Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Of many things . . .

Horned Lark illustration from Grass, Sky, Song

The spring season of readings and talks is all but over and my last two events, both in Winnipeg, were particularly fruitful. Last Thursday, talking to local naturalists at Fort Whyte Alive, a wonderful nature centre on the southwest edge of Winnipeg, I learned some things that I am mulling over: things about the First Nations people in the prairie provinces using their Treaty Land Entitlement land for agriculture and at the same time considering species at risk and larger environmental questions. The next night, I spoke after a banquet that ended a week of the Canadian Mennonite University's Spring Literary Festival and School of Writing. Afterwards, I had several conversations with people who write and read and think about our alienation from nature and what this means for the human spirit. I had spoken of a new book I've been reading on the topic: Bill Plotkin's Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World.

Back home and on the May edition of CBC Birdline on Monday, I found a news release by the Canadian Cattleman's Association on the occasion of Migratory Bird Day, May 9. In the release, Lynn Grant, their environmental director says, "We like to see the waterfowl and song birds in our pastures. It's a sign that the pastures are in good shape." He also advises producers to "keep cattle off the natural pastures so the grass plants have time to really get growing. We like to keep our cows on seeded grass pastures for a while." Encouraging to hear this kind of talk from CCA, although I've always known that the best of our cattle ranchers are solid defenders of prairie ecology and biodiversity. Unfortunately, many farmers who also raise a few cattle on a small piece of native grassland do not follow this advice of grazing their livestock in spring on tame forage until the native grasses have a chance to get established. Too many will release their animals in May into a valley or coulee with some native grass, grazing the prairie at a vulnerable stage, and never allowing it to recover year to year. The prairie suffers from mistimed continuous grazing, and grassland birds arriving for the breeding season have to go elsewhere.

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