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LETTER: Reconsider leasing land agreements

Credit: Nature's Trust of BC

Recently three prominent conservation organizations: Ducks Unlimited, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Nature Trust of B.C. were highly critical of the B.C. Liberal Government’s agenda of increasing grazing leases from 10 years to 20-25 years.

The criticism was directed at range tenures that included the lands owned by the conservation organizations. The following quote comes from a news release Feb. 21, 2014 from the three conservation organizations. “It has come to our attention that this draft legislation represents a potentially serious threat to our lands and investments in conservation."

The Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, Steve Thomson’s response rings mighty hollow when you consider the sorry state of the management of Nature Trust’s 475 acres on the Gilpin grasslands. The minister’s response appeared in a Globe and Mail article by Mark Hume Feb. 26th “These are very, very important partners for us.”

Doug Fraser, Range Practices Officer in the Range Branch in a November 2007 report “An Evaluation of the Streams and Adjacent Uplands in Overton-Moody Range Unit” (Gilpin Grasslands) is critical of the management of Nature Trust’s 301 acres on the west side of the Morrissey Creek watershed.

The problem is driven by the fact that Nature Trust’s properties were included in the range plan implemented in 1978 five years after the land purchase. A year after the 475 acre land purchase Nature Trust signed a 99 year lease with the Fish & Wildlife Branch that said “The lessee at all times during the terms of the lease, maintain and preserve in good order and condition the grounds of the said premises."

The lease agreement today is meaningless. The solution is site and time specific field trips to accurately assess the environmental deficit caused by the cow and motorized vehicles and discuss the options for a solution. To date the time and site specific field trips have been denied. Why? Cronyism!

After the 2005 provincial election the BC Liberal Government mandated that all ministries connected to the land base reduce costs and increase revenue. Scientific management, always weak was discarded in favor of implementing policy driven by the interests of stakeholders. Consequently the former director of the BC Cattlemen’s Association was hired in 2005 to oversee the provincial range bureaucracy and his agenda was obvious when a prestigious North American Grazing Award was given to the Gilpin ranchers in response to my longstanding criticism of range management.

If there is a moral compass in any way connected to range management under the leadership of the BC Liberal Government then the impetus for responsible management should be fast forwarded by a feature article that appeared in the Grand Forks Gazette March 14, 1973. The article included picture of three men who left a positive footprint on the province’s land base because of their commitment to conservation. Their curriculum vitae are a measure of how far the integrity of grassland management has collapsed on the Gilpin grasslands.

Fred Russell, a forest ranger equivalent of a district manager to-day was the spark plug behind the land purchase with the support of Grand Forks Wildlife Association. The impetus for the Nature Trust land purchase was the result of Fred’s work in conjunction with the Grand Forks Wildlife Association that resulted in the purchase of the 1470 acre Boothman Ranch for $190,000.00 August 1972 with the Social Credit Green Belt Fund. Ed Boothman, the rancher had been accused of killing deer in his fields for years.

Dr. Alistair McLean was from the Federal Agricultural Station, Kamloops who edited the province’s first “Range Management Handbook for British Columbia” in 1979. A Grassland Conservation Fund was named after Dr. Bert Brink and Dr. Alastair McLean that promotes applied research, habitat restoration and other stewardship activities that assist in the management of the land, plants and animals of B.C.’s native grasslands.

Bert Hoffmeister was a conservationist and a retired Major General and the most decorated Canadian soldier of the Second World War who accepted the position of Executive-Director on the behest of Prime Minister Trudeau. Bert Hoffmeister was a respected leader of Nature Trust, a point made by the following quote from Nature Trust’s 35 year anniversary book “Encouraged by your support we proudly walk in his footsteps with a deep sense of commitment to conserve B.C.’s natural beauty and outstanding biodiversity.”

The Gazette article described the brief history of Nature Trust in 1973. The Nature Trust mandate is to protect B.C.’s natural diversity of wildlife and plants and their critical habitats through the acquisition and management of ecologically significant land. The source of funding was a 4.5 million dollar grant from the federal government. The author of this initiative, Prime Minister Trudeau, successfully convinced Bert Hoffmeister to chair the organization.

It is long overdue for the BC Liberal Government and all stakeholders especially ranchers to recognize the significance of Nature Trust’s first purchase in B.C. and support a long term management plan that outlines the conservation values that need to be restored or enhanced. One thing for sure the men of full measure that were the original heart and soul of Nature Trust would be mighty upset with a field trip on their first land purchase.

Barry Brandow