Alternative Land Use Services promotes ‘retirement’
Yes, land can be ‘retired,’ but it’s not exactly put out to pasture, thanks to the regional chapter of a grass-roots organization that sprung up in the Prairies almost a decade ago.
Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) Inc. is a community-led, farmer-delivered program that places landowners and community members at the centre of local conservation efforts.
Brendan Jacobs, Ontario East ALUS program coordinator, explained the organization’s mandate in a recent interview with The News.
“We’re working with the watersheds of the Raisin Region and South Nation conservation authorities, including near Hawkesbury and StEugène, where they don’t have a conservation authority, and with local, active farmers to ‘retire’ fragile and marginal lands from production,” said Mr. Jacobs.
“We work together to help farmers develop plans to revert that land back to a natural state.”
Those plans morph into projects that deal with a number of initiatives, from tree-planting and the creation of woodlots, to the development of wind-breaks and buffers, to expanding woodlots, to wetland creation and/or restoration, to improving habitat for local fish and wildlife.
“The area of land, is ‘retired,’ and then measured out, and the farmer is paid a fee per acre, every year that his/her land is ‘enrolled’ with the program,” said Mr. Jacobs.
“It’s akin to saying they’re being paid to grow a buffer or a wetland or a woodlot, instead of something like corn or to raise beef on a section of land.”
Mr. Jacobs emphasized that ALUS is not interested in usurping choice agricultural land.
“We work a lot with areas that are either adjacent to existing lands or creeks, or drains...areas that may be too stony or too wet, for instance...that aren’t ideal for farming,” he said.
“The program is not looking to ‘retire’ prime land and take it out of production, or anything like that.
“And every farm, under ALUS programs, is capped at 20 per cent, so no more than that amount of a farm property can be enrolled with the program, which ensures that prime land is not taken out of production.”
ALUS projects are strictly community-based, run by partnership advisory committees in their respective areas.
The Ontario East committee currently consists of 15 members – seven farmers who reside in either the Raisin River or South Nation River watershed, plus eight advisory members coming from the two aforementioned conservation authorities, as well as the Delta Waterfowl Foundation, the provincial ALUS chapter, Ontario Nature and the Ontario Woodlot Association.
“It’s a farmer-led and farmer-delivered program, so only the farmers on the committee have a vote on projects,” said Mr. Jacobs.
“They’re the ones who provide direction to the program. The others are there just to give advice.”
The Ontario East ALUS branch has three projects in South Glengarry that have either been completed or will be undertaken later this year.
One that has been completed, just north of Lancaster, is a pollinator patch that required the ‘retirement’ of about an acre-and-a-half of field along a drain.
That parcel was then planted with native shrubs and trees, as well as wildflowers that would attract and provide food sources for bees and other pollinating insects.
Plans are also underway to create a wind-break and buffer – composed of native trees and shrubs – along a section of drain that cuts through two properties near Williamstown this spring.
The third project in the township involves the planting of a conifer and hardwood tree mixture that will take place on a small woodlot near Bainsville.
At this time, there are no ALUS projects scheduled for North Glengarry.
However, Mr. Jacobs is hoping that will change soon.
“We’re holding a couple of landowner workshops, and one of them is going to be in Alexandria, at the end of the month,” he said.
“So hopefully, we’ll be able to drum up some support for projects in that area.”
Although final details still have to be ironed out, Mr. Jacobs said the Alexandria workshop is slated to take place on March 25.
ALUS began as a vision of Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), Manitoba’s largest farm organi- zation, and the Delta Waterfowl Foundation.
KAP and Delta proposed that farmers be paid to provide ecological goods and services from their land, and that incentives be delivered through community-based organizations, leading to the creation of ALUS and its initial pilot project, launched in Blanchard, Man., in 2006.
That conservation initiative wrapped up in 2008, having enrolled 70 per cent of eligible local landowners, half of whom had never participated in a conservation program before, according to the ALUS website. For more information about ALUS, please visit alus.ca.
NO CLEAR- CUT CONSENSUS: Ongoing deforestation throughout eastern Ontario continues to raise concerns about the long-term impacts of clear-cutting. Farmers note they are merely creating more acreage for crops while critics warn of the environmental consequences.