Thursday, October 4, 2012

Testimony from one of the last of the PFRA cowboys

click on this map to see the the scale of what we
 stand to lose if the pastures are privatized

I love this map of the old PFRA pastures. Each a vital remnant of the old world of native grass, they stand around us like islands in the sea of industrialize agriculture. If you travelled through the soy cropland of the Amazon basin you would see much the same thing, but instead of grass it would be islands of the old tropical rainforest. I found the map in a wonderful article written by Alberta freelancer Sheri Monk and published earlier this week in Canadian Cowboy Country.

Take a look again at the map above. See that really big green chunk in the southwest corner of the province? That is a set of three massive community pastures that run for 25 miles along the Montana/Saskatchewan border. Bryan Tully, manager of the Govenlock PFRA Community Pasture, looks after 100 sections of land there, a vital part of one of the continent's last functioning pieces of grassland ecology. Tully speaks candidly and eloquently in Monk's article.

Here is an excerpt :

The news that all of the PFRA was being dismantled came as a shock and Bryan says residents feel betrayed.
"A lot of these families have been in the PF right from day one. A lot of them gave up land to form these blocks of pastureland. Then all of a sudden, the rug was pulled out from under them."

The federal government is handing the PFRA land to the provincial governments, a politically brilliant move as ultimately, it will be the provinces that take the heat for allowing the public land to become private. For the Saskatchewan Party who first took power in 2007 thanks in large part to the rural vote, inheriting the PFRA land is like catching a political hand grenade. Despite the potential fallout, it seems selling the land is a gamble the Sask. Party is willing to take.

"We would like to provide the existing patrons with the first opportunity to purchase these lands," said Saskatchewan Ag Minister Lyle Stewart, who also said they will work with stakeholders to decide the best course of action to deal with the transition. As a result, a five-member advisory committee was formed to represent the ranching sector.

As with the irrigation projects, it's likely the provincial governments will try to negotiate a selling price for the pastures in hope that the patrons who currently use them will be willing to take co-operative ownership of them. Producers are just beginning to recover from years of low cattle prices and many aren't in a position to borrow. But without those critical grazing lands, they won't be able to feed the stock they already have.

"A lot are looking at (losing) a third to one-half of their herd. There's a sense of panic, a sense of anger and there's a sense of real urgency," Bryan said.

Residents worry the land will end up in the hands of absentee owners. In recent years, a lot of land in the Southwest has been purchased by Albertans infatuated with Saskatchewan's prices. But the land is so marginal that in some areas, a quarter can only run four pair without being damaged. Unfamiliar with the land and its delicacy, these owners often leave the land overgrazed — which was one of the practices leading to the Dust Bowl 80 years ago.

Photo used in Canadian Cowboy Country article, by Kim Taylor / Slidin’ U Photography.

And here is how the feature ends, with Bryan Tully talking about the balance they always maintained between cattle grazing and the ecological values of the pastures:
Iconic prairie species such as burrowing owls, rattlesnakes, swift fox, pronghorn antelope and ferruginous hawks exist in a delicate balance in the Southwest. When the PFRA was formed, the region was a wasteland, and its tenuous recovery has been painstakingly slow — but it has recovered. And it's not just the PFRA — throughout the region, ranchers have taken conservation to heart. The excellent stewardship of the land enabled the government to create Grasslands National Park in the heart of region as a prairie showcase of biodiversity.

"That's what really hurts me personally. We're here because we want to see that on the pastures," says Bryan. "We work every day to have that equilibrium between the critters and the grass and the cows. To see the possibility of it all going to waste is heartbreaking."


  1. Good Read! Thanks for sharing. Last of a dying breed forsure. Clint Timmons

  2. Thanks for reading, Clint. With a name like that you should be someone who appreciates the voice of a cowboy.

  3. Thank you, Trevor, for keeping these issues so eloquently before us. Interesting that your blog posts are SO much more articulate than the letters of the agriculture minister!

  4. Thank you, Kathleen, for the support and kind words.


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