Historic Meeting for Canada’s Private Landowners

Here’s a story originally posted on the B.C. Private Forest Landowners Association website describing CAFO’s historic meeting in Ottawa.

On November 20th, 2014 PFLA packed our long underwear and hopped a plane to join the Canadian Association of Forest Owners (CAFO) in Ottawa to help educate the federal government about what’s happening on private land across Canada to protect endangered species.

The meeting was an historic event because, as far as we’re aware, this is the first time in history owners and managers of private land—large and small, west coast to east coast and all stops in between—have come together to present a united voice in Ottawa.

Chicken farmers, bison ranchers, grain growers, cattle and beef producers, maple syrup makers, and log and lumber manufacturers all came together to express common concerns about the impact government regulations can have on the viability and value of their diverse operations.

In total, the group represented managers and owners of about 90 percent of Canada’s private land—an estimated 2 million individuals and their families.

Despite obvious differences within the group there was universal recognition of the benefits inherent in working together and the importance of letting people know the contributions private landowners make to generate revenue, create jobs and protect the environment and ecosystems.

The focus of the meeting was to encourage caucus to support CAFO’s two-step proposal to distinguish between Crown and private land when designating critical wildlife habitat.

According to CAFO executive director, Chris Lee, the meeting was a success, “Caucus members realized the tremendous positive reaction they would generate from rural Canada if they adopt our proposal to first identify habitat on public land and then, if needed, on private land with the knowledge and consent of the owner.”

What is the CAFO Two-Step?

The CAFO two-step is a process proposed by the Canadian Association of Forest Owners to amend the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to clearly distinguish between private and public land when identifying and protecting critical habitat.

Step 1: Find and protect critical habitat on public land first. CAFO suggests the following order of priorities: parks and protected areas, inaccessible and vacant Crown lands, and finally, Crown lands under management license. If, based on credible information, there is inadequate Crown land available to maintain a viable population of the listed species, proceed to Step 2.

Step 2: Engage in consultation with private landowners to determine how to protect critical habitat on private lands with minimal disruption to farming, forest management activities and annual income levels. Note: A decision to designate or protect critical habitat on private land should not lead to automatic prohibitions, but rather, trigger a process of consultation between the recovery team, the federal agency and the landowner(s). [SARA s48(3)]

Why is the CAFO Two-Step Important?

In the U.S. the Endangered Species Act failed because it lacked incentives for land managers. Without incentives to report and protect creatures land managers are more likely to “shoot, shovel and shut up.”

Our message to the federal government is: landowners are willing partners in species habitat protection. Nobody knows their land better than they do. If you create a situation with incentives for land managers you’re going to get a much better outcome.

In comparison, let’s say you’re a private landowner and the community decides it needs to use some of your property to build a highway. Commonly, an expropriation process occurs and you receive compensation for the value of your land.

The situation with wildlife habitat is no different. If the broader community decides your land is more important as habitat for a particular species, and requires you to set aside a portion of your land for that species, you should be compensated just like the landowner who set aside land to build a highway.

Please visit the CAFO website for more information on the CAFO Two-Step and stay-tuned for more information on the progress in Ottawa.