Photo: lone horseback rider © Ducks Unlimited Canada

Stewardship on private land

Approximately 50% of the 900,000 km2 of private land in Canada was identified in 1994 as being at high risk of biodiversity loss due to ecosystem degradation and landscape fragmentation,9 making stewardship very important. Private land stewardship takes many forms, including financial incentives; broad international, national, and regional programs delivered by non-government organizations; demonstration and extension programs; information and education support; and small community-driven projects. Many of these, particularly education-related initiatives that strive to develop a long-term stewardship ethic, are particularly difficult to monitor in terms of results for biodiversity.

Support through information

Stewardship Centre for BC logoSharing of information and best practices that promote adoption and maintenance of sustainable land use is an important part of stewardship. The Stewardship Centre for British Columbia10 is a virtual online centre that encourages environmental stewardship by providing technical support and capacity-building tools and resources. It fosters partnerships among stewardship organizations, government, and the private sector. The Centre’s Stewardship Series provides guidelines for local governments, developers, and stewardship groups to support healthier and more sustainable development practices. The Centre also helps to build capacity of stewardship organizations by providing core funding. The Centre is affiliated with the Stewardship Canada Portal, the Land Stewardship Centre of Canada, and other stewardship centres across the country.

Broad-scale, long-term commitment to stewardship: North American Waterfowl Management Plan

Land seeded to winter wheat in the Prairies
Area (thousands km2), 1992 to 2009
Graph: land seeded to winter wheat in the Prairies. Click for graphic description (new window).
Source: Statistics Canada, 201012

The North American Waterfowl Management Plan was established in 1986 in response to plummeting waterfowl numbers exacerbated by wetland drainage and drought. An initiative of Canada and the U.S., and joined in 1994 by Mexico, the plan recognized that waterfowl populations could not be restored without continental cooperation across a broad landscape. Its goal is to restore waterfowl populations to average 1970s levels by conserving habitat through regional public-private partnerships called “Joint Ventures” that are guided by the best available science and a continental landscape vision.11 It includes a broad range of approaches, one of which is agricultural stewardship. For example, the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture works with farmers to encourage waterfowl-friendly cropping practices such as the planting of fall-seeded cereals like winter wheat. Winter wheat reduces disturbance and provides cover for early nesting species like northern pintail. The area seeded to winter wheat increased from 1992 to 2007.12 Declines in the last two years are a result of a late fall harvest related to weather. Partners through the initiative influenced the stewardship of over 70,000 km2 of wetland, shoreline, grassland, and agricultural habitat across southern Canada between 2000 and 2009.13

Growth of land trusts in Canada

Percent of land trusts established in each time period, 1910 to 2005
Graph: growth of land trusts in Canada. Click for graphic description (new window).
Note: data are based on a representative sample of 51 organizations of varying sizes and objectives from across Canada.

Source: adapted from Campbell and Rubec, 200614.

Land trusts are non-profit organizations, usually community based, working for the long-term protection of natural heritage, and some more recently for protection of agricultural land. Taking many forms and using a variety of approaches, they are playing an increasingly important role in conservation of biodiversity in Canada. They have been growing in size and number over 85 years, with volunteers as their backbone. The number of land trusts in Canada roughly doubled from 1995 to 200514 to over 150 organizations.1 As of June 2010, the 50 member groups of the Canadian Land Trust Alliance had protected over 27,000 km2 of land through the involvement of almost 20,000 volunteers, over 200,000 members and supporters, and 800 staff.15

Conservation easements in the Prairies

Number registered per year, 1996 to 2006
Graph: Number of conservation easements per year in the Prairies. Click for graphic description (new window).
Source: adapted from Good and Michalsky, in press16

A conservation easement is a legal tool that imposes restrictions on current and future use of land by registering the restriction on the land title. Of the approximately 1,200 km2 of land under 1,400 conservation easements across Canada in 2007, about 90% were in the Prairies (representing 70% of the total number of easements).16 Much of the habitat important for biodiversity in the Prairies is on agricultural land, and this is where 90% of prairie easements are located. Some agricultural uses, such as grazing, continue under the easements. The number of conservation easements registered per year in the Prairies has increased from fewer than 10 in 1996 to over 180 in 2006.16

Tax incentive programs: Ontario

Growth of the conservation land tax incentive program
1991 to 2008
Graph: the growth of the conservation land tax incentive program. Click for graphic description (new window).
Source: adapted from Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 200819

Two voluntary programs in Ontario, the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program and the Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program, provide examples of tax incentives to private landowners to encourage long-term stewardship and biodiversity conservation. Both programs provide property tax relief to landowners who protect conservation values – such as forests, wetlands, and endangered species habitat – on their lands.17, 18 Participation in both has increased since their inception. By 2008, over 11,000 properties were enrolled in the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program, covering 7,580 km2, and over 16,000 properties covering over 2,170 km2, were enrolled in the Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program.19