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A conservation easement is a negotiated, voluntary, legally binding agreement between a landowner and an agency recognized as an easement holder. An easement is granted to an eligible conservation organization under The Conservation Easement Act (2021) and The Conservation Easements Regulations of the Government of Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation Inc. is recognized as such an eligible conservation organization able to enter into conservation easements.
Under a conservation easement, a landowner agrees to protect the biodiversity and ecological function of their land by restricting development and cultivation. The easement agreement ensures that the land will be retained in an environmentally sustainable manner. The landowner retains ownership and control over access and management subject to the restrictions in the easement. Landowners are free to sell, gift or will that property, but the easement is tied to the title and binds future landowners to the same land use restrictions.
Priority Lands for Conservation
In line with SSGF’s objective “to conserve our remaining working agricultural landscapes”, SSGF will prioritize grazing lands and the production of cattle as a means to ensure healthy grassland systems, as well as the economic viability and sustainability of the ranching community and of rural communities within grassland systems more generally. Within this overarching objective, more specifically, the SSGF’s priorities are:
Motivational Reasons for Granting a Term Conservation Easement
“I saw more changes and breaking lands in the last 5 years than in all together the other years of my life, it’s sad.” Rancher Quote
Over the last several years there have been ongoing discussions with ranchers that own native grasslands. A survey of these producers has asked what would motivate you to enter into a conservation easement. Many, about 3/4s of them, indicate that if they were to sign a conservation easement, they would do it for financial reasons but obviously details are needed. Others said conservation value and protecting biodiversity was important to them. Succession planning was also often cited as important when considering a conservation easement.
While some producers were open to the idea of conservation easements, many others would not even consider them. The perception that they would lose control of their land for themselves and the next generation was almost always given as the main reason. Producers also said they felt it would mean there would be added pressure to allow others to access their land. Many said they did not believe they are effective tools for protecting native grasslands.
“I would never break my native prairie regardless if I have granted an easement or not. We have had these land for the last 80 years, since my grandfather, and the lands are how there were and never was broken.” Rancher Quote
The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation Inc. will offer term conservation easements to willing producers and at the same time address concerns and issues that they have brought forward.
How Long are Term Conservation Easements?
The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation Inc. will be offering “term conservation easements” as one of their conservation tools. Minimum terms are suggested at 25 years but they are flexible and can be re-negotiated once the term is up. Land trusts in Saskatchewan have typically negotiated conservation easements in perpetuity. However, The Conservation Easement Act (2021) and The Conservation Easements Regulations of the Government of Saskatchewan allows both perpetual and conservation easements of fixed duration.
How are Term Conservation Easements Valued and Compensated for?
The economic value of a conservation easement is the difference between the value of land with and without the restrictions placed on the land by the conservation easement. This “before and after” approach, in which the land parcel is valued by a qualified appraiser based on its highest and best use, then again subject to the land use restrictions.
Historically, the amount paid to the landowner for a perpetual CE has been in the range of 25% to 33% of the fair market value of the property, as determined by an accredited appraiser. The amount paid for a Term Conservation Easement is under investigation.
There are a number of ways a landowner can be compensated for granting a conservation easement including:
Property Management Principles
While SSGF easements will not include provisions that require specific management actions and/or undertakings on the part of the Grantor, every SSGF conservation easement will set out property management principles which relate to SSGF’s objective to maintain healthy grasslands through grazing.
Property management principles provide that, with respect to rangelands:
Term Conservation Easement Restrictions
Consistent with and reflecting its organizational objective to conserve agricultural lands, SSGF easements will establish only those restrictions that are needed to protect grasslands and natural ecosystems. These basic restrictions can be characterized as “no break, no drain, no development”.
More specifically, basic restrictions to be included in every easement will require the Grantor to agree to not conduct, pursue or permit:
Term Conservation Easement Monitoring
SSGF will strive to monitor conservation easement properties through regular communications and by maintaining a good relationship with the granting landowner. Tools to gather data such as aerial monitoring and on-the-ground monitoring will be used to develop reports. Documents of any reports will always be shared with the landowner. Access to information is determined by the landowner.