Thanks to a half-million dollar donation by Alberta philanthropist David Bissett to ALUS Canada, 958 acres of marginal, ecologically sensitive farmland in Alberta have been deployed to the delivery of ecosystem services through 186 separate projects.
The projects will serve as additional proof points of the ecosystem value of Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS), a concept developed in Manitoba in 2006 that is now deployed province-wide in Prince Edward Island and in various corners of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec, and that may soon play a much larger land-management role across much of Manitoba.
ALUS is a system that works with farmers, paying them to restore or enhance ecologically sensitive or marginal land to ecologically-beneficial purposes, explains ALUS Canada CEO Bryan Gilvesy. Benefits include cleaner air, cleaner water, greater biodiversity and more pollinators, Gilvesy tells EcoLog News.
ALUS Canada is a national not-for-profit organization that helps fund community groups, 20 in all, willing to deliver ALUS services.
The strength of ALUS, says Gilvesy, is that it harnesses the skills and resources of farmers. Where a top-down regulatory approach to conservation might impose a burden on a farmer, ALUS enlists farmers as willing and valued partners. And because farmers have the skill, the energy and the land, ALUS is a very cost-effective approach.
Acquiring farmland to rededicate it to conservation purposes might cost $15,000 an acre, says Gilvesy, plus annual taxes and maintenance costs. Under an ALUS program, a farmer might dedicate an acre of marginal land to conservation purposes for $150 an acre per year, with no additional management costs.
The 186 new ALUS projects south of Edmonton that are now in place thanks to The Bissett Action Fund include wetland restorations, buffer zones around croplands, riparian zones with pollinator habitat, and wildlife-friendly fences that keep cattle out of streams to protect water quality. The funding was approved only in November 2016, says Gilvesy, and the projects were underway by spring. That’s how efficiently ALUS can work, he says, building supportive networks within communities that allow nothing to get in the way of project execution.