|watching out for . . .|
Today I will say a few things about a subject that has had little attention in the public discussion of the PFRA pastures—professional management, its cost and why it is worth paying for. [Many of the good ideas and some of the phrasing in this post come from fellow PPPI member, Laura Stewart.]
We know that our cow-calf ranchers are good stewards of their own individual holdings. For them, the long term matters and they are careful because good management serves their own interests as well as the general interests of wildlife conservation. Which begs the question, why not simply sell or lease the PFRA pastures directly to cattlemen and let them manage it themselves as leaseholder-operators?
I want to answer that important question by looking at two kinds of messages we are hearing from Saskatchewan Agriculture on this question.
We hear them say that the Province cannot run the pasture system—it is too much work and too costly and that would not be responsible to taxpayers.
But in the next breath we hear that stewardship of the pastures is easy and affordable for the patrons to manage—no problem. They should be able to do it and easily make a dollar as cattlemen.
Well, you can’t have it both ways. If this work is not difficult or costly, why won’t the province run the pastures? if it is difficult and costly, why should the patrons have to do it?
The truth is, of course, there are important programs and management systems that do cost something, because they are worth something—they are serving the wider public interest and the long term interests of grazing at the same time—but these programs and systems will fall through the cracks in the sale and leasing of the PFRA lands, unless we take measures to ensure that they continue.
The PFRA pasture managers look after large mixed herds of cattle grazing pastures of 20,000 or 30,000 acres of endangered ecosystems that are home to sometimes ten or more species at risk, some of which have conflicting habitat requirements. That expertise and the programs that support the managers must be retained, but patrons should not be expected to pay for them all alone. The good management of these endangered ecosystems provides soil conservation, water conservation, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, economic and recreational goods to all Canadians. All Canadians should help bear or account for the costs of protecting those goods.
For our forest ecosystems in the north, we keep the land under the Crown and we have government agencies, forestry branches, that protect the wider public interest in having healthy forests while managing the pulp, paper, and lumber industries that take an economic interest in the trees. It would take a tiny fraction of the budget of our forestry branch to provide some support to the proper ecological management of these grasslands, which, compared with our northern forests, are much more significant nationally and globally in terms of protecting rare and representative landscapes. But if even that small expenditure is unacceptable for our Province to take on, why not get the oil and gas industry to pay for it? They make hundreds of millions from the PFRA pastures every year.
Meanwhile, here is a simple way for the public to take some responsibility for these benefits without incurring direct costs. All our Provincial government has to do is to negotiate a fair deal with the new Community Pasture Patrons Association of Saskatchewan. By "fair deal", I mean one that would keep the base land lease costs low enough so every pasture can make a commitment to employing a professional manager.
If we can find a way for our pasture patrons to do that and they are able to run the pastures more or less as the PFRA always did--with professional managers who manage for biodiversity and protect the land from overstocking--we will have the foundation for a way forward that may well satisfy the needs of cattlemen, hunters, conservationists, and all of us who receive the $34 million in public benefits that these grasslands return to Canadians every year. And there may be a way to make the whole agreement agnostic to the nature of the government ownership--so that while most pastures remain under the Crown, a few pastures with willing patrons could agree to their pasture being sold to a First Nation or group of First Nations.
There would be many details to hammer out, but I think we could right now sit down as stakeholders and work out a basic agreement along those lines. Everyone could come out a winner--the cattlemen, conservationists, the general public, the pasture employees, First Nations, and the Provincial Government.
Anyone know Premier Wall's cell number?
|good things on the horizon|