Awarded to the Windermere District Farmers Institute to reward contracted farmers to take extraordinary stewardship action to conserve and enhance important riparian areas on their farms, 11 of which have been targeted and ranked by their potential to produce clean water and healthy wildlife populations, including species at risk. Much of the Columbia Valley’s critical habitat is owned by farmers who have limited capacity for stewardship.

PROPONENT: Windermere District Farmers Institute

DESCRIPTION: The region’s ecosystems are under pressure from human impacts, and much of the regions important ecological areas are owned or managed by farmers who have limited resources to dedicate to stewardship. There is no watershed scale program that supports farmers to implement and maintain evidence based stewardship solutions that mitigate human impacts within this region. The Columbia Valley Farmland Advantage Stewardship Project restores and conserves habitat that improves water quality, fishing opportunities, species at risk  populations and overall quality of life for people in the region.

Farmland Advantage (FA) is a program building a unique program which provides incentives to farmers to take extraordinary action to restore and conserve the ecosystem. This novel program unleashes the untapped potential of private farmland to produce a healthier ecosystem that generates community benefits such as cleaner water, and more abundant wildlife populations. It is a pilot that is being scaled up to a larger program within this and other regions. This type of program is known as Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES). PES is a globally recognized concept where farmers or landowners are paid to manage their land to provide an ecological service such as conserving a wetland to filter water used by the community. 

OBJECTIVE: The Columbia Valley FA Working Group comprised of experts such as biologists, and ecologists was established in 2014. They identified the key riparian ecosystem services to be targeted with this pilot including water quality, biodiversity, and species at risk. They analyzed the Upper Columbia Valley Region and established a list of potential demonstration sites chosen for their high ecological value using a combination of GIS analysis and expert opinion. Potential sites were ranked for their ability to produce benefits such as fish habitat, clean drinking water, healthy wildlife populations, and specific Species at Risk using the tool developed for the project by the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. The farmers who owned the top ranked sites were offered a contract to restore and conserve the critical riparian areas.

This process ensures that the Local Conservation Fund will get the best return on investment for the conservation funds spent. The top ranked farm site owners implemented a beneficial management practice such as putting up a fence that stops cattle from damaging a critical riparian area. They were contracted to maintain and repair these BMPs so that these high value riparian areas will be able to produce the targeted ecosystem services. Contract compliance is verified annually. 

PHOTO: Farmland Advantage