On-the-Ground Implementation of Ecosystem Services

ALUS Parkland County Tour - July 28th, 2016

Written by: Marcus Becker, Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute

The delivery of ecosystem services (ES) and biodiversity continues to be a principal focus of research and policy in Alberta. While there has been significant research in this space, we can lose sight of what this means for ‘on-the-ground’ implementation of management practices that provide ES & biodiversity.  Because a significant portion of the land base in Alberta is privately held (nearly 30%), it is essential to elicit buy-in and voluntary participation of landowners in land use planning and policy designed to enhance ecosystem services and biodiveristy. 

ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) Canada is a national not-for-profit organization now operating in six provinces across the country. This innovative organization seeks to provide financial resources to farmers, ranchers, and landowners who implement best management practices that increase ES and biodiversity benefits on their land. The program is a voluntary, community based initiative, which has grown significantly in western Canada over the last few years.

On July 28, more than 100 stakeholders and interested members of the public gathered in Parkland County just west of Edmonton to learn about ALUS Canada. The event included a tour of various  project sites that are supported by the ALUS program. These project sites included:

  • The establishment of an eco-buffer at the Edmonton Corn Maze, which consists of a variety of native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants designed to protect the adjacent creek from nutrient runoff and provide habitat for important pollinator species;

Darren Haarsma (left), ALUS Parkland coordinator, and Luke Wonneck (right), Agroforestry & and Woodlot Extension Society, discuss the variety of plant species present in the eco-buffer and the ES provided.
  • The preservation of important game bird habitat through the creation of a wildlife corridor;
  • Use of alternative watering system for cattle on pastureland to prevent water quality degradation in nearby wetlands;

Participants gather to hear about the pasture pipe/waterline installed in order to provide an alternative watering system for cattle.
  • The reforestation of a buffer along Atim Creek, increasing the health and function of riparian vegetation and improving the existing wildlife corridor.

Darren Haarsma describes the revegetation of a portion of the south bank area along Atim Creek, Parkland County.

These four projects are examples of the 21 currently being implemented across Parkland County. Interest in the ALUS program has recently intensified across Alberta, growing from the province’s three original communities (Parkland, Vermillion River, and Red Deer) to a total of 10 municipalities and over 3,600 acres of land. Supported by the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, the Alberta Conservation Association, and the government of Canada’s National Conservation Plan (among other organizations), ALUS Canada has invested nearly $674,000 in these communities since 2010. In June, ALUS Canada was awarded an Alberta Emerald Award in recognition of the program’s environmental achievements.     

ALUS Canada’s mandate is to provide a cost-sharing program for farmers to implement changes in land management that increase ES provision, including an annual payment following the implementation. According to Darren Haarsma, Parkland County’s ALUS coordinator, the ALUS program aims to recognize the ES benefits farmers produce.  

“ALUS seeks to provide financial acknowledgement of the benefits to society that private landowner’s actions can have. At the bottom line, this incentive appropriately indicates to landowners that there is value placed on actions that provide increased ecosystem services. This message helps acknowledge the current efforts of farmers as well as encourage further efforts where it is possible,” says Haarsma.

ALUS is a community-led, farmer-delivered program. Through this model, local landowner knowledge can be best leveraged for the success of each individual project and the overall benefit of the environment. Furthermore, each community has the autonomy to determine how program funds can best be allocated across their landscape. The ALUS program’s success in implementation and uptake by landowners can be attributed to community leadership.

Linking research and on-the-ground programs such as ALUS is an important next step for the Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Network in their efforts to implement a sustainable ES approach in Alberta.  

For more information on the ALUS program: