SOUTHERN ALBERTA LAND TRUST SOCIETYCategory: Environment, Partners
The loss of rangeland has long weighed heavily in the hearts and minds of many southern Alberta cattle ranchers. Native grasslands are not only a foundation of the western cattle industry, but are also part of the heritage, character, and identity of ranching families and ranching communities. If ranching landscapes and communities are to survive, people will have to be proactive and innovative.
The Southern Alberta Land Trust Society (SALTS) was established by a group of ranchers in southwestern Alberta to look for ways to address the accelerating fragmentation of the landscape, the rapid disappearance of the province’s native rangelands, and the loss of open spaces and wildlife habitat.
On a cold February evening in 1997, in a one-room schoolhouse in southwestern Alberta, a group of ranchers gathered to discuss their common concerns and feelings. It was not clear from the outset what could or should be done, but as the conversation continued, agreement emerged around some necessary basic elements.
First, a solution would have to start from within the community, providing a necessary sense of local ownership. People with a long-standing connection to the land, first-hand understanding of the issues and credibility with their peers would need to drive the process. The role of the group would be to empower ranchers and ranch communities to create and implement their vision, and to provide them with the tools needed to do so.
Second, they recognized that you can’t have a long-term solution that sustains land in an ecological sense, but ignores its economic and cultural sustainability – and vice versa. Thoughtful stewardship is a cultural choice, often tempered by economic reality. The group’s approach would have to recognize that these lands have ecological, productive, economic, scenic and cultural value.
Third, there was also a need to reach and partner with people outside the ranching community. Native rangelands enrich the quality of life of all Alberta residents, and these values needed to be brought to the public’s attention.
A landowner committee was formed to look at the possible mechanisms for pursuing these goals. The timing was ideal as the pressing need identified by the ranchers converged with the ability to hire a coordinator who had recently being doing research on this topic, and Alberta had just created conservation easement legislation.
It quickly became apparent that a land trust would be the ideal vehicle to pursue their goals. By 1998, the Southern Alberta Land Trust Society was incorporated as a non-profit society and was registered federally as a charity. The landowner committee transformed into a Board of Directors, most of whom were working ranchers.