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Cuts threaten BC farmland: AG report

The commission charged with overseeing the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is losing the fight to protect farmland in this province, according to a report from B.C.'s Auditor-General John Doyle.

The report, which was released Tuesday, concluded that consistent budget cuts have crippled the Agricultural Land Commission's ability to enforce illegal activity on ALR lands, to accurately identify prime farmland within the ALR and to coordinate with local governments on planning, development and protection.

Under the Liberal government the commission's budget has been reduced from $3 million to $2 million, 33 per cent below what the commission says it needs to maintain core business activities. There are only two enforcement officers charged with protecting ALR lands across the province from illegal activities.

The commission makes decisions on applications to add, remove or subdivide land from the ALR or designate it for non-farm uses. According to the Auditor-General's report, the commission is not effectively evaluating the results and impacts of these decisions.

Since the ALR was established in 1973, Vancouver Island has lost 13 per cent of its ALR land, the Okanagan 12 per cent and the Lower Mainland 8 per cent.

According to a report published earlier this year by the Langley-based non-profit South Fraser OnTrax, the provincial government is responsible for 72.8 per cent of all the land in the South Fraser region that has either been excluded from the ALR or paved over for transportation use.

Under the direction of recently-appointed chair Richard Bullock, the commission is undergoing a review of its policies and operations. The Auditor-General's report made several recommendations to the commission, including that it ensure the accuracy of ALR boundaries and maps, work with local governments on long-term planning, evaluate the collective impact of its decisions, and report those findings publicly.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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