By MPP Toby Barrett

In a crowded world of seven billion people, human activity has significantly degraded our surroundings.

Increasingly, we see the need for measures ranging from flood mitigation and wetland protection, to wildlife habitat and biodiversity, carbon sequestration and the reduction of phosphorus in our lakes.

All too often, rules and regulations and more laws and enforcement have been the response, with mixed, and less than adequate results.

There is another approach – one that is incentive-based, voluntary and market-driven. We see it exemplified, for example, in the U.S. Conservation Reserve Program, in Britain’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme, and in Canada’s growing ALUS initiative.

ALUS Canada traces its roots to rural Manitoba, where farmers and duck hunters worked together through Delta Waterfowl and the Keystone Agricultural Producers on practical, farmer-led projects to set aside land for habitat.

One thousand miles, as the duck flies, southeast of the Manitoba potholes we saw the inauguration of an Ontario pilot project on the Norfolk sand plain – an ALUS initiation that now involves 10 per cent of the county’s farms.

Today, Canada’s ALUS program is a national non-profit charity dedicated to helping agriculture, and protecting wildlife. ALUS, short for Alternative Land Use Services, helps farmers and ranchers protect and restore wetlands and flood plains, plant trees and windbreaks, restore native prairie and sustain drainage systems.

With help from ALUS, landowners can improve air and water quality, soil health, erosion, phosphorus and flood mitigation, climate adaptation, carbon sequestration and support species-at-risk habitat.

ALUS provides per-acre annual payments to farmers and ranchers to “recognize their dedication to managing and maintaining projects on their land”. In general, no more than 20 per cent of a farmer or rancher’s workable land can be enrolled in the ALUS program, through exceptions have been made.

The principal sponsor of ALUS is the W. Garfield Weston Foundation. Delta Waterfowl is a foundational partner. Other funders include: David Bissett, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Alberta Real Estate Foundation, Carthy Foundation and Ontario Nature. Support also comes from the Ontario government, including the Trillium Foundation, federal and municipal governments.

ALUS is in some ways unique as it is an alternative to permanent procurement of conservation areas through land purchases and conservation easements. There are programs operating in Canada and internationally that have similar aims.

For instance, the Nature Conservancy of Canada accepts donations of land, and works with landowners to arrive at the optimal means of using their land for ecological benefit. Donations of land may qualify for as an ecological gift by Environment and Climate Change Canada, which provides tax benefits to donors.

The American Conservation Reserve Program, established by the 1985 Farm Bill pays a yearly rental in exchange for removing environmentally-sensitive land from agricultural production and planting species that will improve environmental quality. The US Partnership for Conservation is involved in the permanent conservation of land and formulates best practices for its members to follow.

The United Kingdom’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme, launched in 2005, offers financial incentives to landholders who deliver effective environmental management on their land.

And now the stage has been set for wider adoption of ALUS across Canada.

The program currently operates in 19 communities in six Canadian provinces: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island. There are now seven ALUS chapters in Ontario.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk