The County of Vermilion River received the Provincial Minister’s Award recognizing municipal excellence last month. The award was for their initiation and continued success of the Alternative Land Use Service (ALUS) program.
“It’s a program where we reward farmers for creating or setting aside parcels of land for the ecological benefits that are on that land,” said Daryl Watt, reeve of Vermilion River.
Vermilion River began with ALUS in 2010, becoming the first area in Alberta to do so, and developed around 1,000 acres in their first year. Now they have over 2,000 acres worth of projects from creating and improving wetlands, building riparian areas, seeding native grasses and setting aside natural prairies lands that would have been otherwise split up for cultivation.
“I think that speaks to how good the program is,” said Watt. “How well it’s accepted by our landowners. It’s very well accepted in the community.”
Watt said landowners have taken to the program because it allows them the freedom to decide what projects are best fitted for their respective properties. The program also provides incentives, paying the owners rent for the space the projects take up on their land.
“It’s a program they get to work not only with the county, but develop a program that fits their farm. It’s not a regulation that says you have to do this. It’s a program that farmers are allowed to develop to fit their farm and still come up with the same benefits.”
Since Vermilion River piloted the ALUS project there has been a keen interest across the rest of Alberta. Two more counties have implemented the program and three more are in the process of making it happen. Watt said there is also a long list of other counties who are also tossing around the idea.
Though the award was granted to the county, Watt said they had a “broad spectrum of support” to help get the project off the ground. There were a lot of non-governmental organizations that helped out by offering their technical knowledge including Delta Waterfowl, Cows and Fish, the Alberta Conservation Association and Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
“I was happy we got the award, that’s the best way to put it. This is a great program, it shows leadership. It shows using new ideas,” he said.
“You know the saying ‘outside the box’? Well we stepped outside of that box and we did something neat and different. It showed a lot of leadership is what it did.”