Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why grasslands need official protection

Grassland protected in Canada's Grasslands National Park

Grasslands are among the most underprotected habitats on the planet, and temperate grasslands, as we have here on the Northern Great Plains, are in the greatest need of formal protection.

The World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), an international body of conservation and parks professionals, has made protecting temperate grasslands a top priority.

When I spoke to the B.C. Grassland Conservation Council AGM in June, I met a Senior Planner at Parks Canada, Bill Henwood, who chairs the new WCPA task force on grassland conservation. Their goal is to increase the percentage of grassland protected internationally from 5.5% to 10% by 2014.

After meeting in Mongolia a couple of years ago 35 WCPA grasslands experts from 14 countries agreed on something they call the Hohhot Declaration, part of which reads as follows:

We the participants of the Hohhot World Temperate Grasslands Conservation Initiative Workshop from five continents and 14 countries, declare that temperate indigenous grasslands are critically endangered and urgent action is required to protect and maintain the services they provide to sustain human life. We call upon all sectors of society to collaborate towards this goal.

Their rationale for giving grasslands a priority reads as follows:

Temperate grasslands are one of the world’s great biomes – or so they used to be. Temperate grasslands are now considered the most altered ecosystem on the planet. The temperate grasslands biome occupies 9 million or ~ 8% of the earth’s terrestrial surface. Of this 8%, only 5% are currently protected within the global system of protected areas. After cradling the needs of humans for centuries, temperate grasslands are now the earth’s most endangered ecosystem. Temperate grasslands haven’t been visible on the global conservation agenda. As a result the grasslands exist today only as remnants of their former numbers. These grasslands used to be home to some of the greatest assemblages of wildlife the earth has ever witnessed. Potential for protection still remain, especially in the prairies of North America, the pampas of South America, the lowland grasslands of southeast Australia and the steppes of Eastern Europe.

The goal of their task force is

To promote and facilitate the establishment of new grassland protected areas throughout the grassland biomes, with a priority on temperate grasslands, toward a goal of protecting 10% of the temperate grasslands biome by the year 2014, and to provide for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of grasslands, both within and beyond protected areas, through the development of best management practices and guidelines.

A worthy goal it seems to me, and one that is within our reach if we get started working on it. If you live in Saskatchewan, send an email to the Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Parks, Honorable Bill Hutchinson, urging his government to follow this international initiative and increase the protection of our remaining native grasslands by extending existing parks such as Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan Landing , and Buffalo Pound, and by creating new grassland parks. Here is his email address:

You can also write the Minister of Environment, Honorable Dustin Duncan, suggesting that the government use means at their disposal to strive for that 10% goal by 2014. Here is his email address:

East block Grasslands National Park

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