This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative 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.

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.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you very much.

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

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

May 17th, 2012 / 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.

2:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you, Mr. Grant.

Next, we'll hear from the Southern Alberta Land Trust Society.

Mr. Gardner, you have 10 minutes.

2:20 p.m.

Alan Gardner Executive Director, Southern Alberta Land Trust Society

Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen of the standing committee, we appreciate the opportunity to make this submission for your consideration.

Developing a national conservation plan is a very difficult task. In the process we have a great opportunity to strengthen the foundation of Canada as a world leader in conserving the natural assets that contribute so much to our standard of living and make us an example to the world.

When talking about conservation, one would expect to hear mostly about animals, birds, fish and the importance of protecting and preserving their habitat.

We, on the other hand, are here not so much to speak about them directly, although that's why we are here and what we do. Rather, we are here to speak about people, about Canadians, for it is Canadians who will benefit from good planning, who will suffer from ineffective planning, and, in the end, who will implement whatever plan comes out of a national conservation structure and process.

I'm the executive director of a conservation lands trust, the Southern Alberta Land Trust Society, or SALTS as we call it. We protect landscapes using the conservation easement tool and supplement that activity through environmental education and research projects. We focus our conservation efforts on water, wildlife, and western heritage, that is, we protect watersheds and wildlife habitat and connectivity, and we promote good land stewardship as part of our western heritage and culture. While doing that, we have a lot of contact with a lot of landowners, especially agricultural landowners, but also with other organizations that are more environmental in nature all around southern Alberta.

I was sorry that, for example, Dr. Stelfox wasn't able to present to you this morning. We have worked with Dr. Stelfox and Lorne Fitch, whom I believe presented earlier this morning. We work with a lot of these people on a very regular basis.

We at SALTS believe in a shared landscape. Canada is a large country, and there's room for wildlife, resources extraction, agriculture, recreation, and other activities that lend themselves to a high standard of living. We also believe that the sharing of a landscape should be planned in a rational way using science and not simply driven by every person or corporation that shows up with a dollar and a dream wanting to fulfill some wish of their own.

When considering some form of national conservation planning process, we expect that the outcome will be used to drive future policy and future budget items. We also understand that to be fully effective it must apply to both public lands and, to some extent, private lands. For the latter, such policy must revolve around various incentive systems, including, for example, market-based instruments and, of course, things like conservation easements, which we're involved in under, for example, the ecological gifts program through Environment Canada.

An asset contributes to one's standard of living by providing a value stream. Like money in the bank that generates annual interest, a natural capital asset can generate a value stream in the form of ecological services and resources, for example, energy and minerals. Of these two, ecological services are the least understood and, in our opinion, the least appreciated. In fact, these two value streams can often be in conflict considering that resource extraction can damage the flow of ecological services. We would argue that an effective NCP would give these two value streams a much more relative, equal value.

We understand that the current consultation is a very preliminary one. From the questions posed it appears to be focused on developing a form of terms of reference for whatever group or process that would develop such a plan. We believe that such a process should involve communities and be as inclusive as possible. It should also be based, as I said, on science and on facts. The process should not be one of hiring a large organization and simply saying, “Here, we'll give you some money and you go ahead and develop a plan for us”—a kind of a top-down plan—but rather something that comes from the bottom up, consulting with communities and Canadians on the ground, especially landowners, agricultural organizations, as we're doing here today and environmental organizations, and so on.

With these considerations in mind, we will proceed to answer the six questions.

First, what should be the purpose of an NCP? We believe that it should be to clarify a vision, and I underline the term “vision”; define goals; set a timeframe; and then plan how to effectively allocate resources, stimulate efforts, and remove impediments to achieving the goals. To me that's, very simply, the purpose.

As for the goals of an NCP, there are seven goals that seem to make sense to us. These are very general. It seems to us that, first of all, that you need to develop a vision for Canada and various unique geographic areas. It may therefore be premature to look at specific goals; however, I will look at some. Those goals, from our point of view, are as follows.

First is the effective management and conservation of landscapes and geology that are critical to water capture, filtering, and storage.

I will talk a little bit later about our comparative advantages, and I very much believe that one of them is water and agriculture.

Second is wildlife habitat for the purpose of conserving and enhancing biodiversity. Third is landscapes that are important to the production of environmental and climatic services. Fourth is agricultural land that is most suitable for food production. We all understand the problem of urban sprawl and how that is, in many cases, happening on some of our best soils.

Fifth is oceans, and lentic and lotic water systems that are important to aquatic life. Sixth is landscapes suitable for outdoor recreation and education. Seventh is features that are important parts of our aesthetic and cultural heritage. From our point of view, those should be, in rough order of priority, the seven things that a national conservation plan should look at.

Now you've looked for guiding principles that we should suggest. We have twelve of them.

First of all, the long-term value of a productive and healthy natural ecosystem to the well-being of people should be recognized and protected—watersheds in particular.

The vision and wishes of the local community should be respected. This doesn't mean that you should slavishly follow that, but within some form of framework and vision for a national conservation plan, the local communities are very important. Part of that is because if you do not have the local people on side with you, the chance of achieving your goals is much less.

Third, the need of the landowner and the larger community, including industry, to use the land in order to make a reasonable living should be respected, provided it doesn't significantly damage the ability of the ecosystem to provide value to others. There needs to be some balance there. For example, feedlots are a poor use of land in a watershed. They may be appropriate in other areas, and so on.

My next point is that the signs of cumulative effects analysis on defined landscapes should be used to determine limits to specific development types in specific locations. Going back to Dr. Stelfox, he has software and a great deal of knowledge and experience in developing analyses around cumulative effects, and we believe that is very important in developing any type of national conservation plan. It does involve value in land, not necessarily in dollars but certainly in the relative value of different land parcels.

When productive and healthy ecosystems are damaged due to industrial or other activity, the developing organization should be held accountable for restoring the ecosystem under a pre-defined timeframe, and the planning for this should be done prior to the start of the project.

One of the key things here is that in many cases, of course, we know historically that , corporations and organizations often try to put off restoration to later on, and we feel it should be carried on their balance sheets as a liability. That way everybody understands this, and there is quite a strong incentive for them to actually restore the landscape as the process ensues, rather than at the tail end.

Where planning conflict occurs between industrial development and the protection of the health and productivity of natural areas, the NCP should provide clear direction on resolving a conflict. Too often, I have seen cases where, in the case of conflict between different groups, the wording and the structure gets watered down to the point almost of irrelevancy. Market-based valuation of ecosystems has a useful but limited role in making decisions when it comes to conflict between development and conservation.

A conservation planning process should respect the rights of property ownership. We've heard that before. Land trusts and conservation easements are effective and invaluable tools in implementing these kind of measures and should be supported in policy and funding, and of course that's what we do. We already have the ecological gift program, and I'm sure there are other issues in terms of market-based instruments as well.

Any conservation plan needs to set up a method of measuring those natural assets—and again, measuring these assets is something we do not do very well. We measure GDP, but we don't measure assets very well.

Last, the precautionary principle should be seriously considered when dealing with natural assets that are of critical importance.

In terms of the priorities and goals, we feel that in many ways it is almost too premature to look at priorities, as we feel they will be developed during the process of developing a national conservation plan. With that said, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.

Any questions would be answered.

2:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you, Mr. Gardner.

Next we'll hear from the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, and Mr. Vandervalk.

2:30 p.m.

Stephen Vandervalk Alberta Vice-President, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association

Good afternoon. My name is Stephen Vandervalk, and I'm the Alberta vice-president for the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association.

I'm also the president of the Grain Growers of Canada, an umbrella farm organization representing 14 farm organizations, including the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. I am here today representing the wheat growers association. I also farm about an hour south of Calgary.

Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today to speak on the development of a national conservation plan. For 42 years the wheat growers association has been a strong proponent of sustainable agriculture. In fact, it is reflected in our mission statement, which simply reads: “Our mandate is to advance the development of a profitable and sustainable agriculture industry.”

Today I will talk about how modern farm practices are improving the conservation of our soil, air, and water, and comment on the elements that the wheat growers association would like to see in a national conservation plan.

First I would like to discuss how farming practices have changed on our farm. I'd like to take you back to the 1970s and to how my dad used to farm with the tools of the day. Back then we used a chemical called Treflan to control wild oats. It had to be incorporated into the soil up to four inches deep. That meant you had to apply the chemical and then cultivate your field twice. After these operations, you had to apply fertilizer, and then seed, meaning you had to go over your land up to four times.

This excess tillage pulverized the soil and robbed it of valuable moisture, often lowering yields and leaving the soil susceptible to wind and water erosion. In my area we get very high winds. Watching your land blow or wash away is a very sickening feeling. The nutrients and topsoil that are lost often end up in our waterways, with negative downstream effects.

Thankfully those types of wasteful and erosion-prone practices are a thing of the past on our farm. Today we do not usually till the soil in the spring. Instead, we control weeds with a pass of the sprayer, and then apply seed and fertilizer in a single pass in a way that keeps disturbance of the topsoil to a minimum. These zero and minimum tillage practices have substantially reduced fuel consumption and minimized soil erosion on our farms while increasing crop yields dramatically.

The census of agriculture that was released last week confirms these trends. In the past 20 years, land seeded under zero or conservation tillage practices has gone from 31% to 81%. Less than 20% of the land is now prepared for seeding using what has traditionally been called conventional tillage practices. The result of this change in farming practices means that we burn far less fossil fuel today, and our soil organic matter in some places has increased 25% to 30%.

Another important development in the last decade or so is the widespread adoption of GPS technology in our field operations. The use of GPS has reduced our fuel consumption and reduced overlap in the application of seed, pesticides, and fertilizer.

Precision farming techniques, in which inputs are applied at various rates throughout the fields, are now also being adopted. Again, this offers the opportunity for farmers to be more judicious in their use of farm inputs and to use no more fertilizer and pesticides than are necessary to produce a good crop.

I do want to make a comment on organic agriculture. You might ask, why not cut out fertilizers and chemicals altogether? The wheat growers association respects farmers and consumers who make this choice; however, we note that it results in less food production per acre and requires increased tillage for weed control. According to crop insurance records, crop yields under organic production practices are typically one third less. That's one of the reasons why you do not see widespread adoption of organic operations in field crops. On the prairies, about 2% of farms are certified organic. We do not expect this number to change significantly, given the growing global demand for food.

It has been said that global grain demand will double by the year 2050. To meet this challenge, Canadian farmers will need to continue to be early adopters of new technology. With very little new arable land left to bring into production in the world, the only way to meet this demand is to grow more with the existing land base. We need an innovation agenda that allows us to produce more food per acre, more food per gallon of fuel, and more food with the same or less fertilizer.

To help us achieve this goal, we ask your committee to recommend that the following elements be included as part of a national conservation plan.

First, we would like a recognition that Canadian farmers have made tremendous strides in conservation practices over the last three decades, including the adoption of conservation tillage, reduced fuel consumption per acre, and better application of fertilizers and chemicals.

Second, include the fact that these practices have led to reduced soil erosion and energy consumption while at the same time increasing grain output per acre.

We also need a continuation of research directed toward farming practices that can allow farmers to reduce and improve the application of pesticides. In this regard, we note that prairie farmers have widely adopted the spraying technology research undertaken by Agriculture Canada. This research has improved the application of pesticides and has reduced damaging spray drift.

There needs to be an emphasis on an innovation agenda that promotes the development of new seed varieties requiring less water and nutrients. Such technology will lead to the development of drought-resistant wheat varieties. It could also lead to varieties that make better use of nutrients, which in turn would reduce the amount of fertilizers farmers need to apply, with less risk of leaching or runoff. Varieties that are more resistant to insects or disease will also reduce the need for pesticide solutions.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association supports conservation programs that provide payments to farmers for ecological goods and services. The ALUS, alternative land use services, program is one such program that has been developed and appears to be having some success. It is mostly privately funded, and quite frankly, we think it should remain so. In our view, there is greater buy-in from farmers and the general public if these programs remain privately funded rather than being just another government program that might be subject to budget cuts in the future. A privately funded program is more likely to be sustainable.

One area where government could be helpful in water management is in the development of a program that would assist farmers in improving their drainage systems and on-farm water management. In recent years, we have had excess rainfall in much of the Prairies, which has led to increased soil erosion and lost nutrients due to poor drainage capability. The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association would welcome programs that assist farmers in adopting water conservation and drainage strategies.

In summary, let me emphasize that farmers continue to be good stewards of the land and leaders in soil conservation. Changes in farming practices over the past two decades have significantly reduced soil erosion and improved organic matter. We face a significant challenge to produce more food with the same or fewer resources. Strengthening conservation programs and creating an investment climate that allows new technology to be developed will ensure that we have the tools and ability to increase our food production while continuing to be good stewards of the environment.

Thank you for your consideration of our views.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you, Mr. Vandervalk.

Next we will hear from the Western Stock Growers' Association. I'm not sure if it's Mr. Ward or Mr. Newton who will be making the presentation.

2:40 p.m.

Dr. Bill Newton Member, Board of Governors, Western Stock Growers' Association

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Actually, Mr. Ward and I will share the presentation. Thank you to the committee for allowing us to make known our views.

The Western Stock Growers' Association was founded in 1896 under an enactment of the Northwest Territories some nine years before Alberta and Saskatchewan even became provinces. Our originating members were graziers primarily from the southern prairie grassland who, as we look back, were mostly concerned with ensuring a sustainable livestock industry in that natural ecosystem.

Today, our members are ranchers predominantly from that same geographic area, whose operations encompass a significant portion of western Canada's remaining native grasslands. Those grasslands are either directly owned by those ranchers or, in many cases, under long-term lease arrangements with the province or other private entities. In most instances, it's a combination of the two.

While the wolves and the mange that concerned our predecessors are somewhat less worrisome now—mange is pretty well taken care of, at least—the competing land uses faced by our founding members continue to threaten the sustainability of our industry. As we look around, there has been a tremendous amount of development of the original grasslands operated by the founders of the Western Stock Growers' Association. The land this hotel sits on was, at that time, probably a grassland. Virtually all of that development occurred because resource managers and the owners of those lands sought increased financial or marketplace returns, and growth of the population and the economy was desirable to government as well.

When considering a national conservation plan, it is critical to realize that conservation is not the result of a plan. Rather, conservation is the result of the decisions and actions of resource owners and managers who must operate their businesses in a market environment. Problems arise, however, when certain ecosystem services, such as food, are freely traded in a relatively functional marketplace, while other ecosystem services lack a functioning marketplace to drive their production and distribution.

Since the production of some ecological services, for example, corn or wheat, occurs at the expense of the production of others, for example, biodiversity, this tilted marketplace eventually drives resource managers to decisions favouring profitable environmental service products.

Additionally, as the supply of ES products shifts over time with the favouring of the profitable ones, and as demand for certain ecosystem service products changes with increasing population and increasing standards of living, some of those products that were once abundant become scarce. This situation in fact likely provides some of the impetus for a national conservation plan.

What the Western Stock Growers' Association wants to emphasize, and what I think we all must acknowledge, is how effective the marketplace can be in allocating scare resources and balancing supply with demand. Too often, in our opinion, governments interfere in what could be a functioning marketplace for ecosystem services.

Throughout our history the Stock Growers have been strong advocates of contractual and property rights and sustainable, market-driven production practices. In the 1890s we lobbied on the federal grazing lease issues and somewhat illegitimate trade barriers that at the time mainly Britain had, as well as on predator control and disease issues.

When Eugene Whelan was the Minister of Agriculture, we were successful in lobbying against his proposed supply-managed system for beef cattle. More recently we've been heavily engaged in the beef industry recovery post-BSE and the Alberta land-use framework process. All of this is in accordance with our motto “The Voice of Free Market Environmentalists Since 1896”.

Interestingly, as we look back, the Canadian federal decision to assign grazing leases back in the 1880s—leases with certain property and contractual rights as a mechanism to settle and hold claim to the west—resulted in a far more positive outcome for those grasslands than was the case just across the 49th parallel in the United States where a free-range policy was adopted. Theirs, in many ways, was the classic tragedy of the commons.

Norm.

2:45 p.m.

Norman Ward Member, Board of Governors, Western Stock Growers' Association

Good afternoon, everyone.

In the late nineties, Western Stock Growers' Association and Alberta's Land and Resource Partnership met with the standing committee studying species at risk, and I was one of those fortunate enough to be a witness to that standing committee. A common concern at that time to all the resource users we represented included the lack of compensation with regard to species at risk. This very issue continues to generate significant problems as it relates to not only the recovery of species at risk but also the management of the lands in those recovery areas.

I bring this forward today as it relates directly to the potential elements of the national conservation program. SARA failed to recognize and address the whole, which takes into account three broad areas that must be united into a symbiotic relationship. These basic principles are the environment goals, the goals of the public or society, and the financial goals, which must provide the necessary capital to sustain the environmental and societal goals.

It is important to note that SARA narrowly focused on species at risk, often at the peril of other living organisms in the same ecosystem. This lack of focus on the whole—or to put it another way, this linear response to a complex ecological system—has continued to create problems that we hope will be addressed in the new national conservation plan.

Further, the lack of financial goals associated with SARA resulted in property owners taking all, or a significant portion, of the financial burden on behalf of Canadians.

It is imperative that the national conservation program address all factors within the greater whole, addressing societal, environmental, and financial goals.

The purpose of the national conservation program will be to identify the whole and to help in the development of the environmental and social goals. These will be very broad at a Canadian level, but as we drill down, we will ultimately end up with more defined wholes associated with air, land, and water features, as well as flora and fauna. At this level it is imperative to focus on a three-part goal with the inclusion of all stakeholders in the region.

This is usually a difficult exercise for governments that are defined by their very linear and centralist approach to problem solving. Again, we must emphasize the need for a non-linear response to the management of a complex ecosystem.

Land goals must be developed with a view toward a functioning water, mineral, and solar cycle.

When it comes to societal goals, a healthy, complex, functioning ecosystem has a benefit for all Canadians. Water storage, carbon sequestration, habitat for endangered flora and fauna, viewscape, recreational opportunities, and ecologically sustainable business opportunities are but a few benefits.

With regard to the financial aspect, the lack of a clear understanding of how financial goals provide for the capital required to sustain the environmental and social goals continues to result in reduced success for many conservation programs. Western Stock Growers' Association firmly believes that a market-driven system for environmental goods and services in combination with government guidelines for the environment is the appropriate mechanism to fulfill a conservation program.

By linking wealth to good stewardship, a large number of land managers are able to generate a multitude of solutions. Since there are many varied mini ecosystems within the greater ecosystem whole, it is imperative that each land manager be able to respond to time and place specific information. We believe this is best handled in the marketplace.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Are you finished?

2:50 p.m.

Member, Board of Governors, Western Stock Growers' Association

Dr. Bill Newton

No, we'll go on to talk about the guiding principles we believe should be in place for a national conservation plan.

First of all, we think it's very, very important that a national conservation plan use a three-part decision-making process to determine its goals, something that balances environmental, social, and financial outcomes.

We also believe it will be critical to have a non-linear or holistic response to the conservation of a complex functioning ecosystem. These are very dynamic and complex systems, and a linear approach will not be successful.

We're somewhat familiar with the calculation of cumulative effects. One type of land use has some impact and another type has additional ones. Eventually those all add up, but they haven't all been taken into consideration when we determine whether we should have all of these various land uses. We think that calculating cumulative effects provides the baseline information, which then must be used to balance the three-part goal with all of the elements of the whole.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Unfortunately, your time has expired.

Do we have Mr. Zimmerling or anyone from the Alberta Conservation Association? Is Mr. Zimmerling here with us? Okay.

We will now move on to questions. Ten minutes go by very quickly. I'm sure you have more to say, and opportunities will be provided to you as we ask you questions.

I want to introduce you to the members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. We have Monsieur Pilon and Monsieur Choquette from the beautiful province of Quebec. They are members of the official opposition. We welcome them. Mr. Lunney and Mr. Toet are members of Parliament from British Columbia and Manitoba. They are members of the government, as am I. There are 12 members. Today, five or six of us will be asking questions.

We will begin with a seven-minute round by Mr. Toet.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and if you think 10 minutes goes by fast, seven minutes goes by really fast.

Mr. Grant, you talked about grazing being essential to biodiversity. You talked about grass-based grazing as being part of the solution. You touched on that very quickly, and I'm hoping you can expand on that for us. Could you explain how that works and why it is such an important aspect of conservation?

2:50 p.m.

Chair, Environment Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Lynn Grant

The prairie grasses or native grasslands evolved with major grazers. They co-evolved and one relies on the other. A major ruminant, which most grazers are—that is, bison, cattle, and sheep—are effectively nutrient cyclers. They take grass, which is non-usable to a lot of the other species that occupy the grassland ecosystem, and they convert it to manure, which insects feed on. Then songbirds feed on the insects. It's a whole dynamic process. If you take one element, namely, the major grazer out of it, you simplify the ecosystem and you don't have a highly functioning biological ecosystem.

Bison, and a bunch of other factors, filled that role naturally on the North American great plains. We domesticated livestock in Europe and brought them over here. They provide the revenue stream currently that we get off the grasslands. The other byproducts, which are some of the ecological goods and services that some of the other people mentioned, don't provide some of that same revenue stream.

Grasslands National Park found out that you can't have a functioning grassland ecosystem without a major grazer. They have bison on one part of it, and they have cattle on the other part. Cattle are more controllable than bison. We have to evolve our science to evolve that. We have had very little science on major ecosystems, and that is my emphasis on research, which is that it's government's role to assist in providing that research capability for everybody's benefit .

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Right.

However, we are seeing some of these things coming through from the research, as in the example you used—that this was truly shown to be a required element in the grasslands.

2:55 p.m.

Chair, Environment Committee, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

Lynn Grant

If I could also mention, in agriculture and especially in a grass-based agricultural production system, we can have our cake and eat it too. We can have the financial returns, and if done properly, we can enhance the ecosystem, the conservation, and the biodiversity of that same resource. They are not exclusive; they are inclusive.

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Your example of the grasslands states that pretty clearly, that the two can work together hand-in-hand.

One of the things that we've seen a lot as we've gone through the process here is stewardship. We acknowledge that there's a lot of great conservation that has happened, whether by the beef producers or the cattle...or the farms. We understand that you are naturally stewards of the land, and that you see that as part of what you're doing. I also see, and I think it has come through in a lot of our testimony today, that the long-term sustainability of your work requires that attitude and approach.

One of the comments made by the Alberta Beef Producers was about recognizing the conservation that has been done already. Could you share with us an example of that? How could those activities be reflected in a wider NCP strategy moving across Canada, and what should the priorities be as we go forward in that? Could you share some of those activities that you've undertaken to date and the core aspects of them?

2:55 p.m.

Chair, Alberta Beef Producers

Doug Sawyer

They vary regionally and from farm to farm. In my area, we're in the hills and sloughs area, where many of the producers in the seventies broke land up and drained the sloughs in order to grow crops on them. Other producers chose not to. They realized the ecological value of the grassland, and the difficulty was going to be to grow grain. So they left their waterways and their sloughs and their wetlands intact.

Today the guys who broke it up are able to benefit and get paid to put it back in, but there's no recognition of the producers that left it in from the beginning. That's one example of these types of issues.

Certainly, as you've heard across the table here today, we don't get recognition for any of the ongoing processes that our parents, our grandparents and, personally, my great-grandparents started in order to keep that land in production, as well as an ecologically viable environment—for perpetuity, I hope, as I have two kids coming into the farm now.

As we have worked in that ecological system, those who have chosen to keep it natural and make a living off of it haven't gotten the same recognition as those who actually broke it up, did something different, and then came back and are now getting financial benefits for that.

3 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

That's fair enough.

I just had one other question.

We've talked quite a bit about innovation and some of the different innovations. Mr. Vandervalk, you talked about the innovations that have occurred in farming over the last 20 years and the need for advancements of those innovations.

Do you see that as being part of an NCP or just as part of the recognition process or the enhancements to that? How do you see that working into an NCP?

3 p.m.

Alberta Vice-President, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association

Stephen Vandervalk

To be profitable now, you have to have your land. It has to be healthy. The returns have to be there. That means bigger crops and higher yields, and to do that you have to have healthy soil. We are naturally going that way and are farming it differently to make sure that the ground is better next year than it was this year.

I think maybe programs that would help farmers go in that direction, maybe education, would be good, because I think we're going to go there financially on our own. Other people have said, too, that everything has to be based on sound science so that there is a benchmark. There's no going all over the place; it has to be based on certain criteria.

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you. Your time has expired.

Now we have Monsieur Choquette for seven minutes.

3 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank the witnesses joining us today. It's a full day, that's for sure. We've heard from a number of extremely relevant witnesses. It's always beneficial to learn how people at the local level are involved in nature conservation and the environment. That is essential for you, since your livelihood depends on a rich natural space where the environment is respected and preserved.

I have some questions for Bill Newton and Norman Ward.

You started talking about the significance of cumulative effects. We've had an opportunity to hear from numerous witnesses, and many of them talked about those effects. I, myself, sincerely hope that the significant role of cumulative effects will be addressed in the report our committee produces in the coming weeks.

A single project in a particular area may not have much of an impact, but 20,000 projects in the same area could have some rather serious effects. What would you recommend as far as a special focus on cumulative effects goes?