Wednesday, July 22, 2015

77 wind turbines at Chaplin Lake will place birds at risk

The Endangered Piping Plover will be even more endangered if
the Chaplin wind farm goes ahead (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons


It is nearly impossible to keep abreast of the threats to our prairie wildlife that arise each week. I hear or read about some fresh mayhem to be spread upon the land and then I hear of another imminent disaster and the first one slips my mind.

Some time ago I read in the paper that the province had approved a large wind farm project to be constructed at Chaplin Lake. I read the article over a couple of times, thinking at first there must be another Chaplin Lake. Surely Environment Canada and Saskatchewan's Environment ministry would not approve a wind farm near the Chaplin Lake, the one that is an internationally recognized migration stopover for a million or more birds each spring and fall, the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve, the Birdlife International Important Bird Area, the place where one-third of North America's Sanderlings feed each year on their way north, where several species at risk nest, including nearly 4% of the planet's Piping Plovers.

Now, like most people, I like the idea of wind energy. There are some big environmental benefits to be had with wind, but they can easily be negated if the siting is wrong.

as many as 40,000 to 50,000 Sanderlings
have been seen at one time at Chaplin


Still not quite believing our environmental agencies are that far gone, however, I looked for more details online.

I found a "Terms of Reference for Environmental Impact Statement" drafted by Stantec Engineering for Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment, and paid for by the private company building the wind project.

The plan, indeed, is to erect 77 massive wind turbines just north of the Chaplin Lake reserve and start operating in 2016. Here is a map showing the area affected by the turbines.



I also found a slide show put together by Stantec for an open house in 2014, in which they reassure everyone that there is a very low risk to birds.

I not convinced. Why? First, because people who have worked for these consulting companies have told me how frustrated they are knowing that the work they do is not sufficient to assess the risk to the habitat and species concerned. They put in the hours and do their best, but in the end they know that their research is just not up to the job.

Second, independent grassland biologists have told me in confidence that no scientist would take the research of companies like Stantec seriously; that their "science," often conducted by people with undergrad degrees in biology, is bogus; and that they are sent out to do a minimal amount of field work in studies that are not properly designed--all to jump through the hoops and satisfy the Environmental Impact Assessment requirements, which in this province have proven again and again to do very little to protect our environment.

To properly ascertain the threat to birds that nest in the native grassland where the turbines will go and to the waterbirds that use the wetlands at Chaplin, you would need several skilled field technicians on the ground for at least a couple of years, spring, summer and fall. What's more, their data gathering methodology would have to be designed by a qualified scientist to ensure that it has some integrity and rigour. If Stantec's "research" at Chaplin were ever submitted to a refereed journal on avian ecology my guess is that it would be promptly filed under "G" (garbage or greenwashing, take your pick).

Seventy-seven turbines sited next to a globally significant shorebird reserve, but not to worry. The presentation by Stantec states that "WTGs [wind turbine generators] present low collision risks to shorebirds."

Gee, they better have that right because hundreds of thousands of shorebirds head directly north of Chaplin every spring. Are they all going to dodge the gauntlet of whirring blades?

Let's see what another study says on shorebird mortality--a study that is not paid for by a wind farm company. A Montana study sponsored by The Nature Conservancy (totally independent from the Nature Conservancy of Canada) looked into how best to site wind farms in that state without hurting prairie ecology. (Hmm--what a great idea.) Here is what they said about shorebirds and wind turbines:

"Stewart et al. (2007) reviewed numerous avian and wind studies and noted that birds in the order Charadriiformes (shorebirds) were among those most impacted by wind energy globally (second only to waterfowl)."

Go the executive summary of that paper by Stewart et al and you find this statement which mentions the high risk to shorebirds and also calls into question the often slap-dab approach used to assess risk for birds:

"Windfarms may have significant biological impacts, especially over longer time scales, but the evidence-base is poor, with many studies being methodologically weak, and more long-term impact assessments are required. There is clear evidence that Anseriformes (wildfowl) and Charadriiformes (shorebirds) experience declines in abundance, suggesting that a precautionary approach should be adopted to windfarm development near aggregations of these taxa. . . ."  

Now, this is the point at which proponents will argue that, while wind farms may kill some birds, high rises and roads kill many more. This is dubious logic at best, in part because we have far more buildings and roads than we have wind turbines on the landscape. Also, we generally try to keep glass high rises and roads out of internationally important bird migration and breeding habitat.

Wind power is a great thing--we need wind farms, but why site them on native prairie in a place through which great multitudes of birds move each year? In a single day there can be as many as 73,000 shorebirds pass through Chaplin.

We have all kinds of windy landscapes in this province where there is little habitat to attract birds--we call it cropland. A lot of our cultivated landscape is an ecological desert--birds stay away in the thousands and go to places like Chaplin. There is no good reason to site a wind farm in native grassland next to a wetland of international significance. Period.

The conclusion of the Montana study is instructive here:
"We estimate that in total about 17 million acres of available good-to-superb wind energy potential exists within Montana. Of that total, we have identified roughly 7.7 million acres with high risk [for wildlife]. We strongly suggest that these areas be avoided as locations for wind energy development, rather than considering mitigation approaches, as the lands identified are often critical habitat for multiple species. Through our analysis we have identified about 9.2 million acres that most likely present a lower risk of impact to resident and breeding species. This total includes the roughly 4.4 million acres of cropland we noted earlier in the report." 

Anyone can see that this just makes sense.

Here are some more photos of the shorebirds that come to Chaplin each year and will be placed at risk by the wind farm if it goes ahead:



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Photo gallery: watching the birds of Saskatchewan's native grassland


Earlier this month photographer Branimir Gjetvaj and I spent a couple of days driving and walking through parts of the province's southwest. Ed Rodger, who is Nature Saskatchewan's Important Bird Area (IBA) caretaker for a big stretch of grassland in that region, joined us. Fire bans kept us off the three big PFRA community pastures in Ed's IBA, but we drove the roads on their margins, and spoke to the manager of Govenlock pasture and the manager of Battle Creek pasture.  By the time we turned north to drive home we had seen a lot of grassland managed very well by both private and public managers.

On our drive south we passed a spot where a landowner had just begun plowing a pasture of native grass, a few miles north of Maple Creek. People in Saskatchewan Agriculture often say that no one plows native grass any more. Folks who live in the southwest and are concerned about the remaining native grass will tell you otherwise. (That is Branimir in the photo taking much better images.)


Camping at NCC's (Nature Conservancy of Canada) Old Man on His Back (OMHB) headquarters, we were surrounded by Common Nighthawks  (threatened species on the Species at Risk list) roosting on corral rails during the day waiting for the dusk sky to bring the insects out. I counted 13 on the rails during the day.



Another threatened bird we found at OMHB and at several other locations was the loggerhead shrike. This one was at the home of Sue Dumontel, who works for NCC.


The most abundant bird at OMHB and on many other grasslands we travelled through was the threatened Chestnut-collared Longspur.


The second most numerous songbird was the Baird's Sparrow--here are two shots


But the Sprague's Pipit (threatened) was almost as common. This is one of only three times I have seen a pipit on the ground so I am including this photo even though it is very poor.


My favourite bird moment of the trip was watching this Long-billed Curlew (threatened) in Arena Community Pasture (provincial), a lovely grassland of rolling hills west of OMHB.


We also found a few Ferruginous Hawk nests. At the road side in Govenlock PFRA community pasture we found a pair nesting atop a small building.


We conducted a nightjar survey one evening on a trail that started in OMHB and then passing through Arena community pasture.

Here is a really nice photo Branimir took of Ed and I listening to nighthawks as the sun set through a smoky sky.

image courtesy of Branimir Gjetvaj (branimirphoto.com)

During the survey we recorded several nighthawks and had a good look at a Burrowing Owl (endangered), one of Canada's rarest breeding birds. Here is a photo and a short video of the owl.






Thursday, June 25, 2015

Photo gallery: the birds and landscapes of spring, 2015



Here are some photos of things that have caught my attention in May and June this year:
At Point Pelee we had long looks at this very famous and reliable
Rufous-phased Eastern Screech Owl








      

 

The breeding Prothonotary Warblers of Pelee Island where I attended the
Springsong Bird Festival again as guest birder, helping Graeme Gibson and
Margaret Atwood celebrate Canada's birds of spring.





 






Scarlet Tanagers lit up the Carolinian Woods on the island and
at Point Pelee
back home I visited the Spy Hill-Ellice PFRA Pasture
straddling the Sask/Manitoba border, working on a new
book with photographer Branimir Gjetvaj


    
This pasture is a wonderful piece of Aspen Parkland prairie and had
great expanses of Three-flowered Avens in bloom


   
Tufts of spear grass at dawn on the Spy Hill-Ellice PFRA pasture








 Yellow Lady Slippers in mid-June when we find them in ditches and
 nowhere else.

















A calm morning on Cherry Lake

















On windy days we see this large floating island of
cattails venture out across the lake and back again before settling
against the shore again until the next big blow.

















A Cliff Swallow decided to renovate and take over an old barn swallow nest under
the eave of our cabin. Odd to see this colonial species all alone.


















 
















A strange sight on my Tyvan Breeding Bird Survey last week--
Ed Rodger and I found six Pronghorns near the town of Francis,
on a cultivated field, far from any native grass. A buck and five does.




  

                                                      








Thursday, June 18, 2015

Making good on ecological goods: grassland carbon offsets?


Native prairie sequesters a lot of carbon so why can't landowners be paid for protecting it? (Image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood)


Today an article on carbon sequestration in grassland came my way thanks to rancher and biologist Sue Michalsky. The story was posted on the website for Alberta Farmer Express and it is worth a look.

The writer, a range manager and mixed-farmer named Jill Burkhardt, opens by mentioning the provincial carbon offset program out of which many of Alberta’s no-till farmers receive payments. Now, of course, native grassland does a much better job of sequestering atmospheric carbon than even the best conservation tillage system so Jill asks a natural question: “why aren’t landowners with pasture getting paid for their contribution?”

I have wondered the same thing so I posed the question once to a lawyer who has done some work on carbon offset or carbon credit programs. He said that carbon credit systems depend on a protocol that can measure and prove what he calls “additionality.”

Additionality asks the seller of the carbon credits the following question: is the activity providing the carbon sequestration or emission reduction something that would happen even if it were not being used as an offset project? I.e. would it have happened anyway? If the answer is yes, then there is no additionality and nothing that can be legitimately sold as a carbon credit.
Sagebrush prairie (image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood)

This means that native grassland that has been well managed by a single family for generations would not really be seen as providing any additional carbon sequestration, yet someone who buys a piece of broken land might theoretically be eligible for some credits if he plants it to perennial cover, because suddenly that piece of land would be sequestering a measurable increase in carbon.

I realize that that just seems wrong in a whole lot of ways so it is tempting to think maybe we can just ignore this additionality thing and go ahead and establish a carbon credit payment system for people who hold title to native grassland.

Maybe, but not likely. Governments that signed the Kyoto accord have to follow something called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a strict mechanism that is under increasing pressure from scientists and environmentalists to ensure that carbon offset programs, among other instruments, are legitimate and provide an actual net benefit.

Many ecologists and scientists—including Pope Francis in his new Encyclical on the planet’s ecological crisis (see point 171 in this pdf of the encyclical)—have criticized carbon offsets, saying they do not reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions (see this article inThe Guardian).
                                                                                           
If additionality is a deal-breaker—and I think it is—then we are going to need to find a protocol that somehow measures and demonstrates real additional benefit with enough rigor to satisfy the accountants of the carbon offset world.

I am not sure how we can do that, but let’s hope there are some agile economic minds out there working on this very question, because it is indeed a challenge that besets the overall effort to compensate and recognize ranchers for their good stewardship. Whether it is carbon offsets or biodiversity offsets, we need real accountability for real and measurable benefits—anything less could backfire on us all in more ways than one.
image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood




Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sheri Grant: A rancher’s photo album



at the Grant Ranch (all images copyrighted by and with
permission of Sherri Grant)
I spend a lot of time--some would say too much--talking about the forces that threaten the survival of Canada’s remaining native grassland, and a fair bit of my concern is based on a fear that those forces will make it harder for private ranching stewards to continue protecting the prairie.

(Not everyone would agree on what those forces are but here are the ones I would list: 1. the oil and gas industry, 2. agricultural policy that does not recognize the heritage and ecological values of native grassland, 3. economic pressures driving increased stocking rates; 4. ranchette development; 5. Privatization of public grasslands, 6. Miscommunication and division between rancher-stewards and scientists and conservationists, 7. the development of new crops that can be grown on marginal and sub-marginal lands, and 8. Lack of government funding for retaining range management specialists.)

The best cure for that worry is to talk to a rancher who pays attention to the birds and the plants on his ranch. These folks, and their culture of protecting the grass, form the linchpin of prairie conservation. If we expect the grass and its rare creatures to remain, the first job of our public policy on native grassland conservation should be to find ways to protect and support the kind of private management our best stewards provide. Government agencies and conservation groups simply do not have and will never have the resources to replace the stewardship role played by the many private cattle producers who know their land intimately and when and where and how much to graze.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Sherri Grant, who, with her husband Lynn and brother-in-law Dean, raises 1,600 head of cattle on more than 11,000 hectares of land near Val Marie, Saskatchewan. She had taken a couple of bird photos and wanted to confirm the identifications she had made. I replied and mentioned that I had interviewed Lynn many years ago for a CBC Ideas radio documentary I wrote on grassland birds.

Then, a week later this lovely shot of a grasshopper sparrow landed in my in-basket.
one of my favourite grassland birds--Sheri managed to catch the bit of green at the bend of its wing




This photo was clearly of a different order so I checked on Google and found her website . Turns out Sherri is a serious photographer and has a gallery of impressive images of flowers, landscapes and wildlife, all available for purchase online. That was when I wrote her again and asked if she would let me show some of her photos here on Grass Notes.

“First and foremost I am a rancher,” Sherri wrote in an email she sent, along with permission to borrow a few photos from her gallery, after returning from the Saskatchewan Stockgrowers Meeting in Swift Current earlier this week.

She says her passion for agriculture led her to become involved in agricultural education. She created a website of beef industry resources for teachers as well as the photographs and design for a children’s book, “Where Beef Comes From”.

Sherri took up photography when she heard complaints about the lack of beauty in her part of the province. She started by photographing local flowers on the native pastures where she lives and soon had a photographic collection of more than 70 species.

Here is a sampling of the photos she takes (click on any of them to see a larger version), but please pay a visit to Sherri’s website where she shares her images: www.sherrigrant.zenfolio.com

Calving time: Lynn out in the winter dawn light to help a calf in trouble















A bull snake, one of the reptiles found on native prairie
















Gumbo evening-primrose (Oenothera caespitosa Nutt.), a flower that transforms
 from pink to white as it blooms by day


















Smooth blue beardtongue (Pentstemon nitidus) one of the showiest of blooms
in the Frenchman River Valley














the future of prairie stewardship, heading for the buttes

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Stockgrowers' Resolutions against Land Trusts, Conservation easements, and SAR legislation


image from South of the Divide Conservation Action Program
Reading through the latest issue of the Saskatchewan Stockgrowers Association (SSGA) magazine, I came across a list of new resolutions that they will be considering at their annual convention and AGM in Swift Current on June 7th to 9th .

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Several of the resolutions to be debated surprised me because they seem to run counter to the conservation ethic that the SSGA and most cattle producers generally support. Now, of course, these resolutions may well not be passed, but here are two of them that are going to leave SSGA’s partners in conservation scratching their heads:
Resolution #5 WHEREAS public funds are being forwarded to the Nature Conservancy of Canada from the federal and provincial governments. BE IT RESOLVED that the SSGA lobby the federal and provincial governments to cease financial support to the Nature Conservancy of Canada and other ENGO’s for the purpose of purchasing agricultural lands.



Resolution #6 WHEREAS conservation easements held in perpetuity devalue property and do not recognize future considerations. BE IT RESOLVED that the SSGA lobby the federal and provincial governments to revise The Conservation Easements Act to make conservation easements no longer than twenty five years.

Another resolution calls for changes to the Species at Risk Act.

Regardless of whether these resolutions get any traction at the AGM, it seems fair to say that they are a sign that an undetermined number of cattle producers do not like some of the primary tools we commonly use to protect native grassland and its species for the public good they represent. Conservation easements, species at risk legislation, and land trusts that purchase habitat are three legs of a four-legged platform that conservation NGOs and government agencies use to protect at least a few pieces of our remaining native grasslands (only 17 to 21% is left in Saskatchewan) into the future.

Before describing the fourth leg, it needs to be recognized that private cattle producers themselves have always applied their own platform of protection based on a culture and tradition of stewardship passed down from one generation to the next. This important platform of native grassland protection, practiced primarily in the southwest of the province, is what carried much of our remaining large pieces of mixed grass and moist mixed-grass prairie into the twenty-first century.

meadowlark nest

However—and this is where some people, conservationists and ranchers, for different reasons, may part ways with me—there was another factor that helped keep a few large tracts of native grass intact. What I am referring to here is the bargain struck between public and private interest on Crown native grassland.

The beauty of keeping grassland in the public domain and leasing it out to private cattle producers is that it leaves room for public policy to help with the handoff of land stewardship from one producer’s lifetime to his successor while ensuring that over time the land will not be significantly altered.

We all are drawn to the romantic ideal of the lone cattleman taking care of his native range far from the eyes of regulation and government. It has a strong emotional appeal and we all know examples to prove the theory. But the chink in the armour of entrusting grassland conservation entirely to the culture of private rancher stewardship is that even the best steward will die some day and he or she may not have an apprenticing child to takeover the legacy. Crown ownership or ownership by an NGO such as NCC allows us to retain an element of public involvement that allows the native grass to stay right side up regardless of how heavily or lightly the next leaseholder chooses to graze.

In my mind, the public plays a vital role in ensuring that our last remnants of native grass do not become ranchettes or cultivated fields, by providing a fourth leg shared by the two platforms of conservation maintained by NGOs and government agencies on the one side and private ranchers on the other. The individual cattle producer needs affordable lease rates and programs that help them sustain the ecological goods and services produced on rangeland, while the public and conservation groups need grazing animals and their managers to provide the kind of disturbance essential to healthy grassland diversity. This is the basis for grassland conservation that is working in various forms and to varying degrees of success all over the prairie landscapes of North America—on community pastures, National Grasslands, provincial and national parks, leased public lands, and public grazing reserves: our remaining grassland commons.

Somehow, somewhere along the way many of Canada’s cattle producers have lost faith in that leg of their conservation platform connecting them to the public interest. They no longer see Crown land or land owned by conservation NGOs as the ground where private and public interests can converge to do the best job of protecting our native grass and its many rare creatures.

This is why we hear that the leadership of the SSGA and the Saskatchewan Cattleman’s Association both would like to see community pastures and other Crown grasslands up for sale. It may also be the reason why the SSGA is entertaining resolutions that oppose conservation easements, the Species at Risk Act, and NCC’s purchase of native grassland.

All of which is fine, if they have a better idea, if they have a plan for protecting our dwindling native grasslands for future generations. Relying entirely on the goodwill and stewardship of the rancher tradition is not a plan. While we can say that the ethos of the private rancher protected the grass we still have in hand, there is the matter of the other 80 per cent of the native prairie in this province that disappeared when we placed it entirely in the hands of private landowners.

So, if we are to abandon Crown ownership of land and public involvement in the stewardship of native prairie, then what is the plan? How would those who drew up the SSGA resolutions propose that we replace Species at Risk legislation, land trust purchase of land, and conservation easements?

I would love to hear some thoughts from cattle producers on how we could make those changes and somehow do a better job of protecting our precious native prairie.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

More on prairie trails: unregulated ATVs and unmanaged access


The posters promised “22 miles of scenic trails.” That sounds nice. Where? In Saskatchewan’s beautiful Pipestone Valley, a long and winding oasis of native grass in the southeast of the province where almost all of the surrounding land is cultivated.

But this is not public land and it might be a little noisy for a quiet prairie walk anyway. The twenty-two miles of trails have been made for quads, motocross bikes and all manner of recreational vehicles. Every April five to seven hundred quads (or all terrain vehicles) gather at this stretch of the Pipestone Valley near the town of Wawota to hold a “quad rally.”

Five to seven hundred. Five quads can make a mess of a riparian area along a stream--we see it on our land every summer. If you want to see what hundreds of quads can do, take a look at this Youtube video of the Wawota Lions Quad Derby (yes, the local Lions club sponsors it as a fundraiser) held on April 25th this year.

Slide forward to 0:52 in the video and you will see a 30 second shot of the Pipestone Creek, perhaps a quarter-mile length of its vegetation and banks turned into black mud. Then take a look at the aerial shot in this second video, at the 3:48 mark after the ad is finished running (clearly these videos are getting their share of clicks).

Images like these are appalling to those who see our last small remnants of native prairie as representing some of the rarest old growth ecologies on the continent and deserving of our care and respect, but, of course, this is privately-owned land and that means here in the wild west you can do what you like with an ecosystem if the Land Titles office says you own it.

However, the Pipestone Creek itself is not private property. It is a bona fide stream with several species of fish, birds, amphibians and aquatic invertebrates, draining almost 4,000 square kilometres of Aspen Parkland prairie (most of it cultivated) into the Souris River. Our Provincial Environment Ministry and perhaps the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans have a responsibility to protect it as part of the waters we share and steward as public commons. How is that working out? Is there any regulation or policing of this kind of activity in a riparian area and the stream bed itself?

Well, apparently, the RCMP are usually on hand for the rally--not to protect the land or its non-human residents, mind you, but to protect the seven hundred people from one another.

But this year, the tenth anniversary of the Wawota event, something happened. A Saskatchewan Conservation Officer spoke to the organizers of the event and told them that they are violating conservation regulations. He let them know that he could charge them. He chose not to in the end, but now the Lions’ Club is considering its options and may cancel the rally for next year. When some of the faithful heard this, though, they launched a twitter campaign and a petition on Change.org, which has 1200 signatures. They are appealing to the Premier and the Province to save the Wawota Quad Rally.

While there is a fringe of extreme quad owners who will argue they should have a right to muck up a creek bed or native grassland because they are just having good clean fun, there are many more pragmatists even in conservation circles who will say that to minimize this kind of activity you have to keep it to a few pieces of land where the owners give their permission. Then, presumably, other places both private and public, can be protected, because all or most of the quad activity is restricted to a few sacrifice zones.

That sounds plausible, but in the real world, it is not working that way. Some of the people who go to these rallies--and there are many of them—return home to pursue their hobby on provincial Crown lands and on private farmland and pastures, spreading the ecological destruction onto new trails beyond the sacrifice zones.

unauthorized ATV users on our neighbour's land resting after they destroyed a beaver dam

This is a big unregulated problem that is only going to get worse. In Saskatchewan, somewhere between seven and eight thousand of these all-terrain vehicles are sold each year. It goes without saying that not everyone who owns a quad behaves badly, and some of the folks at the Wawota rally would no doubt be responsible ATV operators, but all it takes is a small number of yahoos to make a mess of hiking trails in our Provincial Parks, to destroy a stretch of creek bed or a hillside of native grassland on our private and Crown lands.

the garbage we collect regularly from ATV users


Farmers and hunters use quads responsibly for the most part, but they too are getting tired of seeing the damaged habitat. They will tell you their stories of disrespectful quad drivers cutting fences, chewing up trails, tearing apart beaver dams to play in the gush of water. On our pasture south of Indian Head we have had all of that. At times I have had to stand on the trail to put a halt to a local ATV poker derby with dozens of quads coming across our property.

water running out of the beaver dam after the ATVs left


Earlier this spring I heard a second hand story that came from a rancher I know from the Val Marie area. He is a member of the group of community pasture patrons who were more or less coerced into forming a grazing corporation to take over management of the Lone Tree community pasture on the Montana border.

Now this fellow is not one to complain or kick up a fuss, but he is worried. During the last seventy-some years of federal management of Lone Tree, access was controlled and no one could just drive onto the land with quads and trucks. There were clear regulations and a department to back them up, including a full time manager in residence with keen eyes for anything out of place.

As of last year, that system of oversight is gone. In early April, the rancher happened to be at Lone Tree and caught a group of men on quads who were driving over the pasture collecting antler sheds left behind by the elk and mule deer that winter there. Fire is a constant threat on grassland this far south and ranchers live in fear of a truck or quad muffler causing a big spring conflagration and eating up thousands of acres of grass.

He explained his concerns and asked them politely to not enter the pasture without permission. Their response? “We were told this isn’t a community pasture any more so those rules don’t apply.”

Unfortunately, there is some truth in that statement. The old rules protecting the pasture don’t apply. What is needed now are some new rules and government support, both for access to these lands and for ATV use in general.

Respectful and managed public access is important for all of our public lands, but if Saskatchewan’s provincial government does not wake up to see that they have responsibility for the ecological wellbeing of the 1.6 million acres of grassland being handed over to the province, we will see more unmanaged access at its worst, and the former PFRA pastures could become the latest ATV sacrifice zones.

ATVs are not going away any time soon, but we need to start licensing and regulating their use. From what I hear, the people who run the Saskatchewan ATV Association are reasonable folks who also want the Province to step in and work with stakeholders to develop a full set of guidelines, including licensing--an important first step that almost every other province in Canada took long ago.

Children and adults die on ATVs every year in this province and yet we have no rules on how these vehicles are used; streams and rivers and native prairie on Crown land and First Nations’ property (take a look at the Little Arm/Kinookimaw area by Regina Beach) are being destroyed every day and there are no serious penalties enforced, no licenses to trace when someone violates a law.

There is an opportunity here to do something good. The Conservation Officer who took a stand at the Wawota rally needs someone to back him up. And that doesn’t just have to be his department or ministry; it doesn’t just have to be conservationists and hunters. It should be all reasonable people, including all quad owners who want to see responsible and sustainable, regulated ATV use come to this Province.

Write or talk to your MLA, challenge our Provincial Cabinet members, ask them what they are going to do to licence ATVs and stop irresponsible ATV use from damaging our natural landscapes.

Share this post

Get widget