving forward, so that we can develop informed policies as to what makes sense to keep on the landscape.

Seemingly, Pheasants Forever has been the only organization to raise this as an issue of concern about the exploitation of these public assets and the value they bring to society.  One rural municipality in southern Alberta may be onboard with healthy ditches moving forward as the spring of 2018 proved to be an eye opener, with heavy snowpack lasting through until mid to late April.  It so happened that the year prior, the municipality “cleaned” and groomed all of their ditch infrastructure the summer prior.  When she finally let go, it all went at once, with nothing to slow the overland flooding.  Roads, bridges and culverts were compromised throughout the county costing tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Healthy ditches have value!

The United Conservative Party of Alberta recently held think tank meetings with a number of NGO’s and other stakeholders to discuss issues of concern for land use and conservation groups.  It was at these meetings that Pheasants Forever was able to bring this issue to the table.

On March 14, 2019 United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney announced that, if elected, a United Conservative government would implement a 13-point conservation plan for environmental stewardship.

“Albertans across our province value our great outdoors and rightfully want to see it conserved and protected for their children and grandchildren,” Kenney said. “Our Common-Sense Conservation Plan will take a balanced approach to environmental stewardship, recognizing that recreation, economic use and conservation can and should support each other.”

The Common-Sense Conservation Plan designed to strengthen protection of our natural environment includes the following statement as one of it’s 13 strategies.

Deal with illegal drainage of wetlands by creating statutory tort action for adversely affected downstream private landowners. This will address landowners whose property/crops are flooded/damaged because a neighbour’s or government’s illegal drainage of adjacent wetlands; and enforce actions against “trespass farming”, i.e., protect 66foot-wide public right of ways against conversion to crops or drainage of ditches next to rural roads.

Alberta has one of the most progressive wetland policies in the country, however, nowhere to our knowledge does any government or jurisdiction in Canada highlight the conservation of ditches and right of ways.  This is potentially a huge benefit for upland birds in Southern Alberta, particularly the Hungarian partridge population.