Wednesday, 16 July 2014 15:00

A lot of misconceptions with land use/sage grouse

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After Alex McCuaig’s opinion piece on April 12 (Medicine Hat News), I’ve been following the letters and articles in the daily newspaper regarding public land leased by farmers and ranchers. Adair Prouty’s letter to the editor on July 9 (Medicine Hat News)  and in the July 11 Prairie Post is greatly exaggerated. The idea of cattle barons becoming rich off the backs of the public belongs in a John Wayne film.
The idea that one landowner has 450 gas wells is the best example of this over exaggeration.
According to the spacing units for shallow gas wells set out by the AER (Alberta Energy Regulator), there is an allowance for one gas well per quarter or four per section (a section being one mile by one mile or 640 acres). To have a land base capable of 450 wells the land owner would have to lease roughly 112 sections or 108 square kilometres.
To put that in perspective, it would work out to all of the land that lies from Medicine Hat to Suffield, south from CFB Suffield to the Trans-Canada highway and west of the South Saskatchewan River, give or take a bit. That being said, a landowner with an average of six leased sections of land might be compensated for damages to approximately $30,000.
Keep in mind not all lease land has a gas well drilled on every quarter. Some may have one per section, some may not have any.
When this compensation is paid to the landowner it is paid by way of damages and loss of use. When the gas company first comes to drill the well there is heavy traffic in and out of the location which can kill or greatly reduce the grazing capacity of the grassland within the trail and well location.
As the leaseholder you are compensated for the loss of grazing area. Once the well is in production the loss of grazing acres is ongoing because during the growing season the gas company will mow all grass on the access trail and lease site to reduce the fire hazard from the increase in truck traffic not to mention the hassle of rounding up cattle from gates left open, fires, cattle being struck by vehicles from said increased traffic or a whole host of other issues that may arise.
Harold Fieldberg, in his letter May 28, hit the nail on the head.
As lease holder of public lands you are entirely responsible, at your cost, for management of these lands. Whether it be fencing, controlling litter or keeping motorized traffic to a minimum — you are responsible for all of it. The leaseholder also pays county taxes and yearly grazing lease fees to the government on top of the grazing rights he has already purchased from the previous holder.
It is also the leaseholder’s job to see that wildlife’s habitat is not compromised and we’ve been doing it successfully for years.
I don’t think you would find a single rancher who has a problem with this arrangement, not because they are getting rich off the land like you say but because of a love of the land and the lifestyle it provides them.
Most farmers and ranchers either have second jobs in order to feed their families or have learned to live within their means. We are at the mercy of volatile markets, drought, fire, and disease and we have to carefully monitor our spending as our pay cheques for selling cattle come only once a year.
Yes from the outside looking in some may look wealthy but what you have to realize is that wealth is mainly equity. Meaning in order to cash in on this “wealth” they would need to sell all their property and give up on a lifestyle which has been going on for generations in most cases. The thought of having their children and children’s children running the family farm/ranch is what keeps most of these people going. Losing these agriculture families means you “the public” will have to look outside your own country for the things they produce.
Kyle Forbes, Medicine Hat

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