Grasslands Conservation Initiative (GCI)


The GCI is a proposed producer-initiated program led by the Canadian Cattle Association with the endorsement of Canada’s leading conservation and producer organizations to develop a host of solutions where conservation and stewardship of Canada’s native prairie grasslands provides an economic and intergenerational benefit to ranchers.

The Challenge

Figure 1: Human altered landscape and remaining intact grasslands in Prairie Canada (map by NCC)

Environmental Impacts and Considerations

Proposed Project Details


• The proposed structure of the program is a multi-pronged approach designed to:
o Make conservation of native grassland habitats through voluntary short-term, medium- term, and permanent agreements or easements on privately owned livestock grazing operations a financially attractive and beneficial decision.
o Provide additional revenue for stewardship and ecosystem service delivery from native grassland habitats on privately owned ranching/livestock grazing operations.
o Be an opportunity for blended finance by private, philanthropic, and public investment delivering both shared and individual interests.

Proposed GCI voluntary agreement options:

* Split receipting is when a long-term agreement includes a partial cash payment and the remaining value donated by the landowner, and where they receive a combination of cash and a charitable tax receipt to apply against future income. 

Additional Elements of GCI Proposal:

The following elements remain in development stage but are proposed as additional incentive options to those who hold medium term or run-with-title agreements (not available to short term agreement participants): 

Under this additional element it is proposed that a portion of the funds for each of the medium and run-with-title agreements signed would be invested into an EG&S endowment fund. Other contributions could come into the fund via philanthropic entities, conservation funds and more. As the fund builds through investments, on a timed basis, producers signed onto the GCI medium and run-with-title options would be eligible for top-up payments based on their native grassland stewardship and management efforts and related improvements in their grassland habitat.

This proposal seeks to work with lending partner(s) toward developing low-interest long-term (25-year plus) loans for producers, particularly young producers, who have an existing agreement in place with GCI and want to purchase additional native grasslands for their operation.

Program Proposed Administration:

A yet-to-be-determined semi-independent administrative body overseen by the CCA would deliver the GCI and an expert panel would select applications based on merit and risk level of conversion among other criteria. And it is important to note that the options laid out above are examples and other novel incentivizing options for grassland conservation should be considered going forward.

CCA and our conservation colleagues seek a partnering approach with federal funding for a five-year GCI pilot to achieve a conservation rate of 148,000 acres per year of privately held native grasslands protection across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and B.C. If successful, the pilot would prevent the conversion of 750,000 acres of native grasslands across the five-year pilot.

While the GCI is focused on the threatened native grassland ecosystems of the western prairie landscapes, a stage two of the initiative, currently in the conceptual phase, would seek a similar program focused on permanent tame mixed grass/legume pasturelands, forests and wetlands across Canada. Long-standing pasturelands from east to west provide important wildlife habitat and contribute to enhanced biodiversity and soil health.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the GCI and what is its intended purpose and outcomes?

The GCI is a proposed program led by the CCA in partnership with Canada’s leading conservation and producer organizations wishing to develop a solution where conservation and stewardship of Canada’s native prairie grasslands provides an economic benefit to ranchers. Good stewardship practices on working landscapes and ranches should be rewarded for the maintenance of critical habitat and ecosystem services that grasslands provide. This program is designed to help conserve our remaining intact grasslands by supporting good stewardship practices that maintain the health and productivity of the wetlands and native grasslands across western Canada.

Is any part of the GCI program mandatory?

No, becoming involved in GCI is completely voluntary.

Do I have to work with a specific conservation organization under the GCI program?

No, participating ranchers can choose which GCI delivery partner they prefer to work with.

Is this a ranch land purchase program?

No, there is no purchase of lands by any delivery partner/conservation organization under the GCI, all lands will remain owned by producers. The program currently proposes to utilize diverse mechanisms to provide flexible options for ranchers to participate. The primary mechanism of GCI is to address the conversion of grassland with conservation agreements of varying lengths, including:
1) short-term conservation agreements/contracts of perhaps 5 to 10 years,
2) medium-term agreements of 20-30 years, and
3) a run-with-title agreement option.
Under all the options, participants receive payments to maintain native grasslands and wetlands intact (no cultivation or wetland drainage for the duration of term). It is important to note that the terms and mechanisms contained in GCI are still under development, and we continue to seek input from all stakeholders to ensure the program is effective and equitable.     

Are there any management restrictions placed on participating ranches?

For the short- and medium-term options there will be no prescribed management restrictions other than no breaking (cultivating) of existing intact ecosystems (such as cultivation of grassland or drainage of wetlands) on the subject land parcel(s) for the length of the term agreement.  Note that these agreements will still require a legal contract outlining the conditions of the payments received. Under the run-with-title option there may be management restrictions based on discussions between the landowners and the accredited conservation organization they choose to work with.

What is the minimum amount of land I can enroll in the GCI?

For all the options, the minimum land parcel to qualify will be 160 acres (one quarter section) although partial quarters within part of a larger proposal can be included.

Will participation in GCI impact my ability to access other future incentive programs?

The GCI short and medium-term options have no restrictions on a producer accessing or ‘stacking’ other programs that could be beneficial to their bottom line and if entering such programs does not result in cultivation or drainage on subject native grassland parcel(s) for the duration of the term agreement.

Can I move from one option to another during the term?

Yes, if a landowner has entered a short-term or medium-term agreement, they can at any time choose to move to a longer-term option. For a short-term that could be moving to a medium-term or run-with-title agreement. For a medium-term agreement, the landowner could only opt to enter a run-with-title agreement.

What are the payments for each of the term and run with title options?

The specific payments and delivery mechanisms for the conservation agreements are still under development, but the goal of GCI will be to provide flexible and fair options to participating landowners that vary based on the commitment term. Currently the short-term conservation agreement is expected to be a flat rate paid per acre annually at a consistent value regardless of location Compensation for medium and run-with-title agreements will be based off the appraised conservation easement value of the land, proportional to the term length of the agreement.  Since the medium-term and run-with-title options would be based off the appraised conservation easement value, individual compensation rates will vary depending on the land location and land values in that area. The compensation rates and agreement restrictions for the medium-term and run-with-title options may also be informed by risk of conversion and other ecological factors, project demand, and the organization who will deliver the term agreement with landowners. It is important to note that all mechanisms and payment schedules for this program are actively under development, and CCA continues to engage our members regarding what terms and conditions are desired in this program. It will be important to ensure that the mechanisms deployed by GCI are complementary, accessible, and realistically valuable to all producers interested in participating.

Where appraisals are required, who covers the cost of those appraisals?

The costs of appraisals will be covered by the funded program and paid through the approved trust of foundation the landowner is working with.

Is the GCI only available in the prairie grassland regions?

Presently, yes, the focus is on conserving the loss of native grasslands in the prairies and into BC. However, early planning has begun on a phase two GCI concept that would be applicable to permanent tame pasturelands across Canada as these habitats can be critical to ecosystem function, soil health, at-risk species and overall biodiversity health.

Are there any other financial benefits possible under the GCI program?

We are recommending that an “Ecosystem Goods & Services” fund be created as part of the GCI program. This fund could function to provide annual support payments for participating ranches for positive native grassland and wetland stewardship and/or stewardship actions taken by a ranch to advance a particular conservation goal. We are also exploring the opportunity to provide low-interest long-term loans for producers, particularly young producers, who have an existing agreement in place with GCI to purchase additional grasslands for their operation.

Who or what will run this GCI program?

A semi-independent administrative body referred to as the GCI Program Administrator would operate the GCI overseen by the CCA with CCA having financial controls.

How would the administrators decide on who gets funded?

Unless the need to meet more frequently arises, Program Administrators would assemble conservation specialists bi-annually to review proposals and select projects based upon funding availability and merit. Applications for funding would be evaluated based on several factors, including the risk of ecosystem conversion and the conservation value of the land. As noted, independent appraisals would be required under the medium- and long-term agreements to determine the agreement value.

The primary focus of GCI is to provide an economic benefit for ranchers who conserve and steward wetlands and native grassland. When an application is submitted to the GCI administrator, it is expected that the project selection committee will be more likely to select projects for funding that have a high proportion of wetland and native grasslands included in the proposal.
It is possible that the restoration of endangered grassland/wetland ecosystems might receive more attention in future GCI proposals. 

Under the short- and medium-term options, what happens if I sell the enrolled parcel of land before the term runs out?

While terms and conditions remain under consideration, the intent for the short-term option, because the payments are annual, payments would cease, and the new owner has no obligations.
Under the medium-term option, a caveat must be placed on title for the specific parcel of land stipulating there can be no conversion of wetlands and native grasslands on the subject parcel(s) for the duration of the agreement.
Run-with-title agreements will transfer with the land at time of sale, meaning that the restrictions are registered on title and will run with title from owner to owner.

Will term conservation agreements have an impact on local land and land rental values?

Specialists contracted by the CCA and SSGA have conducted research into deployment of similar programming in other countries and jurisdictions, and we are confident that the mechanisms being developed within GCI will not negatively impact local land markets. For example, experiences in the US following the introduction of term conservation easements demonstrated no impacts on land or land rental rates. In Manitoba, evidence suggests that local land values and rental rates decreased or had no change following conservation agreement implementation. This research is ongoing, and these considerations will continue inform the design of the GCI program proposal. 

What is the definition of native grasslands under GCI?

The basic answer is that native grasslands = grasslands that have never been cultivated. There can be allowance for existence of some tame species presence in the subject parcel(s) (CCA continues to engage our members on this definition). 

Questions / Comments

If you have any questions or comments, please email [email protected]