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Update on the Pastures and Grasslands: Threats, Current Status, What’s Next

28 Nov

Thanks to everyone who came out to the sold-out Grasslands premiere last Wednesday! If you’d like to see another excellent short film on the topic, check out Megan Lacelle and Kaitlyn Van De Woestyne’s video featuring a former PFRA cowboy.

In the meantime, an update on Saskatchewan’s Crown Grasslands and the PFRA pastures from Trevor Herriot, who spoke at the Grasslands premiere:

The Priceless Value of our Crown Grasslands

• Saskatchewan has lost a lot of its native prairie, as we all know—we have less than 21% of the old-growth grassland that was here with the buffalo and plains people for thousands of years.

• But we still have roughly 5 M hectares left—the trouble is most of that is in small bits of ten to fifty hectares here or there in isolated parcels; and most is privately owned. The good news is that around 30% of our grassland receives some kind of conservation or public oversight—either because it is owned by government or private conservation agencies.

• The very best public management of our grassland was done by the federal PFRA community pastures system. 728,000 hectares in 62 parcels in Sask., representing a big piece of our remaining native prairie, and some of the largest contiguous blocks that are big enough to function ecologically as grassland.

• It is widely accepted that our forests in the north need to remain under the Crown so we can ensure that we have at least a chance to serve the public interest in maintaining healthy forests.

• It should be the same with our Crown-owned grasslands—they are not just pastures for cattle production any more than a forest is only standing lumber.

• PPPI believes that our publicly owned grasslands are much more than merely grazing lands, though they are vital to the wellbeing of Saskatchewan’s cattle industry and have helped farmers stay diversified and helped the next generation of cattle producers get started.

• These grasslands are our shared heritage, stewarded for millennia by Indigenous people who, along with our ranchers and the rest of the public, deserve to have a voice in how they will be managed and used into the future.

Threats

• But in recent years, there has been increasing economic pressure to privatize our grasslands and reduce public oversight and regulation of how they are managed.

• It started with the threat in 2010 to sell off Saskatchewan’s Wildlife Habitat Protection Act lands, which have for decades been protected as important grassland and wetland habitat.

• Saskatchewan’s Lands Branch is now selling 738,000 hectares that were protected under the Act, retaining another 688,000 that they have determined to be of the highest ecological value.

• After that, in 2012, the Harper government announced that the Federal PFRA pastures would be transferred back to Saskatchewan. At first the Province said they would sell them.

PPPI’s formation

• The conservation community and many of the grazing patrons using the pastures objected strongly. And out of that concern, Public Pastures—Public Interest was formed–in fact it was this week, Agribition Week, two years ago when we were founded at a forum we held with conservationists, First Nations people and cattle producers.

• Since then, 46 organizations in Canada and the United States have endorsed our guiding principles of keeping our public grasslands in the public domain and advocating for ecologically sound management that will protect their natural and human heritage into the future.

• Our membership and the thousands of people who support our endorsing organizations believe that protection under the Crown will be placed at risk if we allow the land to be privatized OR if we allow the land to be managed in ways that do not serve the interest Saskatchewan people share in maintaining healthy grassland places.

Current status of PFRA grasslands

• So where are things at right now for those 62 pastures being transferred to the province?

• The good news is that the Province has listened to people’s concerns and shifted from selling the lands to leasing them out to the groups of grazing patrons. But they say that the pastures are still available for the patron groups to purchase. So far no takers and not a single acre has been sold.

• So we must remain vigilant to ensure that these ecologically critical grasslands are not removed from the Crown.

• The first ten pastures were transferred to the province this year and the responsibility for management was handed over to the grazing patron groups who will lease each pasture. After the initial difficulties of adjusting, most groups did well this year we are hearing.

• With lots of grass in a wet year like this and record prices for cattle, though, one season is not enough to measure the success of the transition. Only time will tell.

• For now, each pasture is using a paid manager, but with the financial arrangements they are working under that may be difficult to maintain over time.

• Experienced range managers and grassland conservationists are worried that in the long run the organizations of grazing patrons may for convenience sake or to cut costs just decide to cross-fence their pasture into smaller paddocks to let each patron graze according to his own plan. You get this piece and I get this piece, we all manage our own cattle.

Ecological Benefits of management for the public interest

• There are ecological benefits and long term range management values served by keeping the whole pasture managed together in a coherent system where all the patrons’ animals are co-mingled. That was the strength of the PFRA system and it ensured that the conservation values were maintained over the long run.

• Grassland ecologists will tell you that a wider array of native grassland dependent birds, for example, tend to do better on larger pastures that are not over-stocked or cross-fenced. When fenced pastures are small and the stocking levels high, some bird species will decline and the few that like short, heavily grazed land will survive.

Public access issue

• As well, the whole issue of public access remains to be seen. The patrons are being told they only lease the land during the grazing months. In fall and winter their lease does not apply. That provides access for hunters, but not for other uses.

• But they feel this is unfair because they are paying the same lease rates that individual leaseholders pay for Crown grassland that they control access to year round. So, understandably, the former PFRA patrons are saying “if we don’t get to control year-round access like private leaseholders do then why should we have to pay the same lease rates?”

• But for now at least, as I said, these wonderful expanses of native grass will remain in the public domain.

• But that also means that the public interest in the wellbeing of these lands and in having access to them—for research, for indigenous peoples’ hunting and medicine gathering, for recreation, birding and hunting—is still there and if anything stronger than ever.

• Which is also good news—the conservation community, our First Nations and Metis organizations, and heritage groups remain committed to ensuring that these lands are managed as well as they have been for the past 75 years under the PFRA.

• Managing land for these interests—and all the others such as the hundreds of archaeological sites, the 31 species at risk that use these lands, the soil and water conservation—is a responsibility that must be shared.

Manitoba approach is better

• By contrast, in Manitoba, where they also are putting their PFRA pastures through a transition, an entirely different approach is being used.

• The pastures are being handled together as a unitary system and they must follow rangeland management prescriptions (for invasive species, species at risk, grass management, aspen encroachment, etc.).

• A “Range Management Implementation Group” has been established with representation from provincial govt Ag and water and conservation agencies, the new Manitoba Association of Community Pastures, as well as from Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), and Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation has been established.

• This Range Mgt Group is currently designing the criteria, monitoring and reporting procedures that will be used for pasture management prescriptions in the future. When complete, these protocols will be applied by Manitoba Agriculture to prepare and administer the rangeland prescriptions for each pasture to ensure the ecological integrity of lands in the system is sustained.

• This is the direction we believe Saskatchewan should go, with the addition of bringing Aboriginal people to the table as well.

Public investment

• The public—you and I and all Canadians—invested our tax dollars into the good public stewardship of these lands for 75 years, so that the soil would be protected, the creeks and wetlands managed well, and the rare prairie plants, birds and other animals would have some refuge in habitat where the grazing would be applied in a unitary system of range management for long term ecological values.

• Of course, as we are regularly reminded, private leaseholders and landowners are often just as good at stewarding grassland. True, and public ownership is no guarantee of good stewardship. But good stewards get old and die. The cattle industry is, like much of modern agriculture, struggling to maintain its traditional stewardship values and to help younger producers get started—and of course community pastures, if they are run right, could help with that generational hand off.

• Public ownership can be a buffer against market forces and changes in land use that can threaten our native grasslands and the stewardship traditions of cow-calf ranching culture.

What’s next for PPPI?

• We must continue to monitor what happens to our community pastures to prevent any sales from taking place.

• As well, PPPI is looking for ways to connect the public interest in healthy well-managed grasslands with the ranchers desire to steward the land well—and to work government, with agricultural organizations and conservation groups to make that happen without undue levels of regulation and oversight.

• The public interest in supporting good stewardship practices may ebb and flow over time but, as long as land remains in the public domain, we have recourse as citizens to participate in the public process of how that land and its ecological values and heritage will be sustained and accessed.

• With your support PPPI intends to continue participating in that process to work on your behalf and on the behalf of those who do not have any representation or way to voice their interest in the health of our remaining grasslands.

Media on “Grasslands” Film

26 Nov

The stunning documentary GRASSLANDS by acclaimed filmmaker Ian Toews brings the sights and sounds of the wild prairie to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum auditorium in Regina on Wednesday November 26 at 7:30 pm. 

Ian Toews will be on the CBC Blue Sky noon hour Radio program today. http://www.cbc.ca/bluesky/

The Leader-Post also has an interview with Toews.

“For some reason, the whole picture of how … the North American prairie was a beautiful, flowing mass of grasslands, and what it used to be and what it is now, I thought about it but I never really gave it deep thought,” he said.

An appreciation and a captivation, though, slowly crept over the filmmaker as he learned of the bison reintroduction program at Grasslands National Park.

Once numbering in the tens of millions, bison populations were decimated to near-extinction. A park program initiated in 2005 has resulted in the animal’s population creeping up to about 370 in recent years.

“This was one (film) that just seemed like it needed to be made at this point in my career,” said Toews.

Saskatoon Event of Interest

29 Oct

Seminar in Environment and Sustainability – “What Sustains the ‘Unconventional Energy Revolution’ in Saskatchewan?”
Emily Eaton, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Geography
University of Regina
1:30 pm, Friday, October 31, 2014
Room 144, Kirk Hall
Abstract: Saskatchewan is now the country’s second largest oil producing province, with its recent boom attributable in significant part to unconventional oil extraction. This presentation focuses on the development of the province’s tight oil reserves through hydraulic fracturing, one such unconventional technology. I argue that, unlike other jurisdictions across Canada, and indeed internationally, there is little public debate about and social resistance to fracking in the province resulting in a lax regulatory environment. Lack of regulation has accelerated the fragmentation of native prairie, led to the loss of water from the hydrological cycle, proliferated spills and leaks and compromised air quality. I conclude that these social and regulatory silences are significant in sustaining Saskatchewan’s unconventional energy boom.
All are welcome to attend.
For more information, contact the School of Environment and Sustainability at
966‐1985 or sens.info@usask.ca

Resources Page updated!

28 Apr

Our Resources page now contains maps of the pastures and links to provincial government documents on pasture transition. Also, check out the new video on the Videos page: a talk by Brant Kirychuk, Manager of Leasing and Sales, Lands Branch, Saskatchewan Agriculture, on March 19, 2014 on the pasture transition.

 

Earth Day News! Species at Risk Factsheet

25 Apr

MEDIA RELEASE

EARTH DAY: PRESERVE PASTURES FOR NATIVE SPECIES AND PEOPLE

REGINA, SK: Public Pastures – Public Interest is honouring Earth Day by publicly releasing a factsheet on Species at Risk on the PFRA pastures.
The pastures are home to over 30 officially designated Species at Risk – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants that are in danger of becoming extinct in Canada.

“Keeping the pasturelands public will help ensure that we can put provisions in place to maintain the habitat that preserves these species for future generations”, said Trevor Herriot, co-chair of PPPI.

The pastures also provide ecological benefits, such as carbon sequestration by the grasses and other plants, and filtering and purifying water.
And, the pastures are also important to people.

“In addition to cattle ranchers, residents of the province utilize and enjoy the use of the pastures”, said Lorne Scott, PPPI co- chair. “This includes hunters, photographers, First Nations, researchers and the general public on educational tours”.

“PFRA Community Pastures have been a significant asset to rural Saskatchewan for decades”, noted Herriot. “Detrimental effects to the pastures would mean that the way of life for the small ranchers, their families and communities is threatened. Privatizing the pastures could mean that First Nations people would not be able to access the lands for hunting and gathering that is their right on Crown lands,” noted Herriot. “In some ways the way of life for the ranchers and the people that practice an Indigenous traditional ways can also be considered at risk.”

“People and animals are part of an inter-related earth community. And the community pastures are a rare opportunity to protect wild species, ecosystems and local economies in a sustainable and healthy community.”

Further Information:
Public Pastures—Public Interest, public4pastures@gmail.com, cell 306-515-0460
Trevor Herriot, trevorherriot@gmail.com , home 306-585-1674
Lorne Scott, lorne.scott@sasktel.net , home 306-695-2047, cell 306-695-745

 

Vancouver Sun article stresses management aspect of pastures issue

30 Jan

The Vancouver Sun has picked up on the community pasture issue. Protected grassland faces uncertain future.

“Largely, it’s going to be very, very difficult under patron governance to replicate the environmental stewardship,” said Ian McCreary, chair of the Community Pasture Patrons Association of Saskatchewan, which represents the users of most of the province’s community pastures.

He said increased fees and management responsibility could cause some fields to fail altogether and that farmers in fields that survive may try to take on the manager’s role themselves to save money.

Both scenarios could be hugely detrimental to the grasslands, Herriot said. Fields left ungrazed become derelict and cattle farmers managing the fields themselves won’t be able to provide the land with the protection it needs.

Saskatoon Event: “Saskatchewan Grasslands – a Vanishing Landscape?

15 Jan

Illustrated talk “Saskatchewan Grasslands – a Vanishing Landscape?”

Friday, January 24, 2014 at 2 pmMT-3804-1277

Frances Morrison Public Library in Saskatoon, 311 – 23rd Street East

Temperate grasslands are one of the most altered and modified landscapes in the world. Recent economic and social changes in the Prairie Provinces are driving a rapid shift in the type of land use, with industrial agriculture and development negatively impacting the remaining prairie habitat. Join Saskatoon photographer Dr. Branimir Gjetvaj on a journey of discovery of our diminishing prairie landscapes.

For more information visit: http://branimirphoto.ca/public-presentations-and-shows

PPPI – A Year in Review

25 Nov

People often ask how things are going with the effort to secure a good future for the PFRA pastures. We started on this journey on November 23 last year so it is time to look back on what has happened during those twelve months. With all that has happened, PPPI believes that the CPPAS approach of an overall provincial management plan for all the pastures will ensure the best outcomes for all stakeholders, including the public. Producers should not be expected to cover the costs associated with enhancing and protecting public goods. That said, we have much to celebrate!

1.       Virtually all of the land will remain publicly owned for the time being.

2.       The pastures will not be subdivided.

3.       If any is sold it will be to pasture patron groups and only with a conservation easement

4.       The penalties and enforcement system for Crown land sold with an easement has been markedly improved

5.       Access for hunting and naturalists/scientists will not be changed

6.       More Saskatchewan people and Canadians know what a PFRA pasture is and why they matter.

7.       Groups with an interest in the pastures from various angles are now sharing ideas about the future of the pastures. To date, 46 Saskatchewan, Canadian and international organizations have endorsed the PPPI principles.

8.       The Province has repeatedly given assurances that species at risk and biodiversity will be protected.

We intend to stick with this journey, because the investment Canadians have made in the PFRA pastures is too important to be lost. The work of PPPI in the coming months will focus on:

–          Continuing our discussions and communications with First Nations, cattle producers and others concerned about the pastures

–          Encouraging the Province to maintain the same stocking rates and public access to the pastures

–          Research on carbon sequestration

–          Looking at issues of controlling invasive species

–          Ensuring methods for monitoring species at risk

–          Monitoring the talks between the Province and the first five pasture committees to transition

 

No federal plan for biodiversity, environment watchdog warns

7 Nov

Some sad news about the state of protection of biodiversity in Canada – with implications for the former PFRA pastures.

From the International Convention on Biological Diversity, to the state of Canada’s National Parks, to plans to save Canada’s 518 species at risk, Maxwell noted a “pattern of unfulfilled commitments and responsibilities” that appear to be the result of departments with too many demands and too few resources.

Full story here.

Bird Watch Canada article

17 Oct

Bird Watch Canada magazine contains topical feature articles about the world of birds. Prairie Grasslands in Peril? by Laura Stewart is the cover story for the Fall issue, and discusses the threat to birds under regulatory changes in Saskatchewan, including changes to the PFRA pasture system.