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 with Rob Miskosky

Leased Public Land Access

Back in 2008, then Minister of Sustainable Resource Development, Ted Morton, devised a plan that would see landowners benefit from allowing hunters access to their private lands. Called Hunting for Habitat (HFH), HFH would have seen tags issued to certain landowners in southern Alberta who would have been allowed to market them much like outfitters do, provided they allowed access to hunting on their lands by Alberta residents.

However, HFH didn’t sit very well with many, including AFGA’s Past Presidents who circulated a letter addressed to both Minister Morton and Premier Ed Stelmach stating, “The Past Presidents solidly support the concept that wildlife is a public trust that must be managed in the public interest; in these programs, wildlife becomes private property managed in the private interest.”

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HFH was eventually quashed and today, wildlife is still considered public property and paying for hunting access on private lands is illegal, as it should be.

However, today there is still much that needs to be sorted out, especially on leased public land where access for hunting should be granted to resident hunters provided certain conditions are met.

In southern Alberta, where HFH was to be initiated as a pilot project, there are thousands of acres of public land controlled by area ranches. What I discovered on a recent trip into WMU 102 is that much of this public land is blocked for access.

Take the sign at left for instance. This sign belongs to Lost River Ranches, who control thousands upon thousands of acres of leased land. On a prior scouting trip to the November 1 opener, the “Access Denied” lower portion of the sign was in the upright position; meaning, access would be granted provided you received written permission, which is fine. However, on November 1, opening day for mule deer, the sign was suddenly in the position pictured in the photo and “All Access” was shut down. Without cattle on any of the leased lands we could see—and you can see for miles down there—we made the trip to the ranch yard to not only ask why, but to also ask when access might be granted. Unfortunately, three trips to the ranch yard proved fruitless, as nobody would answer our knocks, even though we were quite sure we could hear movement in the house on at least one occasion.

The lands controlled by Lost River Ranches are extensive. I would estimate from our landowner’s map that Lost River Ranches took at least five percent of WMU 102 out of the hunting equation without any reason provided, or for reasons we could find out.

But Lost River Ranches aren’t the only ones to make it difficult for access. There are several other places in WMU 102 where publicly owned lands are posted, “No Hunting Without Permission”. Unfortunately, there is no way to contact the person(s) controlling the land—no phone number to call, no residence to visit, etc. So how do you get permission? It’s not possible.

However, on page 39 of this magazine, there is a Government of Alberta advertisement that directs hunters to a website ( for information that explains your responsibilities Accessing Agricultural Leased Land, which is a very good tool. However, what the leaseholder states there is often very different from what is posted on the actual land. And, while contact information is provided, that information is only good if somebody actually answers the phone.

With five million acres of public land under agricultural lease in Alberta, reasonable access should be determined by the owner of that land (the public), not the leaseholder. ■

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