Evidence of meeting #37 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was land.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • David Collyer  President, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
  • Murray Elliott  Vice-President, Health, Safety, Environment and Sustainable Development, Shell Canada Limited
  • Gordon Lambert  Vice-President, Sustainable Development, Suncor Energy Inc.
  • Richard Dunn  Vice-President, Canadian Division, Regulatory and Government Relations, Encana Corporation
  • Brenda Kenny  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association
  • David Pryce  Vice-President, Operations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
  • Larry Sears  Chairman, Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association
  • Lorne Fitch  Provincial Riparian Specialist, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish
  • Bob Jamieson  As an Individual
  • Jake Veasey  Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, Calgary Zoo
  • Kevin Strange  Senior Advisor, Conservation Outreach, Calgary Zoo
  • Doug Sawyer  Chair, Alberta Beef Producers
  • Rich Smith  Executive Director, Alberta Beef Producers
  • Lynn Grant  Chair, Environment Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association
  • Alan Gardner  Executive Director, Southern Alberta Land Trust Society
  • Stephen Vandervalk  Alberta Vice-President, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association
  • Bill Newton  Member, Board of Governors, Western Stock Growers' Association
  • Norman Ward  Member, Board of Governors, Western Stock Growers' Association
  • Fawn Jackson  Manager, Environmental Affairs, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

12:40 p.m.

Chairman, Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association

Larry Sears

Definitely. Thank you.

I think we do have a role to play. It's been difficult to do it. As Lorne mentioned, relationship-building and trust are key. Experiential knowledge exists with us, as the land managers. Some of us may not have a degree from a university, but I have a master's degree from the school of hard knocks, I can guarantee you.

So there's a lot to be learned. As Bob mentioned, we represent the less than 1% of the population with rural roots anymore. Many people don't understand the practical aspects.

One of the agricultural groups here in the province has a classroom agriculture program, which is aimed at grade 4 students across the province. They get into as many classrooms as they can to give them a bit of an education. That's helpful.

For a lot of us, it would be encouraging, I guess, although somewhat of a burden, to entertain urban people who come out and have a look to try to understand how your operation goes. I've entertained lots of international groups. It's fun; they were our customers and clients at one time or another, and it's highly rewarding to be able to do it. Quite frankly, though, I don't have the time. We're too busy trying to make a living.

So it's difficult. It's a challenge.

12:40 p.m.


Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Yes. It is a challenge, but effectively it could have some great results if we could go forward on that.

Mr. Fitch, did you want to add to that?

12:40 p.m.

Provincial Riparian Specialist, Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish

Lorne Fitch

I'd like to point out that this is one of the premier awareness documents of the Cows and Fish program. There are about 75,000 of these circulating around North America and other parts of the world. Stories about ranch management and examples of ranch stewardship make up about half of the documents. These documents don't go just to the agricultural community; they're circulated through a wide variety of communities.

In addition, Cows and Fish has developed a kids game, called Cows, Fish, Cattledogs and Kids!, which we deliver to about 2,500 kids per year. It helps kids, primarily in urban centres, understand not only landscapes and watersheds but also how management actions on the part of farmers and ranchers can enhance watershed quality and quantity.

12:40 p.m.


The Chair Mark Warawa

Mr. Toet, your time has expired.

Mr. Choquette, you have five minutes.

12:40 p.m.


François Choquette Drummond, QC

I now have some questions for the Calgary Zoo representatives.

I am quite pleased to see the work you are doing. I will definitely return to Calgary to visit your zoo. You seem to be doing very valuable and fascinating work.

Yesterday, I met an urban park and nature area expert. Your extensive conservation program is more animal based, but I noticed that the island where the zoo is located is a wonderful place. It has a whole ecosystem.

As far as urban parks go, more and more, should we take an approach that focuses on natural areas, as we heard yesterday from Marie Tremblay, who did a Ph.D. on the subject? She said that was the best way to protect the ecosystem. Do you have an opinion on that?

12:40 p.m.

Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, Calgary Zoo

Dr. Jake Veasey

Again, I think we're quite blessed at the Calgary Zoo. We are set along the river, and we have beautiful trees. I think having that more naturalistic, green environment does make people more receptive to the environment.

I think traditionally the Victorian-era zoos were far more formal. I think now, as we look more holistically at issues in terms of conservation, we're not just interested in species; we're interested in the environment of those species, where they come from.

The structure of zoos is becoming more naturalistic, and I think the same should be true of urban parks. There are environmental opportunities in managing urban parks in a slightly more relaxed, naturalistic way that I think have conservation benefits in themselves but also make people more receptive to conservation messages, because they reflect more accurately the natural environment than very well-mowed lawns and formal flowerbeds do.

12:40 p.m.


François Choquette Drummond, QC

Thank you very much.

Indeed, as you mentioned, having as many natural areas as possible in urban zones would also help with what my Conservative colleagues were talking about, that is, educating the urban population.

To the ranchers, there is no doubt that you are conservation professionals. As you explained, it's your livelihood. So you have everything to gain from nature conservation; that is clear. There is a tendency in cities, however, to brush aside the importance of nature somewhat. It really is key to bring people closer to nature, to spaces that resemble natural areas as much as possible.

You said you had a program to reintroduce animals into the wild. Do you keep track of those animals afterwards? I believe that involves the use of what they call tags. Is there any monitoring? Could you tell us a bit about that?

12:40 p.m.

Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, Calgary Zoo

Dr. Jake Veasey

We have a conservation research department, whose mandate is to facilitate conservation action within western Canada and internationally. The animal care department of the Calgary Zoo will produce animals for reintroduction. Our conservation research department is also involved directly in the monitoring of those animals and the success of those programs.

The Calgary Zoo's involvement in the black-footed ferret program, for example, is not exactly in breeding of black-footed ferrets; we provide the science and inform those parks and the other stakeholders on how to implement that reintroduction program. We work very carefully on the black-tailed prairie dog, which is the prey species of the black-footed ferret. We have an excellent scientific foundation on which we can provide the stakeholders the skills and the knowledge to make that reintroduction project successful.

So we definitely don't release animals and walk away. We're very much into follow-up.

12:40 p.m.


The Chair Mark Warawa

Thank you, Mr. Choquette.

12:40 p.m.

Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research, Calgary Zoo

Dr. Jake Veasey

I want to thank the witnesses for being with us today.

I can assure Mr. Jamieson that we will do our best at using the logical-thought portion of our brain and come up with a good recommendation to the government.

Thank you again.

We're suspended until 2 o'clock.

2 p.m.


The Chair Mark Warawa

I would ask everyone to take their seat as we begin this last session of hearing from witnesses.

I'd like to welcome and thank the witnesses who are before us today as we finish our 37th meeting of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, as we study and listen to witnesses regarding the development of a report to be forwarded to the government with recommendations for what a national conservation plan would look like and the form of consultation that it would take.

Each of you has received an invitation. Thank you for being here with us today.

The scope of our study is contained in the following six questions: What should the purpose of a national conservation plan be? What should the goals be? What should the guiding principles be? What conservation priorities should be in the plan? What should the implementation priorities be? And, what consultation process should the government consider?

Welcome and thank you so much for being here with us today. We have to end at 4 o'clock sharp or a little before, because some members have very tight flight connections. So we will begin by hearing from Alberta Beef Producers.

Mr. Sawyer, you have up to 10 minutes.

May 17th, 2012 / 2:05 p.m.

Doug Sawyer Chair, Alberta Beef Producers

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to refer to our executive director, Rich Smith, to do the actual presentation. He's a far better speaker than I am, so we'll get Rich to lead off, please.

2:05 p.m.

Rich Smith Executive Director, Alberta Beef Producers

Thank you, Doug.

I think Doug is maybe a little too modest about his speaking. I'm Rich Smith. I'm the executive director of Alberta Beef Producers. Doug Sawyer is the chair of our organization, and he's a cattle producer from near Red Deer.

First of all, I would like to thank you and the members of your committee for the invitation to come and make a presentation here.

By way of background, Alberta Beef Producers is a democratic and representative organization that works on behalf of more than 25,000 cattle producers in the province of Alberta. Our job is to work to try to make the industry more competitive and sustainable. We are an organization of producers working for producers, and we have been a strong and consistent voice for the industry in Alberta for over 43 years.

Cattle and beef producers across Canada depend on land and water for their livelihood, and we believe that the vast majority of these producers are good stewards of the land and water resources of the province. While producers use our natural resources for the sustainable production of food for consumers in Alberta, across Canada, and around the world, cattle and beef producers are also concerned about protecting and enhancing natural areas and ecosystems. They understand the importance of these landscape features to society and to the public, and within the economic constraints of a competitive industry, they are prepared to provide some level of conservation for the benefit of the public.

A national conservation plan that recognized the contributions agricultural producers can make to the conservation of natural areas and ecosystems, along with the need to maintain agricultural production in many of these areas, likely would be supported by most cattle producers. If a national conservation plan included a comprehensive program that provided fair and significant compensation to landowners for conserving natural areas and ecosystems, the acceptance and adoption of this plan by cattle producers would be enhanced considerably.

To address the questions that were presented as the scope of the study, in our view, the purpose of a national conservation plan should be to conserve valuable and important natural areas and ecosystems while ensuring that an appropriate balance is maintained between the societal and environmental benefits provided by the national conservation plan and the economic benefits generated by the productive and sustainable use of our natural resources in real working landscapes. The goal of a national conservation plan should be to provide a level of protection, enhancement, and restoration of natural areas and ecosystems that truly reflects the priorities and thresholds that are established by government, industry, and the public.

We spent a considerable amount of time on the principles we thought should govern a national conservation plan. We thought this was one of the most important of the questions, and we identified a number of principles. We think it is very important that there be a clear identification of priorities and thresholds for natural areas and ecosystems to be conserved.

The national conservation plan must identify which landscape features are to be conserved and how much or how many of these features will be covered by a NCP.

A national conservation plan must be developed and delivered by a partnership of government, industry, and the public. Local and community-driven partnerships will often be more effective than national agencies in achieving conservation goals. This has certainly been our experience in this province.

A national conservation plan must recognize the contribution that agricultural production and agricultural producers make to conservation. The most effective and widely used conservation strategies will be complementary to, not in competition with, agricultural production.

For it to be really effective, a national conservation plan must apply to both public and private land, but it must also respect the property rights of landowners. Well-managed private lands can make a significant contribution to the conservation of natural areas and ecosystems.

The national conservation plan must identify and assess the value of the landscape features and ecosystems that are to be conserved. The plan must recognize that not all landscape features and ecosystems have equal value, and very few of these features are in a historically natural state. A national conservation plan that tries to conserve all natural areas and ecosystems or attempts to return these areas to some perceived former natural state likely will not be successful.

While some level of government legislation and regulation will be necessary to establish the framework for a national conservation plan, the primary driver for the plan should be voluntary incentives and market-based mechanisms. If the conservation of natural areas and ecosystems in a plan represents realistic and defined ecological goods and services, an effective and comprehensive program that provides fair compensation to landowners for supplying these services will encourage widespread acceptance of the plan.

The legislation, policies, and programs of a national conservation plan must not encourage significant purchases of land or the removal of land from food and fibre production to meet the requirements of the national conservation plan. The conservation strategies must be largely consistent with the continued production of food and fibre from working landscapes.

Establishing the conservation priorities in a national conservation plan must be done through consultation with key stakeholders from government, industry, and the public. There certainly does not seem to be a shortage of priorities that have been identified by a wide range of stakeholders already, but establishing appropriate priorities for a national plan will be a challenging task, and it will require a great deal of collaboration and consultation among the stakeholder sectors.

Similarly, the implementation priorities will become apparent through the development of the plan, but the implementation priorities must follow the principles governing the national conservation plan.

The strategies for conserving various natural areas and ecosystems will have differing levels of urgency depending on the current state of the features and the degree to which they are threatened. This circumstance will clearly have an impact on the implementation priorities of a national conservation plan. Implementation priorities and the effectiveness of implementation will be greatly affected by the perception of the process. Using an effective consultation process that creates a true partnership of government, industry, and the public in the development of the national conservation plan will help ensure the commitment of these partners to the implementation of the plan.

We suggest that the minister must consider an open and transparent collaboration and consultation process based on the meaningful involvement of a broad range of stakeholders. This should probably be a staged process of consultation building from regional to provincial and finally to national discussions and culminating in a national conservation plan that reflects the input from all of these stakeholders.

For this process to be most effective and efficient, there will be a need to balance the desire to include a broad range of stakeholders with the equally important task of restricting the involvement of people who may represent narrow societal and environmental interests, small segments of society, and stakeholders who are not directly affected.

That concludes my presentation.

Doug and I are prepared to answer questions.

2:10 p.m.


The Chair Mark Warawa

Thank you very much.

Next we'll hear from the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.

Mr. Grant, or Ms. Jackson, go ahead, please.

2:15 p.m.

Lynn Grant Chair, Environment Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Thank you.

My name is Lynn Grant. My family and I ranch in southwest Saskatchewan, near Val Marie. I want to thank you for the invitation to speak on behalf of Canada's 83,000 beef producers in regard to your conservation plan. As chair of the environment committee of our association, I can assure you that this is an area of great importance to cattle producers.

Farmers and ranchers are conservationists by nature. For us, it's a business essential to have sustainable production and management. It's not a luxury, it's an essential, and we have been practising it to the best of our ability and knowledge to date.

Ranchers are in a unique position, as we are able to own and operate dynamic, profitable businesses within a natural habitat. This habitat includes grasslands and pastures.

Grazing is essential for a properly functioning grassland ecosystem to remain healthy. Grasslands National Park, near my home, reintroduced cattle to the park after 20 years of excluding this major grazer. Their studies had shown a reduction in biodiversity and ecosystem function without the major grazer on the landscape. So eliminating cattle is not an answer; they are part of the solution.

Canada has 160 million acres of agricultural land. Approximately one-third of that, or over 50 million acres, is grass. That is a sizable acreage that we manage and can manage to the benefit of both our productive needs and the ecosystem's requirements.

These grasslands are among the most biologically diverse agricultural landscapes. They are an important part of the carbon ecosystem. A worldwide study by Gilmanov et al. in 2010 showed that non-forested ecosystems like grazing lands and croplands can exceed forests in net ecosystem carbon exchange. Today the importance of these remaining grass acres is escalating, as there is increasing pressure to convert the land to other agricultural and development uses.

In addition to the beneficial impact of beef production on conservation in Canada, the industry contributes about $26 billion to Canada's gross domestic product. Agriculture, especially grass-based agriculture, is part of the solution, not the problem.

There are three important areas for consideration as the development of the national conservation plan moves forward: firstly, research, knowledge transfer, and monitoring; secondly, recognition, not regulation; and thirdly, the importance of collaboration.

With regard to research, knowledge transfer, and monitoring, our effectiveness in maintaining and enhancing the sustainability of the land under our management is dependent not only on our intuition and inherent skills as land managers but also on the science that Canada's researchers have developed and must continue to develop. We recognize that the knowledge that got us here today must continue to evolve to take us effectively into the future. Continued expansion of our understanding of ecosystem functions is essential.

Many of our species are migratory and rely on healthy wintering grounds in other parts of the world. Our research studying interactions between agriculture and the environment needs to encompass both national and international perspectives. Research enables producers to make improvements to agricultural systems so that we can do a better job of profitable production while enhancing the ecosystem that we operate in.

This is especially important as land use competition increases. Improvements in productivity through applied production research and technology transfer are integral to maximizing production on the existing land base and minimizing the impact or need to disturb more environmentally sensitive landscapes.

While the use of grazing animals on a grassland landscape is essential for the ecosystem's health, we are also aware that the misuse of grazing can be detrimental to the health of the same resource. The problem isn't the tool; it's how the tool is applied. Ranchers need to be both profitable and knowledgeable to make correct management decisions.

Today's consumer is becoming increasingly aware of the attributes of the food they eat, yet the growing disconnect between consumers and food producers means that there is often a great misunderstanding of the production practices we use today. It is imperative that we measure our conservation efforts in a quantifiable manner so that we can recognize success, continually make improvement, and hopefully market these attributes to our global market.

The national conservation plan needs to take into consideration the importance of investments in research, knowledge transfer, and monitoring of these working landscapes. Financial support for these initiatives needs to be increased and needs to be long term and predictable.

We need recognition, not regulation. The conservation efforts of Canada's agriculture producers go largely unrecognized, despite the fact that prudent environmental management benefits the entire public. Continuous and vast areas of well-managed native and tamed grass are important for carbon sequestration, water quality, preservation of natural habitats, biodiversity, and grassland species. A study done on Canada's community pastures showed that the public value of this resources was pretty well equal to the direct grazing value. Currently that is not recognized on anybody's balance sheet.

Going forward, we in agriculture, as well as society as a whole, will need to develop new revenue streams for the grassland grazing ecosystem to remain competitive with other uses. If you don't value something or put a value on it, why would you expect someone to continue to provide it?

We encourage the government to explore opportunities to appropriately recognize and reward the role that land managers play in supplying environmental goods and services to the Canadian public. We would like to emphasize the fact that recognition and reward are significantly more effective in seeing positive impacts on working landscapes than are costly regulations. The regulatory approach taken by acts such as the Species at Risk Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act place unwarranted liability on ranchers, which, in turn, acts as a disincentive to having the species on their operations. If these species are viewed as a potential liability to the rancher, they will always be at risk. We, and the bigger “we”, that is, society as a whole, need to develop ways to make these species an asset to everyone, especially the land manager.

As you begin planning for Canada's national conservation plan, we would like to stress the importance of the carrot versus the stick, as win-win programs and policies are more effective and efficient at achieving desired goals on these landscapes.

When we examine successful agricultural conservation programs, such as Cows and Fish, there is one obvious key to success, and that is collaborating with the primary land manager on the land. Finding common goals and objectives is imperative to achieving the sustainable outcomes we want. If the rancher is an integral part of the process for conservation, the success rate of the program will be much higher. This principle of collaboration is important at all levels of conservation, from grassroots programs to policy setting. As you move forward with the national conservation plan, we encourage you to collaborate with all stakeholders, work with existing successful entities and programs, and ensure that appropriate goals are set and that all stakeholders are equally invested in the goals and the desired outcomes.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that Canada's cattle producers are front-line stewards for the environment. It is important to support applied production research and research at the agricultural and environment interface, to develop and transfer the knowledge that will enable ranchers to continue to make positive contributions to society and to the environment, to work towards policies that reward positive contributions to the environment, and in all these activities to collaborate with the land managers who rely on the sustainability of our grassland ecosystems. Together we can continue to make positive contributions to Canadian agriculture, the Canadian environment, and our society.

Thank you for the opportunity to present to you. I look forward to your questions.