Conservation and Stewardship Tools
Building on the strategic direction provided by the Land-use Framework, the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) enables the development and implementation of the following conservation and stewardship tools, providing acceptable options for decision-makers:
- Conservation Easements
- Conservation Directives
- Conservation Off-sets
- Transfer of Development Credits
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified organization to protect, conserve, or enhance environmental, natural scenic or aesthetic value. The landowner is the easement donor, and a qualified organization can be the Government of Alberta, provincial government agency, local government body or registered organization that meets certain criteria.
Conservation easements help to preserve agriculture, ecological and cultural values, and the beauty of Alberta. Each easement can be tailored to the landowner’s needs through discussion between the landholder and the qualified organization, as long as the conservation is reached.
The private landowner still owns the land, but both parties are responsible for carrying out the terms and conditions of the easement. An easement is registered on the donor’s land title, protects land from certain types of development and applies to all future owners of the land. Under ALSA there is a Conservation Easement Registration Regulation. An easement may be registered on Métis Settlement land subject to Métis Settlements General Council Policy.
The Land Stewardship's Centre online Conservation Easement Registry for Alberta is intended to support and assist land trusts, government agencies and private landowners in planning, delivering and reporting on the status of conservation easement projects in Alberta. Currently, searches can be performed at either the quarter section or section scale by entering the specific legal land description to determine if there is a registered conservation easement on the specific quarter section.
A conservation easement does not stop development for oil and gas. The Surface Rights Act and all other planning and regulatory processes apply on lands with conservation easements. A conservation easement can be used to support a conservation offset or a transfer of development credit program. A conservation easement may also qualify for the Canada-wide Ecological Gifts Program, as long as it meets the established environmental criteria. This provides the landowner with a tax benefit.
Conservation easements have been legislatively enabled in Alberta since 1996 under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and since that time restricted to the purposes of supporting conservation of biological diversity and/or natural scenic values. In 2009, with the proclamation of ALSA, the Government of Alberta took the step of expanding Alberta’s conservation easement provisions to include agricultural lands.
In 2011, the Environmental Law Centre and the Miistakis Institute, undertook an applied research project to better understand the legal and policy context, experience, challenges and opportunities as well as the legal structure surrounding application of Conservation Easements for Agriculture in Alberta (2012).
To find answers to questions regarding conservation easements, visit Conservation Easements in Alberta.
A conservation directive is a new tool enabled under ALSA that allows Albertans to retain ownership of their land, and the Government of Alberta to ensure a specific area be protected. It can only be expressed in a regional plan to explicitly identify lands for the purpose of protection, conservation or enhancement of environmental, natural scenic or aesthetic values. It describes the precise nature of the directive and its intended purpose with respect to protection, conservation or enhancement.
A conservation directive cannot be used for commercial development such as electrical power transmission lines. A landowner who has a conservation directive on their land still owns the land, and can continue to do a number of land-use activities within the purpose of the directive. A landowner is entitled to compensation if there is a decrease in the market value of their land resulting from a conservation directive. The Land Compensation Board resolves disputes at the landowner's discretion. No conservation directives have been incorporated into any regional plans to date.
A conservation offset is a tool that enables industry to offset adverse effects of their activities and development by supporting conservation efforts on other lands.
ALSA indicates, in general terms, where an offset many be applied and identifies provisions for accountability, including monitoring and compliance. ALSA also provides for setting out the rules for trading and defining an offset through regulations.
Currently there is work underway on development of the conservation offset tool. The goal of this work is to explore offset design options which would allow the government and Albertans to understand and establish an offset market in the future. This means taking a look at market design options including:
offset requirements and eligibility rules;
pricing and bidding rules for selling and buying offsets; and
rules for combining buyers and sellers.
Refer to the Experimental Economic Evaluation of Off-set Design Options for Alberta: A Summary of Results and Policy Recommendations (2011) or the full report Experimental Economic Evaluation of Off-set Design Options for Alberta: Research Report (2011) for additional information.
Transfer of Development Credits
Transfer of development credits (TDCs) is an enabling tool that helps address urban growth pressures on the land by offering an incentive to redirect development away from specific landscapes to protect open spaces.
It can be used by municipalities to move development away from areas they want to conserve for agricultural or environmental purposes. This allows development to happen at the same time as conservation, and allows the owners of developed and undeveloped land to share in the financial benefits of development. Relocating urban or industrial development could help protect prime agricultural land or wildlife habitat, while still allowing growth.
A TDC program can be used to designate an area of land as a conservation area with one or more of the following purposes:
- the protection, conservation and enhancement of the environment;
- the protection, conservation and enhancement of natural scenic or aesthetic values;
- the protection, conservation and enhancement of agricultural land or land for agricultural purposes;
- providing for all or any of the following uses of the land that are consistent with the following purposes: recreational use, open space use, environmental education use, or use for research and scientific studies of natural ecosystems; and
- designation as a Provincial Historic Resource or a Municipal Historic Resource under the Historical Resources Act.
There are certain ways a TDC program can be established:
- through a regional plan;
- by a local authority if the TDC program is first approved by the government; or
- by two or more cooperating local authorities if first approved by the government.
Some Alberta municipalities are already exploring options in developing TDC programs.