Federal and Provincial Crown Lands

Federal and Provincial Crown Lands

Prairie Farms Rehabilitation Act Lands

The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act (PFRA) that created the Community Pasture Program was enacted on April 17, 1935. This act was created after 8 years of falling grain prices, unrelenting drought, severe wind erosion, and the resulting wide scale abandonment of farms in the Palliser Triangle, the driest southern areas of the prairies. Some 250,000 acres (101,214 ha) were blowing out of control and up to six million acres (2.43 million ha) were severely affected by drought and soil drifting. Tens of thousands of farmers and their families were destitute and requiring aid to survive.The mandate of the PFRA was to rehabilitate land affected by soil drifting and to develop and promote ‘systems of farm practice, tree culture, water supply and land utilization’ that would rehabilitate eroded fields and, ultimately, the economic security of farmers in the region.

In 1937, the PFRA Act was amended to add land utilization and land settlement. The most erosion-prone lands could only be stabilized and protected with permanent cover. Sixteen community pastures, ranging from 6,000 to 25,000 acres (2,430 -10,122 ha) in size, were fenced and seeded that same year and opened for grazing the following spring.

PFRA currently operates 87 community pastures across the Prairies, with 62 pastures in Saskatchewan covering 1.78 million acres. Out of the 1.78 million PFRA acres located in Saskatchewan, 1.6 million acres will revert back to the province. These pastures support one of the largest ranching operations in North America; help to preserve the biodiversity of the prairie region; protect marginal land from erosion; and, provide wildlife habitat. The Community Pasture Program has returned more than 145,000 hectares of poor-quality cultivated lands to grass cover, significantly improving the ecological value of these lands and helping to increase the productivity of the area.

On April 18, 2012 Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz stated that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) will be changing its priorities on how it supports the agriculture industry. PFRA pastures will be transitioned out of federal management gradually over six years to the be managed by the province.

Community pasture patron groups have expressed interest in partnering with First Nations whereby the First Nations would purchase the land and have it transferred to reserve under TLE or other Specific Claim settlement agreements. Pasture patrons could then enter long term agreements to graze their cattle on the lands, while First Nations would derive the revenue from the fees.

The Provincial government has indicated it is willing to allow First Nations to select these former PFRA pastures and have them transferred to reserve under claim settlement agreements. The first step would be for the First Nation to make a selection of the lands. The Province would then do its usual internal canvas. As well the Province would consider whether the selection raises any concerns related to the duty to consult and accommodate. As per Section 4.08 (b) (i) of the Saskatchewan TLE Framework Agreement, 75 % of the pasture patrons would then have to consent to the land being transferred to reserve. This could be done at a meeting of pasture patrons or through a written sign off. Once that hurdle is cleared then the selection would proceed through the Additions to Reserve process. It would be up to the First Nation and the Pasture Patrons to negotiate terms for grazing leases.

Provincial Crown Land Sales Program

Enhanced Provincial Crown Land Sale Program – Ministry of Agriculture

In November 2008, 1.6 million acres of the 7.2 million acres of agricultural Crown land in the Province of Saskatchewan was put up for sale by the Ministry of Agriculture. This included 600,000 acres of cultivated land and one million acres of pasture land. These lands were made available for purchase to the farmers and ranchers who were leasing those lands. The provincial government offered these lessees a “sliding scale” incentive to make the purchase: a 10 per cent discount on the sale price of the land in the first year; an 8 per cent discount in the second; a 6 per cent discount in the third; a 4 per cent discount in the fourth; and a 2 per cent discount in the final year of the program.

Sale of Wildlife Habitat Protection Act Provincial Crown Lands – Ministry of Environment

In June 2009, the Ministry of Environment made the decision to expand the Crown land sale program to also make available Crown lands protected under the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act (WHPA). The Ministry of Environment manages 3.525 million acres of Crown land under the provisions of the WHPA. The Province undertook the re-evaluation at the request of the lessees who wanted to expand the Crown land sale program to include the lands protected under the WHPA. In response to this demand, the Ministry of Environment announced that it intended to re-evaluate the ecological attributes of all its Crown land holdings in southern Saskatchewan managed under the WHPA. This re-evaluation was intended to determine whether any of the lands protected by the WHPA could be removed from the WHPA designation and be made available for sale to the lessees.

On May 12, 2014, the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment announced that the amendments to the WHPA and Conservation Easements Act had been “Proclaimed” allowing for the sale of WHPA land. Further, under a new land management strategy called “The Southern Conservation Land Management Strategy”, lessees would be offered the opportunity to purchase eligible parcels of Crown land previously designated under WHPA.

Incentive Program to Sell Agricultural Crown Land

On November 4, 2015, Agriculture Minister Stewart announced a new incentive program to encourage the sale of eligible occupied agricultural Crown land.  All agricultural Crown land including cultivated, grazing and hay land that is deemed to have no public and low environmental benefit will be eligible for the program.  The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that approximately 600,000 acres of land will be sold under this program.  From now until March 31, 2016, a 15 per cent discount will be applied to all sales.  The incentive drops to 10 per cent on April 1, 2016 and five per cent on January 1, 2017.

The November 4th media release for the Incentive Program to Sell Agricultural Crown Land stated: “Sales associated with public tenders and Treaty Land Entitlement are not eligible for the program”.

Through this new incentive program is in addition to the other Agricultural Crown Land Sale Programs that were in place from November 2008 the province has sold more than 500,000 acres of provincial Crown land.