For your inspiration! The following people have kindly let us post the letters they sent to elected officials about the community pastures. The letters come from people from very different backgrounds, who all share common sense and a love of the prairies!
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Dear Premier Brad Wall,
I am a resident of Alberta but, like many others, someone who spent formative years in Saskatchewan. You likely know of Wolf Willow, an important book written by Wallace Stegner. In that autobiographical book Stegner speaks of the power of landscape in the development of very young people. Saskatchewan affected me that way and I still consider your province a valued homeland. I am a frequent visitor and from 2000 to 2010 owned a small piece of property in the parkland ecotone of east central Saskatchewan.
As a naturalist and environmentalist and having once lived on a Saskatchewan farm and recently held property near public pastures, some of their values are evident to me. I fear that selling your public pasture lands to private interests would threaten those values. Besides the economic value of public pastures there is the very large value they offer to the citizens you represent, as well as to all Canadians, including generations yet to come. Conservation of public grassland holdings benefits not just the agricultural community but all of us since intact, healthy natural grassland communities support biodiversity. The flora and fauna of Saskatchewan, Canada, North America and beyond benefit by such parcels of land being looked after by governments for the good of the public. They have historical, esthetic, iconic values too.
I urge you to consider obtaining and carefully considering the input of your citizens in this matter. The Federal Government may opt for what they see as a quick and easy “solution” to a perceived problem of being involved with the administration of public lands. That doesn’t mean the Government of Saskatchewan must follow suit. Save your highly valuable public lands that are known as public pastures for the well being of Canadians both within and beyond your provincial borders.
Thank you for your attention to my input.
David L. Severson
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March 14, 2013
Dear Premier Wall,
I have written you previously about the issue of the former PFRA pastures, and know that you will pass response responsibility to Minister Stewart. But I hope that you will at least read my letter before you do.
One important issue is that these pastures do not serve only agricultural interests. Rather, the pastures in their current structure admirably combine agricultural, environmental, recreational, and historic/cultural benefits. This multi-benefit operation is possible because of the expert system-wide management that has evolved over the PFRA’s history. Your government’s current proposal, focused primarily on the agricultural benefits, seriously threatens the other benefits of the pastures. The pastures management challenge is thus how to optimize the benefits and minimize the costs to all of the interests, not just one at the expense of the others.
Research in behavioural economics indicates that there is a process that is more likely to accomplish such solutions, so please bear with me as I wax ‘academic’ for a moment. The decision-making of all individuals and groups is biased. Specifically, we pay more attention to, and consider more important, arguments that support options that intuitively appeal to us. This means that we really consider only half of the information available to us in any problem situation. However, we can protect ourselves from the consequences of this bias for important decisions by having people with different preferences discuss the merits of all options (see the attached paper by Greitemeyer et al.). This works because each group attends to the benefits of a different option, increasing everyone’s thinking about the pros and cons of each. The issue of pasture management is, I believe, one such important decision for the people of Saskatchewan.
I do appreciate the position that your government has been placed in. The federal government decided to return management of these lands to the province unexpectedly, and thus the expense of this management was not expected and is very difficult, given the tight provincial budget. Furthermore, the solution your government has proposed, selling or leasing the land to individual patrons or patron groups, who will then assume management of the individual pastures, has been widely and repeatedly reported in the press. Thus, any alteration to this plan will need to be handled carefully so as not to threaten your political reputation. However, in this regard, I sincerely hope that you do not take Grant Devine’s “you don’t say whoa in a mudhole” as your model, but rather John Maynard Keynes’ “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
As Trevor Herriot recently discussed in his Grass Notes blog (March 8, 3013), the multi-benefit professional management program that currently exists in the pastures costs something because it coordinates multiple benefits. The PFRA pasture managers enable sustainable grazing on thousands of acres of endangered ecosystems, while tending the sometimes conflicting habitat requirements of many species at risk. The pay-off for such management includes public goods such as soil conservation, water conservation, and carbon sequestration, in addition to the economic value of the cattle. The wise option would be to retain this management expertise that has been developed over 80 years, but it is unlikely that pasture patrons could pay for this on their own. Nor should they. Given the environmental, cultural, and recreational public benefits of good pasture management, there should also be some public contribution.
Since the federal announcement of the termination of the PFRA pasture program, several groups have formed to consider the management issue. Each of these groups focuses primarily on one of the benefits, but all are concerned with the multiple components and are working diligently, despite barriers of historic distrust, to develop management options that support the multiple pasture interests. The Community Pasture Patrons’ Association is most aware of agricultural needs and benefits, Public Pastures – Public Interest highlights the environmental and conservations needs and benefits, and the First Nations Joint Venture initiative brings the cultural and historical benefits to the table. Together, these groups can potentially achieve an optimal solution, as discussed above, if given enough time to present and process all perspectives. These groups are also sensitive to your government’s situation, and are seeking ways to enable extension of your public position without incurring reputation costs. For instance, in his March 8 blog, Herriot suggests that one potential solution would be to negotiate low-cost lease rates for patron groups so that each pasture could afford to employ a professional manager. In this case, the low lease rates would constitute the public contribution to pasture management, to ensure the continued public benefits provided by the pastures.
At this point, we, the citizens of Saskatchewan, need two things from your government – a commitment to retain the pastures as public lands to enable influence to protect public goods, and time to enable the respective groups to work together to develop an optimal management plan. With respect to the latter, we have requested a year. This would mean that the provincial government would assume the salaries of pasture managers for one year, but after that time management costs can be transferred to a private group developed from consultations with the above-mentioned interest groups. This issue provides the province of Saskatchewan with a great opportunity to lead the way in showing how mature, responsible, multi-interest problem solving can be accomplished. I believe that, with our history, Saskatchewan is uniquely positioned to show the world how this is done. Please enable this by retaining public ownership of the pastures, and giving the citizens’ groups 1 year to work together to develop a management solution that optimizes all of the benefits of the pastures.
Premier Brad Wall
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March 8, 2013
I am writing with regard the PFRA pastures in your province.
May I say at the outset I think it is totally unfair that the Federal Govt. returned the management of these pastures back to your province. I shall write a separate letter to Stephen Harper about this.
I am very concerned that your government wants to offer these for sale or lease to existing patrons. I feel this decision has been made in haste without due consideration.
Your PFRA pastures are among the best managed large blocks of native prairie grasslands left on our prairie. I hope you are proud of this fact. I spent some time last summer at Old Man On His Back Conservation Area near Cypress Hills and it is incredible and wonderful that this type of native area is being conserved – I know this is managed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada but I just am noting how precious land of this type is. Saskatchewan is lucky to have such grassland resources. Please note that my husband and I are Alberta residents who travel to Saskatchewan and spend tourist dollars because of the wonderful native prairie that you have.
I am not a scientific or ecological expert, but I do know that if these types of land blocks are not maintained there will be significant damage done to life on the prairie as we know it. To maintain them properly will require a comprehensive, long-term management agenda. This approach would need to be designed in consultation with a large number of stakeholders, including the pasture patrons, the First Nations folk, environmental groups, tourism groups, and the general public.
I am going to quote from an Eagles song: “There is no more new frontier. We have got to make it here.” That is how I feel. It is not good enough to quickly and thoughtlessly sell or lease these lands today, and then in 10 years throw up our hands and say “What have we done?” Why not take the time now to do this properly?
I would recommend:
– that the province retain ownership of the PFEA pastures
– that the province take time; at least give interested groups a year to complete their studies and recommendations
– that you consult with the various stakeholders so you have a complete picture of the breadth of the issue
– that eventually all stakeholders work together to develop a provincial management plan so the land will be well cared for on a long-term basis.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
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Hon. Stephen Harper,
March 8, 2013
Let me begin by saying I am one of your Calgary supporters and I agree with many positions that your Government takes.
I do not agree with what has been happening with the PFRA Community Pastures in Saskatchewan.
I understand that these lands have been managed by the Federal Government for over 75 years, since the Depression. I also understand that these blocks of native prairie grasslands have been extremely well managed, and are a model to other countries in how to manage land well.
Why then are these lands being turned over to the Saskatchewan Provincial Government, who is in turn thinking of selling or leasing them? We live in a world where there is much we cannot control, and often we have to tackle issues we would rather not. Why would you change the structure of something that is working beautifully? This is a threat to the fragile native grasslands that we should be proud to save and maintain. Perhaps you can explain your move to me.
I am not a scientific or ecological expert, but I do love the prairie, and I know that if these types of land blocks are not maintained there will be significant damage done to life on the prairie as we know it. To quote an Eagles song: “There is no more new frontier. We have got to make it here.” That is how I feel. It is not good enough to thoughtlessly shift and sell these lands today, and then in 10 years throw up our hands and say “What have we done?”
So I would ask you and your colleagues to reconsider what you have done, study this matter further, and perhaps consider reversing your decision. It is not too late to put funds into the 13/14 budget to continue this program.
Thank you for your consideration.
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An open letter to Hon. Lyle Stewart, Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture:
A few days ago I was in the crowd of PFRA pasture patrons to hear about your plans for the 1.8 million acres of federal pasture that was just dumped in your lap. I was very glad when you soon got over your first impulse to sell to the highest bidder and I hold nothing against you for speaking a little too quickly. But I am concerned that the land is still for sale at all.
You say the pastures must be sold to be fair to the taxpayer. Taxpayers collect no revenue now and will see absolutely no difference if the land is not sold. The Sask Party would however not see that nearly a billion dollar bump in general revenues that would make them look good.
You say that your department would never be able to handle the increase in administration. The land is budgeted and administered already. All that would happen is that those now doing the work would have a new boss. You may have to hire two new people at the Walter Scott building for a while, no big deal.
You also said that the pastures would be subject to a “no break, no drain” easement. Have you noticed what is happening between Saskatoon and Winnipeg? Land is regularly, unlawfully being drained by farmers, ranchers, and even RM councils. Sometimes good people get desperate. And sometimes people that don’t care a whit about the environment become Prime Minister and “de-protect” millions of waterways.
Cattle prices right now are pretty good but they are not great. With the high price of both land and feed it is certain that a large number of current patrons will not be able to finance the purchase of their traditional pasture. There are more than 1,800 pasture patrons right now but if title is sold I can see it becoming less than 50 owners in 50 years.
You have an opportunity Minister Stewart. Gerry Ritz did a rotten thing to you and to us by abrogating his responsibility but you have a chance to say, “That’s all right. We’ve got this one.” For the sake of the cattle producers, the environment, and the ongoing public good, it’s time to take this on and keep these pastures in the public sphere, available to cattle producers for now and the future.
Glenn Tait, NFU Region 6 Director
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Ladies and Gentlemen
For the benefit of the people in the future, generations past made sacrifices to preserve this little bit of land.
It has already been paid for, as many times as it has paid for itself.
Is our generation going to be the first in Saskatchewan’s history, that is too poor to share with our future?
Past investments were not made exclusively for balancing one budget.
These investments were made by people, for the people.
Please consider preserving our heritage, and the quality of life we are able to pass on.
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Dear Premier Brad Wall,
I am writing to you as a long time member and former director of Nature Saskatchewan, and presently as a director of the Saskatoon Nature Society, to express my concern about the future fate of Saskatchewan’s PFRA pasture lands.
Some of the last remnants of the original North America Great Plains reside in our publicly owned pastures. Several endangered species both fauna and flora have found refuge in these lands and without knowledgeable management would probably not survive.
These pasture lands form part of this province natural heritage. They should be preserved with the utmost care for they could never be replaced.
I would therefore urge you and your government to make certain that the Province of Saskatchewan retains ownership of the PFRA pastures and provide adequate funding for their adequate management.
In any event, whatever your Government contemplates concerning these pasturelands, I trust that full consultations with the public and First Nations would take place.
In the meantime, I would be most grateful to you if would acknowledge receipt of my concerns and, hopefully, give them due consideration.
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Hon. Stephen Harper – Prime Minister
Dear Prime Minister,
Last spring, the federal government announced that, after 80 years of successful operation, Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration’s (PFRA) Community Pasture Program ‘has met its objectives’ and will be shut down over the next five years. As part of the plan, the federal government is transferring 1.6 million acres of predominantly native prairie back to the care of the province.
The Dominion Lands Act of 1872 was designed to help settle the west. Homesteaders were given 160 acres of land under the condition that they build a residence and develop crops on a minimum of 10 acres in the first three years of occupancy. As we all know now, and probably should have known then, all land is not created equal. During the poor growing conditions and droughts of the 1930s, a lot of farmers were forced to abandon their dreams and leave their settlements. As a result, the government reclaimed large tracts of lands. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration was formed in 1935 in part to restore these degraded and abandoned parcels back to productive agricultural land.
Under PFRA management, land that had proven unsuitable for cropping was seeded back to grass. Together with large acreages of natural prairie, these areas were then carefully managed, through grazing, to prevent further erosion of the soil. These protected lands were made available to local livestock producers for a fee per cow/calf pair. The pastures were managed by the PFRA to ensure the health of the grazing stock as well as maintaining the health of the pasture and ensuring there were adequate water resources.
These sustainable agricultural practices developed over eighty years have resulted in an environmentally sound ecosystem which houses many native species of birds and wildlife, including thirty-one federally protected species at risk.
Recently I have seen ads on television touting the responsible stewardship of the federal government in regards to its rehabilitation of lands after resources have been extracted. It show the Canadian Government as responsible caretakers of this most precious resource the land, flora and fauna. I am wondering how you can reconcile last years decision regarding the PFRA with this perhaps erroneous advertising. In my eyes they are in exact opposition.
Alberta and Manitoba have managed to come up with solutions that retain public ownership of the pastures. Saskatchewan, where the majority of pastures are located, have to date not come to an agreement as to how these pastures should be managed. I urge you to continue funding the pasture program during the next five years, to ensure ongoing management of these vulnerable lands, or until such a time that an equitable and workable agreement can be reached among all stakeholders, the Provincial Government, First Nations, the pasture patrons who use the land for grazing, conservationists, industry and last but not least the general public, who are the owners of this land. As one of the owners of this land I would like to say “THIS LAND IS NOT FOR SALE.”
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Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Dec 7th, 2012
Re: Endangered species and privatization of native prairie in Community Pastures
Dear Mr Harper,
As a prairie native, born and raised on the land beneath the apex of Palliser’s Triangle, in the Rural Municipality of Progress, I’m deeply concerned over the the federal government’s decision to abolish Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Community Pasture Program ( formerly P.F.R.A.) and divest responsibility over OUR COMMUNITY PASTURES which contain the last vestiges of native prairie and the critical habitats of many rare and endangered species. The prairie grasslands, from shortgrass, to fescue, and aspen parklands are the most endangered ecosystems in North America.
A case in point : the R.M. of Progress (PFRA) Pasture and its sister pasture in the R.M of Mariposa contain critical historical habitat of the Whooping Crane. Under the International Migratory Bird Treaty, the government of Canada is legally obliged to protect this habitat and that of other migratory species.
These precious fragments of native prairie – all 1.6 million acres of it in our Community Pastures – belong to the citizens of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, and our Species at Risk Act, applies to these lands, on behalf of all Canadians. Privatization will invariably lessen protection and will contribute to the extinction of more species such as the Sage Grouse and the Sprague’s Pipit.
Please take note of the attached Yellow Poster, printed by the Government of Canada, and posted on the Progress and Mariposa pastures in 1922. We have the highest order of the country to protect these endangered species and the vital prairie habitats that support them in OUR pastures. I have had the great pleasure of working with the PFRA pasture managers and biologists. These able persons are the stewards of these lands and are highly committed to maintaining these habitats using scientific and practical techniques and state-of-the-art grazing practices. Left alone, private interests will only take care of themselves and their bottom lines.
Please help ensure that this critical remnant prairie and its many native species are protected in perpetuity.
James K. Finley