Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Throne speech tomorrow: truth a casualty in the rush to sell the pastures

cattle left all summer on a badly abused private pasture near Indian Head

The Sask Party's rush to get the pasture issue settled and start selling land has made truth into a casualty:

The provincial government has claimed many things that must be challenged if we are to see what is really happening here: they say they have consulted with all the interest groups; they say there is nothing to worry about because they will only sell to patrons; they say the patrons are all the best stewards of the environment; they say that the Federal Species at Risk Act will be enforced on any land sold or leased to private interests. None of this is completely true. The Throne speech is tomorrow. It is a good time to call the Provincial Government to account on its plan and face the facts:

1. No, they have not consulted all people and groups concerned about the pastures. The five person advisory group who Minister Stewart worked with on this had two representatives of Sask. Stockgrowers and two representatives from the Sask. Cattlemen's Association--none of whom apparently have been recent patrons of a PFRA pasture.

The PFRA pastures lists somewhere over 2000 current patrons and there are many others who would like to be patrons in the future, some of them young producers--none of them have been consulted in any meaningful way. Four environmental organizations were brought in for private meetings one by one to be informed of the plan, but they were not given a chance to influence the decision in any meaningful way and from what I hear all still would prefer that not a single acre of the PFRA pastures ever be put up for sale. What about the 200-plus existing pasture employees and their families and communities? What about younger cattle producers who need help getting ahead? What about others who use to use the PFRA system but cannot afford to buy or lease at market values? What about First Nations? What about other rural and urban interest groups, people who want the pastures to remain part of Canada's natural heritage and public trust?

2. No, saying you will only sell to the patrons does not protect the land from re-sale. Leasing too will be impossible to monitor in ways that will protect the land from eventually falling into the hands of out of province interests.

Under this plan we will have no control over who is bankrolling "patron groups" or who the land will be re-sold to in five years. Will it end up in the hands of the meat industry’s big players—huge out of province cattle operators, or Cargill, XL Foods and JBS of Brazil?

3. No, the grazing patrons who will buy or lease the land are not capable of managing these ecological jewels at a level anywhere near the standard achieved by the PFRA (see yesterday's post with testimony from long-time pasture managers). A quick look at any land managed by many of the existing local grazing co-ops in the province will prove this point.

the endangered Loggerhead Shrike, one of 31 species at risk that depend on professional pasture management

4. No, the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) will not be enforced on these lands whether we sell or lease them. Andrea Olive from the University of Toronto is an expert on SARA and has done a case study on its application in Saskatchewan . I asked Andrea for her opinion on Lyle Stewart's recent assertion in letters to Saskatoon and Regina newspapers declaring that SARA will be enforced on pasture land sold or leased. Here is what she said:

"Lyle Stewart has no business saying that SARA will be enforced on private lands or in the province at all. SARA is a federal law. Since when are provincial governments in the business of applying federal laws? Moreover, SARA applies only to federal lands - about 5% of land in the country. As a province, SK actually has jurisdiction over private property matters. The only way SARA can apply to private land is through the "safety net" provision that states when provinces fail to protect species, the federal government will step in and do it. By taking the pasture lands out of the federal government's jurisdiction, the province is taking SARA off the land. How will the province protect the swift fox or burrowing owl or prairie grass on private property? Not through SARA. Not through the Wildlife Act. Is the provincial government going to create new legislation? Is the province going to create new species at risk legislation that will work with private landowners? Or legislation that is going to regulate private lands? That is the only way those species will continue to be protected in a similar fashion as they would under SARA.  SK is one of only 4 provinces to not have stand-alone legislation for species at risk.
So, at the end of the day, Lyle Stewart is removing a layer of protection for those species. They are going from Pasture Lands where SARA protects them to privately held lands where no laws are in place to enhance or ensure stewardship. Of course, private landowners are capable of protecting and stewarding SK. But there would need to be provisions in place such that the new landowners realize that endangered species occupy the land. And the new landowner might need some assistance, perhaps financial assistance, to properly steward the species.  How is Lyle Stewart going to ensure that is happening? Sounds like he is writing new species at risk legislation for SK. Congratulations to him!"

5. No, conservation easements are not enough to protect the biodiversity of the pastures. Who will be watching to enforce the easements and see that they do not get ploughed? And, even if they are not ploughed there are many ways to destroy a grassland ecosystem besides ploughing. Compare the bird and plant life on a PFRA pasture with that on a badly managed and overstocked piece of leased Crown Land and you will see what I mean.

These five concerns (there are others) should be enough to convince anyone that the Province must slow down and re-think this. We need to push for a moratorium on any attempt to dispose of the pastures and insist that nothing be done with them until an inclusive and independent consultation has been undertaken, allowing all Saskatchewan people to have a say on the topic of what will happen to the lands that the government's own ecologists will tell you are the most important conservation lands in the province. Until we do that and then figure out a model that will provide for professional management of the grasslands--at least at the level of our existing provincial community pastures (though that is a rock bottom minimum)--it is rash and indefensible to go forward with the plan announced on October 19.

And yes, there are many species at risk that depend on the ten pastures that the Government says it wants to sell first. Click on the image below for a list of species at risk found these lands being put up for bid:


  1. You do know that JBS has money on the table to take over XL foods?

  2. Hi Louise--yes, I read that. I wish we had the good sense to block that sale. If it happens, 80% of meat on Canadian tables will be coming from two foreign-owned multi-nationals: JBS of Brazil and Cargill. All just to get us the cheapest meat possible on our plates.

  3. Trevor,
    I am disappointed that you continue to misrepresent and report inaccurate information on the transfer of the PFRA pastures on your blog. Your continued criticism of the range management skills and stewardship of SK ranchers is insulting.

  4. Hi Bill--no where do I say that Saskatchewan ranchers are poor stewards. I have always said that most of our actual ranchers do an excellent job. But not all people running cattle are ranchers in the sense of the cow-calf producer who really knows he has to look after his range to be successful in the long run? Now, what is it you are saying? Do you honestly maintain that all Saskatchewan cattle producers are good stewards of the grass their animals graze? I don't know too many cattlemen who would say that themselves. And every range management specialist I know would confirm what I have said--we have guys who really do a good job of looking after their native range, but there are many who do not.

  5. If you didn't say producers are poor stewards what are you implying by saying "badly managed and overstocked"?? You seem to focus on the negative minority of range managers versus the positive majority to advance your political cause.

    Have you read anywhere that the patrons won't be requiring professional managers to operate the pastures in the future?

  6. Bill-here is what I said: "Compare the bird and plant life on a PFRA pasture with that on a badly managed and overstocked piece of leased Crown Land and you will see what I mean." That does not mean there are not well-managed ones--you and I both know there are, but if you know anything about our leased Crown pastures you will know that some are not well managed. That is all I am saying. You ask whether the patrons who buy or lease would hire managers. Of course they will, but what kind of a manager and who will make the final call on stocking rates and water management, who will look after species at risk? They can hire a guy to check fences and keep an eye on the livestock and call him a manager--sure, but will he know bouetelua from stipa, a C4 grass from a C3? The PFRA pastures had well-trained professionals who even more importantly were guided by grass specialists, water management specialists, livestock specialists and species at risk advisors. And they had a system-wide set of standards that supported and administered all of the decisions, often using long-term and ecological concerns to resist pressure from patrons to stock the land more heavily

  7. Wouldn't the smart thing to do, be to retain the existing manager if possible?

  8. Absolutely, Bill. I am with you on that one. Let's keep the pasture managers. Right now, though, they answer to their superiors and an administration system that ensures that short term economic interests are always balanced with the long term of keeping grass in reserve and maintaining ecological health. If we keep the same managers but their bosses are the patrons and no one else is involved making those decisions, you can imagine what could happen to those long term interests. Think changes in cattle prices, think drought. We need to develop a business model and a management model that will balance grazing pressure with ecological values and keep the pastures managed as well as they have been for so long. Otherwise, Canadians and cattlemen all lose the long investment we have made in these vital public grasslands.

  9. your making total sense to me, keep up the good work,

  10. I agree with Bill. There is no room for ignorance in our economy. You are a flip flopping bird watcher who should stay out of the Agriculture industry.

  11. The following message came through onto my gmail telling me Jerry Ruehs left a new comment (see text below) but then it somehow got deleted--Jerry did you mean to delete it? Here is what it said:

    Anonymous man up and sign your name. Add something to the discussion but maybe you don't want to prove your ignorance. Enough said. We all have to take responsibility for the sustainability of the production of protein and the health of the environment. It's a delicate balance that has to be maintained .

  12. Well said, Trevor! You elegantly touched on many of the issues surrounding this sale and it's implications for prairie biodiversity.


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