In 2003, the Alberta Government clarified the rules for recreational and exploration access on agricultural dispositions issued under the Public Lands Act, including grazing leases and farm development leases.
The legislation balances the needs of the leaseholders to protect the land and livestock from harm with the rights of the recreational users for reasonable access. The legislation also includes a process for addressing exploration disputes. The new rules encourage communication, co-operation and respect.
For further information about recreation on agricultural land, see:
Recreational Access Mapping Tool
For maps and leaseholder contact and condition information, please view:
Instruction Guide for Recreational Access Mapping Tool
For information on how to use the agricultural public land contact and access condition mapping tool, please see:
NOTE: If searching the map with the Zoom In button, use the following steps:
- Click on the map and drag the arrow icon to highlight a rectangular area on the map that you are interested in. This will zoom in on the map to show the section, township and range information.
- Click on the map and drag the arrow icon again to highlight a rectangular area on the map that you are interested in. This will then highlight the recreational access lands in green.
- When you see green on the map, click on the Identify Recreational Access button in the tool bar just above the map.
- Click on the area of interest (highlighted in green) within the map.
- Contact and access condition information will be displayed to the left of the map.
Questions? Contact Us!
If you have questions about getting access to agricultural public land for outdoor recreation activities, contact the AEP Information Centre:
Frequently Asked Questions about Recreation on Agricultural Public Land
Location of Agricultural Lands
Does this new legislation apply to all public lands?
Alberta has about 100 million acres of public land in total. The new legislation specifically applies to about five million acres of agricultural land leased for grazing and cultivation.
Only a very small amount of this land is located in the forested area of the popular foothills area of the province. Forest grazing allotments are not affected by this legislation.
Rights and Responsibilities of the Leaseholder
Does the leaseholder have to provide access to recreational users?
As the holder of a grazing lease or farm development lease, leaseholders must allow reasonable access to the land for recreation.
Leaseholders may have legitimate concerns about some recreational use. There are circumstances when access is not reasonable and under which leaseholders may restrict access or specify conditions for using the grazing or farm development lease. Generally, this would be based on protecting the land, grazing resource, or livestock from possible damage from the proposed activity, or on the timing or season of use. The Department of Environment and Parks may also add conditions or restrictions on using the land. For example, these restrictions may be placed during times of high fire hazard or to protect the land from erosion.
Under the regulations, the leaseholder may deny access, or apply conditions to access, when:
- Access would be anything other than foot access, including bicycles, horse or other animal, or motor vehicles
- The proposed use would occur in a fenced pasture where livestock are present or on cultivated land on which a crop is growing or has not been harvested.
- Access to all or part of the agricultural disposition land has been prohibited due to a fire ban as determined by either the Provincial or municipal authority
- The proposed use would involve hunting at a location that is unreasonably close to a fenced pasture in which livestock of the agricultural disposition holder are present
- The proposed use is camping
- The proposed use would be contrary to a recreational management plan
What happens if a leaseholder denies reasonable access?
The Department may issue an access order requiring leaseholders to allow access. If leaseholders are unsure of whether or not they can restrict access, they can call their local Lands Office. The section titled "Settling Disagreements" further on in this pamphlet deals with resolving issues that a leaseholder or a recreational user may raise.
Yes. Leaseholders should explain their reason as specified under the new regulations.
Does the leaseholder have to tell the recreational user why he/she is denying access?
Yes. Leaseholders should explain their reason as specified under the new regulations.
Can leaseholders deny access whenever livestock are on the lease?
If livestock are not impacted by the visit, leaseholders are expected to provide access. Leaseholders are expected to follow the intent of this legislation, which is to balance the right of recreational users to access with the leaseholder's need to protect the land or livestock from possible harm. Moving a few cattle from one pasture to another to prevent recreational access is an example of not following the intent of the legislation.
How is crop on "cultivated land" defined?
Cultivated land refers to annual crops and not to hayfields.
Can the leaseholder decide that the fire risk is too high to allow access?
No. Only the province or municipality can decide the fire risk is too high to allow access.
Can the leaseholder limit the number of people who come on the land?
No, but the leaseholder can discuss the concern with the Local Settlement Officer who can limit the number of people who can come on the land. Also, in cases where there are a high number of recreational users accessing the leases, the leaseholder can ask that a recreational management plan be put in place. These plans could include restrictions on the number of people on the lease at one time.
Both completed recreational management plans and limits set by a Local Settlement Officer will be included with the contact information on the website. Call your local Lands office of Environment and Parks for more detail.
What conditions can leaseholders apply to recreational access?
Leaseholders can add conditions, such as: whether there are times when you might allow vehicle access. Leaseholders have been asked through mail to provide information on how people can make contact to access the lease.
If leaseholders place other conditions on access, Department staff will review them to ensure they are consistent with what is allowed under the legislation.
Rights and Responsibilities of the Recreational User
Does the leaseholder need to be contacted before the recreational users visit?
The recreational user must contact leaseholders before accessing the land. The purpose of the contact is to provide leaseholders with information about the visit and how the visit could impact your operation. As well, leaseholders can provide the recreational user with additional information about the land.
Recreational users are required to give the leaseholder the following information:
- Type of recreational activity proposed
- Time and location the activity will occur on the land
- Number of people in the group
- Name of the recreational contact person and method of contact
- Other related information that is requested, such as the names of all recreational users and license plate numbers of vehicles used to transport people to the land
The recreational user must always:
- Pack out all litter
- Park vehicles so the approach to the land is clear
- Refrain from lighting fires without consent
- Leave gates in the same state in which they were found (e.g., closed)
- Not cause any damage to the lease land or the property of the agricultural leaseholder
Are there specific rules for hunting and fishing on this land?
All of the rules under the Wildlife Act apply. Recreational users should also plan to contact the leaseholder well ahead of time in case there are specific conditions that apply to the lease.
Should the recreational user keep a record of the contact calls?
Recreational users should keep a record of their contact calls. The onus is on the recreational user to show the proper procedure has been followed to contact the leaseholder.
What about other legislation?
Provisions of other legislation continue to apply. For example, this legislation only deals with access for hunting, while other rules for hunting are under the Wildlife Act.
What contact information must be provided?
To ensure that recreational users contact leaseholders before they use the land, leaseholders must provide the Department with the name of a contact person for recreational access. The contact information must include a telephone or fax number, or e-mail address.
Leaseholders can also specify some conditions on access, such as whether leaseholders allow motorized vehicle access. Alternatively, leaseholders can specify that they don't want to be contacted prior to a visit, but leaseholders must inform the Department of that choice.
The Department will place this information on a public website at:
Before going onto the land, the recreational user must get in touch with the person leaseholders have named as the contact person for the grazing or farm development lease. If this information is not provided, the recreational user can come on the land without contacting the leaseholder.
How will the privacy of the leaseholders be protected?
The web site searches are based on land location. Searches by name or by lease number will not be possible. Leaseholders can choose not to put their contact information on the web site.
However, providing the information has important benefits to leaseholders. Doing so helps ensure the leaseholder is contacted before a recreational user comes on the land. The leaseholder can also place conditions for accessing the land, such as requiring all gates be closed.
Can the leaseholder change the contact information?
Yes, the leaseholder can call (780) 427-3595 to change the information. Blank forms will also be available at your local Lands office and on the Lands web site. Once Lands has received your information, the change should only take a day to appear on the recreational access web site.
Can the leaseholder specify on the web site times that they can be contacted?
Leaseholders can specify times, for example evenings only, as long as recreational users have a reasonable chance to reach the leaseholder.
What happens if a recreational user doesn't contact the leaseholder first or comply with the conditions
This may be considered a contravention of the Recreational Access Regulation, and a fine of $250. As an alternative, the Minister can require an administrative penalty to be imposed. However, if a recreational user tries repeatedly to make contact, but cannot connect with the leaseholder, the user may request approval from the Department to access the lease land under the basic conditions of use.
If there is a dispute between a recreational user and a leaseholder, either party can apply for a dispute resolution review. The dispute resolution process is described in the Recreational Access Regulation.
How long will the recreational user have to wait before getting a response from the leaseholder?
Recreational users should plan a trip well in advance and expect that it could take a few days for the leaseholder to respond to the inquiry. However, recreational users should hear something within a week of their first call.
What if the recreational user tries several times and can't get a hold of the leaseholder?
The recreational user can contact the local public lands office or call the toll free hotline at 1-866-279-0023.
Should the leaseholder keep a record of all contacts?
Leaseholders are not required to keep a record, but it may be useful to do so. An example form that leaseholders might find useful is available from Lands offices or as a PDF document.
Do these rules apply to other types of agricultural Public Land?
If the land is under another type of agricultural disposition, recreational users do not have to contact the permit or license holder. These other types of agricultural Public Land include grazing permits, cultivation permits, grazing licences, authorizations to harvest hay or head tax grazing permits.
What is my liability?
As the leaseholder, your liability is reduced if recreational users become injured while on the lease, unless the courts find that the leaseholder intentionally or negligently tried to injure a user. Recreational users are responsible for their own personal safety.
Is the leaseholder responsible for defining all hazards, including natural hazards?
As a courtesy, the leaseholders should identify anything unusual that the leaseholder may have done to the lease. For example, the leaseholder may want to notify users of any non-standard fences that may be on the property.
Does the leaseholder need any additional liability insurance?
It is generally recommended that agricultural producers carry liability insurance whether it is private or public land.
What happens if there is a disagreement between the leaseholder and recreational user?
We encourage both leaseholders and recreational users to show respect for each other and the land. If there is a disagreement between the leaseholder and the recreational user, either party may contact a Lands office.
Lands staff may then discuss the concern with both the leaseholder and the recreational user to find a solution. Often this type of communication and/or mediation can help to resolve any issues. If agreement cannot be reached, a dispute resolution process is available to both parties, through a local settlement officer. The process is designed to be informal and flexible, with the goal of resolving the issue quickly and effectively.
What is a "local settlement officer" and how do I reach one?
This is a new role created under the legislation to address issues on recreational access. The position will be filled with current government staff who will be trained in dispute resolution. Call your local Lands Office to talk to a local settlement officer.
Who does the leaseholder call if somebody comes on the lease without contacting the leaseholder first?
If the leaseholder wants to clarify the intent of the regulations or the legislation, contact Lands. If, however, there is any threat of violence, call the RCMP immediately.
What are the penalties for contravening the new legislation?
The focus will be on providing information to leaseholders and recreational users to encourage respect and cooperation. Recreational users or leaseholders who contravene provisions related to recreational use may be subject to a fine of up to $2000, or the minister can require an administrative penalty be imposed.
Why do we need an exploration appeal process?
Grazing leaseholders previously had the right to deny access for exploration, which includes geophysical operations for oil and gas. There was no right of appeal for industry if they were denied access for exploration.
How will the new legislation change this situation?
All the current processes will continue until access consent cannot be obtained. At that point new dispute resolution processes become available.
If the dispute is related to operational or land use concerns, a local settlement officer can review it. If the dispute is related to compensation for access and damages, the Surface Rights Board can review the dispute and issue a right of entry order. In this way, the exploration activity is dealt with in a similar way as oil and gas development access.
What if an exploration approval holder and a leaseholder cannot agree on compensation?
The dispute can be dealt with by the Surface Rights Board, which can issue a compensation order for access or for loss or damages.
Can the leaseholder refuse access to an exploration company?
Yes, but under the new legislation if that happens, the company can go to the Surface Rights Board and apply for a right of entry order to explore on a grazing lease or farm development lease.
What happens if a leaseholder is concerned about environmental impacts of oil and gas exploration?
If the leaseholder has an operational or land use concern, which includes how far back the geophysical operations are from the groundwater source, the leaseholder can contact the local settlement officer and request the setback distance be reviewed before the exploration begins.
After a company has finished their exploration program on a lease, do they have to reclaim the disturbed area?
The company is required to complete reclamation under Alberta law.
Updated: Feb 8, 2017