Friday, October 22, 2010

A Feedlot for Outlook?

The Rural Municipality of Rudy, including the town of Outlook, Saskatchewan, has been considering a new 36,000 head of cattle feedlot, which if it goes through would be the largest in the province. As always, these intensive livestock factory issues divide the community into those who support the proposal (they see the jobs and the increased tax base), and those who do not want the pollution, traffic, smells and so on. The matter was to be decided last night (October 21, 2010) in a vote at a meeting of the R.M., but, just before the meeting began, a petition was presented to the Reeve and councillors, calling for a referendum. In response, council gave its administrator a month to determine if there are enough signatures to force a public vote.

The good people of Outlook and area have a month’s breathing room now, in which they can ask themselves some important questions:

1. Is this really a “Not in my backyard” issue or is this a matter of saying “no, feedlot beef is not good anywhere”? There are other ways to raise beef--and all of them are much healthier for people and ecosystems. This province not that long ago was able to raise beef without intensive feedlot operations and the threats to human health, drinking water, human health and the environment that they pose. Saskatchewan people who think about these things are switching to grass-finished beef either from local producers or from outfits such as Westbridgeford Meats in Tugaske.

2. Is the possibility of 36 jobs (that is what the corporation proposing the feedlot projects) and some tax revenue a fair trade for all that will be lost to the beauty and wellbeing of your land and waterways in the Outlook area? Would you allow a toxic waste dump in your RM simply because it would be good for the economy? [Note: a reader, "localfarm" sent a comment advising me that in fact there will be "no additional tax revenue from this feedlot as it is a family farm & will pay no more tax than what it they are already paying." This reader also pointed out that Saskatchewan taxpayers will be on the hook for this boondoggle. The provincial government is promising to build a primary highway to serve the feedlot and to fund any infrastructure costs the Rural Municipality incurs because of the increased traffic, etc.]

3. Do you want to raise your tax base and create jobs in an industry that needlessly breeds E. Coli (incidence in Saskatchewan feedlots is as high as 57%; E. Coli only happens when you feed cattle grain), that has a strong chance of polluting the drinking water of downstream communities dependant on the M1 canal? [A reader, "localfarm," points out that the proposed feedlot would be 500 metres from the canal and four miles uphill from the South Sask. River.] Take a look at this map provided on the ratepayers' website devoted to this issue:

4. Do you really want to entrust the public commons of air, land and water quality you share as people of the RM of Rudy to a factory-farm owner from Alberta who has come with his proposal simply because he has no more room at home and Saskatchewan has cheaper land and no one really protecting the water? The people who settled the RM of Rudy were farmers, but this man is an industrialist and a businessman.

Standing next to cattle in a photograph doesn’t make you a farmer.

Read more:
story from last night's meeting covered on CBC website.

The excellent website created by the people of Rudy discussing this issue.

October 13, 2010 Regina Leader-Post article on the proposal.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thanksgiving Bird (no, not a turkey, a prairie pileated)

A misty Cherry Lake morning on Thanksgiving weekend

I've spent more than my share of time lamenting the birds that are declining from the grassy heart at the centre of this continent, thinking and writing about the species I no longer see as often as I would like. On the weekend, as we prepared to celebrate a Thanksgiving meal at Cherry Lake with our good friends Rob and Sylvie and their family, I had an encounter with a woodpecker that taught me to be grateful for the birds we do see, the ones that seem to be adapting and making a go of it.

The kind of prairie we have on our land, Aspen Parkland, is part of the most threatened grassland eco-type in the province. There have always been some trees in this kind of grassland, but under agriculture, with fire suppression, cultivation and cattle-grazing, some areas have seen Aspen bluffs maturing and expanding. (I say "some" because recent cropping practices and the increasing scale of farm machinery with rising input costs, have stimulated a lot of bulldozing of bush in heavily cultivated regions.)

More Aspen and larger trees is good news for a whole guild of bird species. Species like the Red-tailed Hawk are obvious beneficiaries, but for my money the bird that is really moving out from the boreal forest and adapting to the Aspen plains is the Pileated Woodpecker.

For six years I have been hearing and seeing Pileated Woodpeckers in the woods upstream of Cherry Lake in a tributary of the Upper Indian Head Creek. Despite the hard work of a dozen beavers in three lodges along the stream, there are Balsam and Aspen poplars in the ravine that measure 18 inches at the butt--perfect for attracting the largest woodpecker we have in this country.

They can be secretive much of the year and getting a look at one is always a treat. In fall, woodpeckers become more active and roam far and wide from their territories. It's a good season to see them. The last few weeks I have heard a Pileated calling from the woods upstream of our farm site. Each time I have grabbed the camera and headed out hoping to get a shot. I have several images of blurry trees and empty sky taken while one of the birds circled me through deep woods.

This weekend, though, with Sylvie's Thanksgiving supper sending good smells out into the yard, I heard someone yelling for me to come. It was Rob, down at a future garden site where he is using tarps to kill brome grass and other weeds: "It's the Pileated!" He was pointing at a few dead aspen that we have left next to the lake shore in front of the yard site. Grabbing the camera, I scanned the trees and saw nothing. It was a dead calm day, though, and something was moving the tall brome grass at the base of a broken off snag. Here is a shot of all I could see at first.

If you squint at the centre of the image you can see some of the red, white, and black pattern on the back of the woodpecker's head as he works on an old stump buried deep in goldenrod, brome grass, and thistle. I snuck through the grass and got as near as I dared, staying low and waiting for it to emerge. Then, to my amazement, it hopped through the dense grass to the base of another tree twenty feet away, whacking away at ground level, shaking the grass to and fro, before finally hitching upward on the trunk and into view. With late afternoon light behind me I was able to get a couple of photos.

Before I left to go set the table for supper, it moved on to more distant trees, flying part way and then diving down into the grass. This, I thought, is a bird that's going to make it here out on the plains as long as we have trees big enough for them to forage on and nest within. Yes, the grassland is changing and many of the birds who need open treeless plains are suffering, but at the same time, I can be grateful for the adaptive birds that are thriving. At grace that evening, with candles lighting a table full of good food grown on prairie land, I thought of the woodpecker and gave a silent thanks for wild drumming in spring, jungle cries rising from the ravine, and a red-crowned flourish passing through dark woods.

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