Sunday, March 8, 2009

To make a prairie: how we can help

Part of the purpose of this blog is to supplement the new book by giving readers and other people ideas of what they can do to help conserve and restore grassland. At the book launch last Friday, we suggested that people consider writing a personal letter to Saskatchewan's premier, the Honorable Brad Wall, advocating measures to protect native grassland on all provincial Crown land. Thanks to the publicity the event received from the hard work of Margot Mack at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum Associates and Terri Trautman of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, we had a terrific crowd, nearly 300 people and hardly a seat left in the theatre.

Lorne Scott, the M.C. for the evening, and Saskatchewan's hardest-working conservationist, put together a handout with some background on the issue of protecting Saskatchewan's Crown-owned grasslands and suggestions for writing letters. I am posting that same information here below and strongly encourage anyone concerned about grassland and grassland birds to read it through and write at least one letter. Premier Wall's government is trying to sell one million acres of provincially-owned grazing land, much of it native grass. This land is important wildlife habitat, and if it is sold to private landowners, we could see a lot more native prairie ploughed in this province, given rising prices for grain and the depressed beef economy.

As well, there are rumours afoot that Wall's government may be giving in to pressure from the agricultural sector to sell at least a portion of an additional 3.4 million acres of provincially-owned native grassland that has for decades been protected under the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act. Apparently, the Department of Agriculture has instructed the Department of the Environment to review the status of 700,000 acres of these WHPA lands to determine if they still meet protection criteria. If Wall's government gives in to pressure to reclassify that land and remove it from the protection of the Act, hundreds of thousands of acres of native grassland in Saskatchewan would no longer be protected. There is no telling how much of it might end up being ploughed to take advantage of improving grain prices.

Here is the text of the document Lorne prepared asking people to consider writing a letter or email to the premier:


Last fall the Government of Saskatchewan announced a program to sell 1.6 million acres of Crown land (an area equal in size to PEI) to current leasees at a price of up to 10% below market value.

While lessees are not required to purchase their leases they have been told in writing from the Government that they should know that it is the government’s intention to see saleable land in the hands of private ownership.

Saskatchewan residents recognize and appreciate the important role many landowners play in maintaining habitat on their privately owned and leased lands. However, Crown land that currently has an ecological value on it should not be sold. These lands should remain protected and cherished as a “Crown Jewel” for the future benefit of all Saskatchewan residents.

A significant amount of Crown Ag land in Saskatchewan contains habitat that is critical in preserving our native flora and fauna.

The lack of concern being expressed by Saskatchewan residents to date regarding the sale of Crown owned land is being interpreted as support for the sales program.


There are over 7 million acres of Crown Agricultural leased land in Saskatchewan administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and almost all of these lands are in a native state.

About 3.4 million acres of these lands are protected from cultivation and sale through the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act (WHPA). Both the Ministers of Agriculture and Environment have publicly stated WHPA lands are not for sale.

However, it is my understanding that Agricultural officials have instructed the Environment Ministry to review the status of some 700,000 acres of WHPA lands to determine if they still meet WHPA criteria. Obviously, if political pressure is used to remove public lands from WHPA, they can then be sold. This is of grave concern.

Of the lands not protected by WHPA 3.5 million acres of Crown land is leased for grazing. The goal is to sell 1 million acres of these lands. An additional 600,000 acres of public land is referred to as cultivated leased land. These lands are all for sale and in many cases there is prime natural habitat found on these lands.

Status of Natural Habitat in Southern Saskatchewan:

• Overall we have lost 80% of our natural landscape south of the forest fringe. We have one of the most modified landscapes in North America.
• 85% of the land is privately owned. 15% is public land and includes, Provincial Parks, Community Pastures, Fish and Wildlife Development Fund lands and Agriculture leased lands.
• Our public lands (15% of the land base) contains half of the critical wildlife habitat remaining in southern Saskatchewan

Loss of Habitat - Impact on Biodiversity:

• 40% of our original wetlands are gone
• 20% of our native plants are rare and disappearing at an alarming rate.
• Two out of three bird species are declining in numbers including burrowing owls, Sprague’s pipits and familiar well known species like meadowlarks and killdeers.
• Once common mammals such as, long-tailed weasels and Franklin’s ground squirrels have declined and have disappeared from areas of their former range.

Our Goal

• To retain and protect all public land that contains natural habitat.
• To make government aware that the people of Saskatchewan treasure the value of Crown owned land and under no conditions should any Crown owned land that has an ecological value be considered for sale; present or in the future.


• Do not sell public land that contains native habitat.
• Retain and preserve public land containing natural habitat for Ecological Goods and Services benefits for society as a whole.

Your Letters to Premier Brad Wall:

• Should be polite and constructive.
• State why maintaining wildlife and public lands are important to you personally i.e.: bird watching, hunting, conservation, enjoyment and inspiration, etc.
• Provide reasons why the sale of public lands is an issue. Refer to examples and some of the facts and statistics above.
• What do you want the Premier to do?
• Do not sell public lands that contain natural habitat
• Do not remove lands designated under WHPA.
• Ask questions such as;
• How will the province meet its goals set out in the Biodiversity Action Plan, if it sells off over a million acres of public land with no guarantee that the natural lands will be preserved?
o How does the province plan to halt and reverse the decline of our native flora and fauna without protecting remaining natural habitat on public land?
• Has the province considered the value of Ecological Goods and Services that native Crown lands provides for public benefits such as controlling soil and water erosion, carbon sequestration and preserving biodiversity?
• Use your own words, experiences, concerns and questions.
• Be sure to ask questions in your letter and say that you look forward to his response and a response from the Minister of Agriculture.

Final Comments:

• Your letter need not be long. Short and to the point is fine.
• Hand written letters are excellent.
• If you communicate by email, be sure to include your complete name and mailing address. An email with just a name may go unanswered.

If you have any questions, concerns, ideas or want more information contact: Lorne Scott at 695-2047 or at

Mailing and email address for the Premier:

Honourable Brad Wall
Premier of Saskatchewan
Legislative Building
Regina, SK
S4S 0B3

Email Premier Brad Wall at:

It would be worthwhile to send a copy of your letter to the Honourable Bob Bjornerud, Minister of Agriculture and your MLA. All MLAs can be reached at the Legislative Building or their constituency office.

Thank you for your help on this very important issue. Your letter will make a difference.

Lorne Scott
Conservation Director
Nature Saskatchewan

February 28, 2009

And here are a couple of sample letters:

Sample Letters

Dear Premier Wall,

I have been supporting wildlife conservation efforts in Saskatchewan for many years. Despite our best collective efforts to conserve our natural heritage, the decline of our native habitat and flora and fauna is alarming.

I was shocked and disappointed to learn that your government is planning to sell off over one million acres of native grasslands, aspen parkland and wetlands. These public lands that you are selling are critical in maintaining our biodiversity which is already in serious trouble.

Why are you disposing of this huge public asset with no opportunity for public input? How do you propose to meet the goals and objectives of the provinces Biodiversity Action Plan? Have the Ecological Goods and Services benefits offered by the natural attributes on these public lands been considered?

Mr. Premier, I urge you to halt the sale of all Crown land containing natural habitat values, until the public has a chance to provide input into this very important issue.

I look forward to hearing from you and the Minister of Agriculture.

Yours Sincerely,

Dear Premier Wall,

I am writing to express my strong opposition to the Crown land sales program announced by your government last fall. These public lands are critical for maintaining our native flora and fauna.

Southern Saskatchewan is already one of the most modified landscapes in North America with 80% of our natural landscape gone. Our public lands contain some of the only natural habitat in some areas of the province. It is imperative that all Crown land containing natural habitat be retained by the Crown for the benefit of all citizens in Saskatchewan.

With two out of three bird species declining in numbers and 20% of our native plants rare and disappearing at an alarming rate how will your government reverse these serious losses in biodiversity, if you sell over a million acres of public land containing diverse and productive natural habitat?

Please put a stop to the sale of all Crown land containing natural habitat. I look forward to your reply and hearing directly from the Minister of Agriculture.

Yours Sincerely,

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