More than three years after the Laurel Creek Headwaters were designated an Environmentally Sensitive Landscape (ESL) the idea is still not popular with some landowners whose properties lie within the ESL. Those farmers, and others with marginal lands that would be better used as natural habitats, should be compensated for their environmental stewardship, says a group using that principle in Norfolk County.
Meeting Tuesday night, Wellesley councillors heard a presentation from Brian Gilvesy and Kristen Stewart on the Norfolk Alternative Land Use Service (ALUS) pilot project.
The ALUS project, wrapping up its second year in Norfolk County, pays farmers an annual incentive to turn marginal farmland into stable ecosystems and habitats.
The idea is that rural ecosystems provide benefits to society in the form of clean air, source water protection, erosion control, wildlife habitat and carbon sequestering. Those ecological services are valued by society but have no monetary value in the marketplace, so the farmers who provide them should receive compensation in the form of an annual incentive.
“If you want to do something about the environment, the easiest and simplest way is to connect with the people on the land,” said Gilvesy, chair of ALUS.
In Norfolk County, farmers were paid for the creation of wetlands, tallgrass prairie, Carolinian forest and on-farm hedgerows on what had been poor agricultural land.
Wellesley Mayor Ross Kelterborn said he first learned about ALUS during Waterloo Region’s discussions about the Laurel Creek Headwaters ESL.
“We in the Township of Wellesley have tried to see if we can come up with some kind of method for getting compensation for that kind of land,” he said in an interview.
Kelterborn’s vision is for a region-wide program funded by the senior levels of government.
“My plan was that it would be financed by the provincial and federal government because everybody within the province of Ontario and country of Canada benefits” from environmental stewardship, he said.
Gilvesy argued that the province and country ought to be looking to farmers as they introduce legislation to combat climate change. If a cap-and-trade system for carbon emission is introduced, farmers would be well positioned to develop carbon offset initiatives.
The next step is for Wellesley council to discuss the ALUS initiative and how to pitch it to other jurisdictions and levels of government. Representatives from the federal and provincial government, the other municipalities in the region and the Laurel Creek Headwaters ESL property owners were invited, but none attended the meeting.