Grazing Leases

Request for Audit and Examination of Cattle Grazing Leases

Grazing Leases Committee Chair:

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The Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria has developed a case to request the BC Government to conduct an audit and examination of cattle grazing leases currently held on Crown Land, and related issues.

The request for audit was submitted to Carol Bellringer, Auditor General of British Columbia on June 12th, 2018, the following is an overview of the request, a link to download the report for further information.

June 12, 2018

Carol Bellringer
Auditor General of British Columbia
623 Fort Street Victoria, BC V8W 1G1
Dear Ms. Bellringer:
RE: Request for an audit and examination of cattle grazing leases on Crown land, and related issues
On behalf of the BC Wildlife Federation,1 we hereby request that you undertake an examination of the continued existence of cattle grazing leases; the government of British Columbia’s practice of re-issuing cattle grazing leases under the Land Act;2 and related issues with Range Act grazing tenures.3
We urge you to undertake this examination pursuant to:
  • Section 11 (8) of the Auditor General Act (AGA),4 which authorizes you to assess and report on whether government is operating economically, efficiently, and effectively;
  • Section 13 of the AGA, under your authority to conduct an examination respecting government, if it is in the public interest to do so; and
  • Section 12 of the AGA, which grants you the broad general power to report to government, as you deem fit.


Rangelands with vegetation suitable for grazing and browsing by livestock and wildlife are located throughout most of British Columbia.5 The BC government seeks to manage rangelands sustainability to "ensure a healthy, lasting resource for the ranching industry, guide outfitters,First Nations, government and non-government agencies, wildlife, recreationalists and the general public."6

However, when government authorizes ranchers to use Crown land for livestock with a grazing lease (or other tenure),7 it often does so to the detriment of these other user groups. The BC government’s grant of grazing tenures can lead to soil erosion, stream contamination, harm to fish and biodiversity, damage to riparian and grassland ecosystems, and other environmental damage – seriously undermining wildlife and other rangeland uses. In addition, grazing leases in particular diminish the public right to access Crown lands, by giving leaseholders the right to bar the public from the land.


Furthermore, it appears that BC’s current grazing tenure regime may not meet government’s overarching pricing goal for any use of Crown land: "a fair return for the use… based on market value for land… to ensure that the public benefits."8 Instead, government appears to be subsidizing the grazing industry by charging low annual rates and substantially funding range infrastructure such as fencing. Furthermore, other unnecessary costs may be incurred because government maintains separate grazing tenure frameworks for both grandfathered grazing leases and modern grazing licences and permits.

As demonstrated below, government’s administration of grazing leases appears to contravene BC’s Crown Land Allocation Principles – the principles which apply to all Land Act decisions about the use of Crown land.9 The first Principle is that "Crown land values are managed for the benefit of the public". However, renewing leases that allow leaseholders to bar the public from accessing Crown land as part of an environmentally damaging and economically inefficient regime may contravene this principle. As part of the second Principle, the policy states that "Crown land allocation should maintain or create a high quality natural environment." However, grazing leases facilitate operations that frequently harm the environment. Furthermore, the fifth Principle states that "public accountability is maintained during the allocation of Crown land" by "ensuring that the public receives value for the use of Crown land", but the public is not likely receiving good value for this type of land use.

We urge you to investigate whether the BC government’s current approach to grazing tenures – and particularly grazing leases – constitutes a failure to properly steward public resources of great importance to British Columbians, and a failure to operate "economically, efficiently, and effectively" as per s.11(8) of the Auditor General Act.10 An examination is necessary to determine if the public interest is served by government’s current legislative, regulatory, and administrative approach to grazing tenures – and, if not, how the situation may be rectified.

The argument for why you should investigate this matter is presented below as follows:

1. An Overview of BC Grazing Tenures: Leases, Licences, and Permits
2. The Current Regime Harms the Environment, Impedes Public Access, and Imposes Unnecessary Costs on Taxpayers
3. Key Questions to Consider
4. The Auditor General’s Legal Authority to Investigate
5. Conclusion

For questions please contact:

Calvin Sandborn Q.C., Legal Director

Murray & Anne Fraser Building
PO Box 1700 STN CSC
Victoria, BC V8W 2Y2
Phone: 250. 721.8188
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