Ranchers raising issue with provincial funding for wildfire study

By Scott Roblin
May 4, 2018 - 5:11pm Updated: May 4, 2018 - 7:04pm


JENNER, AB – For fourth-generation rancher Brad Osadczuk, news of a provincial study looking into the impact of October’s wildfires is providing little comfort.

Last week, a rangeland and grassland recovery study was launched by the University of Alberta and University of Saskatchewan to look into how farmland responds after a wildfire.

The province will be providing $200,000 to fund the study, which was the same amount earmarked by the government in March to cover all affected land owners from the Hilda and Acadia Valley areas.

With millions of dollars in losses from the fire, Osadczuk said this money could have been better used.

“There wasn't much funding available for disaster assistance and they basically gave the [University of Alberta] $200,000 to study their misfortunes,” said Osadczuk.

Thousands of hectares of farmland went up in flames on October 17, when an ATCO transmission line sparked a blaze in the M.D. of Acadia.

Farmers and ranchers lost livestock, farmland and fencing, and were offered interest-free loans of $25,000 from the province before the one-time $200,000 split grant earlier this year.

Osadczuk represents both Special Areas Board #2 and Alberta Beef Producers, and said a five-year study isn’t the solution for his community.

“We appreciate [University of Alberta’s] concern and we're not against working with them,” he said. “But right now I don't know if we need a study, we need help.”

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier was unavailable for an interview on Friday, but provided this statement to CHAT News.

“Dealing with the aftermath of a wildfire is often traumatic, and I understand how farmers and ranchers in southern Alberta feel following last year’s blaze in the area.”

“Local communities and producers identified the future and recovery rate of soil and grasslands to be one of their concerns. And I agree with them that it’s important to understand the extent of damage to grasslands and soil in order to help identify long-term program support.”

“In response to that our ministry is working with a researchers to ensure that the health of soil and grassland in the areas that burned are in the best conditions to recover. This is in addition to other supports that the Province has provided to communities in the region.”

Many of the producers are located within the M.D. of Acadia Valley and CAO Brent Williams said more needs to be done.

“It's the Province of Alberta's legislation that protects ATCO from any liability for this fire,” said Williams. “Therefore, it should be on the province as well to assist people who are affected by their legislation in a negative way.”

According to the province, the study was requested by the community group representing local producers.

Osadczuk said his friends are still recovering from the blaze and wants the province to listen to their concerns.

“I don't think they want handouts, they don't want free money, but they do need assistance,” he said.

An information session regarding the study will be held on Thursday at the Hilda Community Hall at 6:30 pm.

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