New Rangeland Grazing Framework does little to solve concerns around public lands management
July 30, 2023
In April, Alberta released the Rangeland Grazing Framework. The mission of the framework is “To conserve rangeland ecosystems through sustainable management practices by grazing disposition holders as proud stewards of Alberta’s Crown rangelands” and it directs management, including policy, within regional and sub-regional plans. It aligns with the Crown Lands Vision, which Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) has already raised concerns about, since the “balance between conservation, recreation and economic use” promised so often prioritizes economic gain over conservation.
Rangelands are large areas of land grazed by livestock, and occur across a range of natural and cultivated ecosystems. In Alberta, they are largely concentrated in the prairie region, and protect some of the most intact areas of grassland habitat remaining on both public and private land. On public land, grazing dispositions are used by the province to regulate livestock grazing. Around 8 million acres of public land is under grazing dispositions, generating millions in rental revenue each year. The province invests 30 percent of the revenue above $2.9 million into rangeland sustainability initiatives, a small effort to ensure these rangelands are available for future generations.
To understand how this framework will affect land management, I reached out to Alberta Forestry and Parks. The Rangeland Grazing Framework does not introduce any new practices, I was assured. It is a centralization of the policy and regulation already in place, and an acknowledgement of the important role disposition holders play in rangeland stewardship. While AWA is excited to see an appreciation for a strong environmental foundation and the role of rangeland stewardship, the new framework does not promise any additional protections against misuse or degradation of the land.
Some of the greatest threats to native habitats are conversion and development. Unlike most land uses, like cropland production or mining, livestock grazing can occur without destroying the ecosystem, and helps to protect these habitats from other exploitation. However, grazing does not always protect these lands from degradation. Overgrazing and poor grazing management can be highly damaging to soil, native plants and the wildlife that relies on them. Grazing dispositions also fail to prevent industrial use, including oil and gas production and construction of roads and infrastructure, which fracture habitat and disrupt wildlife movement. Sustainably managed grazing may help conserve Alberta’s native ecosystems, although considering an estimated 10,000 hectares of Alberta’s grasslands are lost each year to human development, Alberta urgently needs stronger action to prevent native prairie loss or degradation.
As well, Alberta’s public lands are for all Albertans. As described in regional and sub-regional planning, “Alberta’s public lands are both a shared resource and a shared responsibility”, and grazing dispositions support “sustainable grazing and other land management values such as forestry, wildlife habitat, recreation, and industrial activity.” Yet the framework once more asserts the need to be profitable and competitive, and as usual, conservation, public use and Indigenous rights are secondary to economic exploitation. If public lands are truly “managed to support the economic, environmental, and social well-being of all Albertans”, as the Government of Alberta has written, why does public land management continue to favor economic exploitation over other uses, and why is access to these lands so often treated as a privilege?
The objectives of the Rangeland Grazing Framework for increasing recognition of rangeland stewardship and the role in preserving Alberta’s grasslands should be encouraged. Still, the focus of public lands management remains on economic gain. For Alberta to manage public lands for the benefit of all, there needs to be more emphasis on the benefits of maintaining native habitats and wilderness, without a need to justify their existence in dollars.
The Rangeland Grazing Framework can be found here: https://open.alberta.ca/publications/rangeland-grazing-framework
More about grazing dispositions here: https://albertagrazinglease.ca/downloads/2019/Operational-Standards-for-Albertas-Public-Land-Grazing-Dispostions.pdf