Friday, May 4, 2012

Offloading Federal Pastures: Part 2

Native Grassland in the Frenchman River Valley

Now that Stephen Harper has decided that the Federal grasslands (formerly PFRA or Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration pastures) are no longer necessary, there is much speculation about what might happen to the land, which reverts back to the respective provincial governments.

Sask. Ag minister, Bob Bjornerud says in this recent article that Saskatchewan is not really interested in managing more provincial pastures, and he suggests that the best solution may be for cattle producers to band together to purchase the local pasture they depend on.

Here is a recent page from a chat group of people who have an interest in cattle and grazing land. Some of their comments are insightful. One person suggests that the federal pastures were getting too costly. Others express concern over the amount of regulation and red tape making it less attractive for livestock people to put their cattle on the PFRA pastures. Industry pressures driving out the small to medium- sized cow-calf operators is listed as another factor that has played a role in the way the federal pastures are used by local producers.

The conservation NGO community in Saskatchewan is hoping to work with livestock producer groups to develop a solution that could be put forward to the province, one that would serve the interests of grazers while conserving the ecological integrity of these critical pieces of grassland.

One possibility would be to make as many of the old PFRA pastures as possible into "Heritage Rangelands." This term comes from Alberta. Almost ten years ago now, the province of Alberta took steps to preserve "the legacy of both its ranching heritage and its prairie grassland" by establishing

This quote comes from a document released by the Alberta Wilderness Association describing the Heritage Rangelands program at its inception.

The idea would be to offer grazing for local livestock producers at fair rates, but manage the land primarily for ecological sustainability and biodiversity.

I am told there is no rush because it will take years to turn these lands over to the provinces. On the other hand, as we know from our experience with the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act lands in Saskatchewan, our government has a way of suddenly announcing decisions without consulting the conservation community.

Someone should remind the premier's office and the ministries of environment and agriculture that they do not want another situation where they are seen to be not consulting the public on an important conservation issue in Sask, and that the public and its conservation community must be consulted and included in the planning for what will be done with these pastures.

Sprague's pipit--one of the many endangered species for whom the PFRA pastures represent critical habitat.

Earlier this week I received an email from well-known (and now retired) native prairie seed-producer, Nora Stewart. She mentioned that in recent summers her daughter Laura has done field work (plant ID) in two Sask. PFRA pastures: Lomond (near Weyburn) and Tecumseh (north of Forget) pastures for the past two summers.

Nora says that long-term oil activity has badly degraded Lomond and will soon do the same to Tecumseh (a pasture I describe briefly in Grass, Sky, Song, pp. 118-119). All grasslands seem to be under assault from the gas and oil industry. Our declining native prairie ecosystems cannot afford to lose any more habitat--whether to resource development or to privatization or government neglect.

The old PFRA pastures represent a critical opportunity to do something lasting and visionary with some of the most ecologically rich grasslands remaining on the continent. We must not let this moment pass without making every effort to find the kind of common ground between cattle grazers and conservationists that will ensure the health of these important remnants of prairie wildness. To do any less will be to abandon some of Canada's most critical habitat for endangered species, in essence repeating Stephen Harper's own cynical gesture to wash his hands of these vital and historic landscapes.
yellow coneflower growing on native prairie

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