What is it?
A Conservation Reserve can be used for land with environmentally significant features that do not otherwise qualify under the requirements for an Environmental Reserve (or Environmental Reserve Easement). The purpose of Conservation Reserves is to enable the municipality to protect and conserve land and its ecological value. This could include important ecological areas such as wildlife corridors and tree stands. A Conservation Reserve can be required by a municipality at the time of subdivision but requires compensation to the landowner at fair market value. Taking of a Conservation Reserve must be consistent with the municipality’s Municipal Development Plan and applicable Area Structure Plan.
How can municipalities use it?
Conservation Reserves allow municipalities to purchase land that has been identified as having environmentally significant features. This occurs during the subdivision approval process, and the municipality must indicate their desire to take this land, and the subdivision authority must agree that it contains environmentally significant features. This requires ensuring the taking is in alignment with the Municipal Development Plan, that money is available for compensation, and likely that it occurs within an Environmentally Significant Area, ecological network, important habitat, connectivity zone, or other ecologically-important area. Conservation Reserves thus increase the municipality’s capacity to conserve areas important to the natural infrastructure system.
What are the advantages?
The advantages of a Conservation Reserve include:
Ability to protect environmentally significant features that could not be taken as Environmental Reserve (as these relate primarily to undevelopable land)
Recognizes the importance of environmentally significant features
Increases the tools available for a municipality to conserve natural infrastructure
Can be ‘required’ unlike other municipal land acquisition options
What should you watch out for?
No tool is a silver bullet. There are issues for municipalities to watch out for with Conservation Reserves, including:
Payment is required to the landowner, which may not be feasible for many municipalities
There may be disagreement between landowner and municipality on the market value of the land, in which case the matter must be determined by the Land Compensation Board
Developers may seek to have Environmental Reserve areas, or areas that may otherwise involve constraints on development, considered as Conservation Reserve to secure compensation
It is the up to the subdivision authority (not the municipality) to determine if environmentally significant features exist on the property
Municipalities must ensure the taking of Conservation Reserves is consistent with their MDP
Limits for other reserve types (municipal, school, road) may be affected
How can it help maintain natural infrastructure?
A Conservation Reserve must be used to allow a municipality to “protect and conserve the land”, and that land must “remain in its natural state”. This then helps to maintain the natural infrastructure system by protecting natural feature and areas from development, and by reducing the impact of the approved development. This in turn protects functions and benefits derived from the natural infrastructure system.
Discussion Paper: Environmental Reserve in Ablerta – Discussion paper prepared by the Miistakis Institute in 2017 to outline the intent of Environmental Reserve as per the Municipal Government Act (MGA), how it is applied across Alberta, and to provide observations on the implications of how the new Conservation Reserve tool may affect Environmental Reserve application by municipalities.
Summary of the New Conservation Reserve Tool - An overview of the conservation reserve tool enabled in the Municipal Government Act, including the highlights of how to use it, and a detailed line-by-line explanation of the enabling clauses.
Habitat Law in Alberta - The Environmental Law Centre created a four-volume series providing a review of habitat law and policy in Alberta. Volume 1 (The State of Habitat Laws in Alberta) includes a discussion of Municipal Government Act tools available to protect natural infrastructure including Conservation Reserves.
Conservation Reserve: Implementation Fact Sheet – A Government of Alberta fact sheet released when the Municipal Government Act was amended to include the Conservation Reserve tool.
Did we miss something?
If you know of a resource that should be on this list - or your municipality has a sample or case that should be here, please let us know!