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Rural Climate Solutions online resources and broadcasting

2017-2018 Annual Report Highlight

The Stettler Learning Centre is creating a series of podcasts and a website that are “part educational tool, part source of inspiration” aimed at Alberta producers who want to understand what they can do on the farm to help move toward a clean energy economy.

“This podcast comes straight out of Alberta—one of Canada’s biggest agriculture and energy producers— and dives into the technology and practices that are both good for the farm and good for the climate,” says Derek Leahy, the project coordinator for Rural Routes to Climate Solutions at the Stettler Learning Centre. “The agriculture sector is often characterized as a cause of climate change as opposed to a solution but most people do not realize that there are farming practices that can help us in the fight against climate change.”

From solar power to better land management, many of the practices that can help the environment can also help improve farming and ranching operations. “There are many producers who do not realize many climate solutions can help their farming and ranching operations thrive,” says Leahy. For example, using biodiversity can boost productivity, manage pests and help the land endure Alberta’s endless cycle of floods and droughts. Another podcast covers the benefits of formalizing a cooperative among agricultural producers to save on costs and minimize operators’ environmental footprints.

“Producers are constantly looking for opportunities and new techniques to improve my agricultural operations,” says Leahy. “Our project connects those dots by providing clear, informative and entertaining explanations on how producers can benefit from using climate solutions on their land.”

AREF’s support for the project allows the Learning Centre extend an existing program that received funding from the Alberta Government Community Environment Action Grant program. The initial program developed workshops and other materials for producers about agricultural and land-use practices that reduce carbon emissions.

Turning those materials into podcasts provides a really convenient method for producers to consume the information. “For producers, time is limited and it is also a precious commodity. But with the podcast, a producer can simply download episodes on to his or her phone and listen on the job, particularly on those days that they’re on a tractor or combine all day.” says Leahy.

“It is our hope that through this easily accessible method of learning, producers will be informed and inspired to use climate solutions on their farms. They will benefit and we will all benefit from this.”

Listen to the Rural Routes to Climate Solutions podcast here!

Read the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s full 2017-2018 Annual Report.

U of Alberta enhances research on urban expansion

“Urban Alberta is spilling into rural,” says Brent Swallow, an environment and development economist. Too often, decisions about land designation are driven by short-term goals, he says. But there are long-term costs to development and to the “ecosystem services” that rural land provides for cities, such as clean air and water.

Balancing urban expansion with rural conservation is challenging and heavily influenced by people’s attitudes and beliefs. For example, do urbanites in Alberta want to preserve the rural land around their cities? Do they want more locally grown produce at the farmers markets? Are they willing to pay extra to keep the city outskirts green?

The Alberta Real Estate Foundation wants to find answers to these questions to help the real estate industry better understand issues around land stewardship. The foundation’s $50,000 donation will make it possible for Swallow and his research team in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences to conduct a province wide survey of urban attitudes toward fragmentation, conversion and conservation of agricultural land.

Using GIS for Conservation Project Planning

By Legacy Land Trust Society

With the support of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, Legacy Land Trust Society underwent its Water Quality & You project this year. This project focused on improving or maintaining the quality of the Red Deer River by engaging with landowners along the Red Deer River in Mountain View County to promote conservation and stewardship options. When Legacy started this project, they were faced with three critical questions. Who should they target? Where do they live? And how many are there?

“Without a visual representation of the landscape it is difficult to know how to devote resources to where they will do the most good.” said Tammy Mather the Executive Director of the land trust.

That is why Legacy worked to implement a Geographical Information System (GIS); an advanced software program that handles and visualizes spatial information like GPS data. Visualizing and layering data on a map can reveal relationships and patterns that may otherwise be missed from the ground. GIS is a powerful tool that can simulate and model real world events and scenarios, an invaluable resource for project planning.

 

Red Deer River

Legacy was specifically interested in targeting the riparian area of the Red Deer River; an area along the river that provides an abundance of vegetation and wildlife habitat to the region. With a GIS and data sources in place, Legacy successfully modelled the riparian area of the river and identified land parcels within this boundary as parcels of interest to conservation. To further prioritize the efforts of the project the land parcels were ranked depending on the number of conservation features present. Finally, the results were migrated to an online map for additional members of the organization to access for preparation of outreach materials.

Using a GIS was a successful endeavor that dramatically informed Legacy’s planning process and helped prioritized their efforts. After completing the modelling of the riparian area and land parcel selection Legacy identified a potential 235 land owners to receive outreach materials along these 40 kilometers of the Red Deer River.

Interested in using GIS in your organization? Legacy received an ArcGIS license from ESRI Canada through their Non-Profit Organization Program. They offer grants of their software to non-profits whose focus is on environmental and humanitarian initiatives; qualified participants receive a full copy of ArcMap and community and self help support. Find out more here: ESRI Non-Profit Organization Program.

Legacy Land Trust would like to thank the Alberta Real Estate Foundation for supporting the Water Quality & You Project and ESRI Canada for providing the GIS platform. To learn more about Legacy Land Trust Society’s Water Quality and You project you can visit their page here: Water Quality & You

 

Protecting the Bighorn as a Wildland Park

By Hilary Young, Y2Y

Long before I started working with Y2Y, I’d heard about the allure of the Bighorn Wildland – especially the cold, clear tributaries and waterfalls that form the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River. I was excited to experience this landscape firsthand with my colleagues over the summer, as one of Y2Y’s major goals is to protect the Bighorn as a Wildland Park.

We started out on the trail to the Siffleur Falls, crossing a long suspension bridge and a wooden boardwalk before gaining elevation on the limestone hills. Four kilometers passed quickly, and we were caught by surprise when the trail narrowed and the limestone suddenly cut away into the sloping Siffleur Canyon.

When we came upon the cascading falls a few hundred meters further, we sat for a while in awe, gaining perspective on the steady natural forces that pre-date humans by just staring thoughtfully into the river canyon. For how many hundreds of thousands of years has clean, quick-flowing water been wearing away rock? And for what tiny fraction of this have we been meddling with natural processes and having a disproportionate impact?

After taking photos (which of course failed to capture the emotional experience the canyon evoked in person), we started our hike back out. I knew that the Siffleur River flowed into the North Saskatchewan and then into the Edmonton Capital Region’s water supply. I knew that these tributaries lay within an intact landscape that provided quality habitat for threatened species like grizzlies. But getting out into the Bighorn gave me an emotional connection to a place I could recite facts about — I now understood on a more visceral level that industrial resource extraction and motorized recreational vehicles had no place here. The ancient canyon was the perfect symbol for wild lands that have a timeline, purpose and rhythm well beyond our own.

The Bighorn Wildland that lies between Jasper and Banff National Parks needs to be protected as a Wildland Park. This vast landscape of low elevation foothills, broad valley bottoms, ridgelines and mountains is part of the interconnected Yellowstone to Yukon region, one of the last intact mountain ecosystems left on Earth. Over a million Albertans downstream of the Bighorn, in places like Edmonton and Clearwater County, rely on the water that its tributaries and rivers provide.

Please help protect these lands by calling or writing your local MLA to let them know you want the Bighorn to be designated a Wildand Park! Visit us at loveyourheadwaters.ca for more information.

 

Conservation Caravan film now online

Check out the Conservation Caravan film, now available online at grasslandcommunity.org.

The Conservation Caravan highlights the “real life” on the prairie as it pertains to stewardship in ranching. Not often do urban consumers think about how grazers can be used as a tool to enhance biodiversity, maintain landscape health, care for wildlife, and help support a functioning prairie ecosystem. However, this stewardship isn’t “free” to implement and therefore needs our support.
Operation Grassland Community has been working with ranchers in Alberta’s Grassland Natural Region for over twenty years; we want to share this story to help bridge the communication gap between producers and the consumers of their product. The Conservation Caravan is just the beginning of what we hope will be an on-going conservation.