Thursday, February 28, 2013

On CBC Radio One's Morning Edition with Stefani Langenegger

Got to do an interview with my favourite CBC reporter, Stefani Langenegger, who is sitting in for Sheila Coles this week. Here is the audio clip from this morning's interview.

Tonite we gather in Saskatoon for Candace Savage's talk on the PFRA pastures and tomorrow we are holding the second PPPI Public Forum on the issue. Hope to meet some new people there and exchange ideas.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fresh inspiration at PCESC 2013

On Thursday I had a chance to talk to biologists, ranchers, economists and prairie conservationists about Saskatchewan's community pastures. It was the tenth Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference in Red Deer, a four day gathering of the clan that helps us all to return with new enthusiasm to our work in helping to conserve prairie wildness.

Joining me on the podium were Lorne Scott (representing Nature Sask) and Carl Neggers (representing the First Nations who are trying to attract partners for a joint venture management proposal). Bryce Burnett, who sits on the interim board for the new Community Pastures Patrons Association of Saskatchewan, was to be with us speaking on behalf of patrons; however, with the weather turning cold he had to stay home with his calving heifers. He was good enough to send along a statement we could read to the crowd and that worked very well.

I love these conferences for all kinds of reasons--meeting some of the key thinkers and researchers doing terrific work on grassland conservation and species at risk; seeing all the new faces, the young people who are taking up the torch and bringing new energy into the circle; hearing inspiring talks from people who have for decades gone up and down the peaks and troughs of prairie conservation without giving up. You go home a little lighter in the heart, a little more certain that the work you do is worth getting back to even if there are no guarantees of success.

Our session was well received, with a spirited and cogent discussion filling the last half hour and then spilling over toward supper time when we gathered for the banquet. From the floor discussion came several interesting comments and ideas. Sue Michalsky, a rancher and biologist from the southwest who is part of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, said that according to one evaluation of PFRA programming, the costs of running the pastures system (over and above revenues from grazing fees) was about 6$ per acre per year. That amounts to a little less than $10 M per year.

As another person pointed out, that investment is a bargain considering the value of the ecological goods and services that the pastures provide to all Canadians. Suren Kulshreshtha's widely respected study,  "Distribution of Public and Private Benefits on Federally Managed Community Pastures in Canada", pegs the annual carbon sequestration benefits alone at more than $20 million. Add in recreation, hunting, biodiversity, research, and soil conservation and you get almost $34 million. Add in the benefits to the grazing patrons and you have $54 million a year. Now $6 an acre is looking pretty cheap.

Putting dollars and cents to the ecological goods and services (EG&S) seemed to be one of the common themes at the conference--or at least the sessions I went to. Prairie conservationists have been talking about EG&S for years, groping in the dark for ways to compensate livestock producers who treat their prairie well and follow "best management practices." Progress has been slow and so far no one has come up with a scheme that works over the long term, but at this conference I thought I detected a shift.

For one thing, the term "natural capital" seems to have become mainstream.

There was an entire session on socio-economics of prairie conservation (I missed it unfortunately) analyzing costs and benefits and looking at the economics of BMPs. One session I enjoyed featured a young economist from the University of Alberta's Department of Resource Economics and
Environmental Sociology presenting on the topic "Employing economic instruments  to achieve conservation goals". Her powerpoint slides showing a matrix of economic choices brought back some bad memories from Econ. 101, but it was wonderful hearing someone bring fresh ideas to the question of incentives and disincentives.

There was an entire session with speakers presenting ideas on ecological goods and services, one on education and engaging youth, and another on citizen science. Heck, even Stephen Davis, one of our best grassland field biologists, was sounding like a darn good sociologist when he presented results from the South of the Divide project's survey of landowners.

As much as I love going to workshops on the migration of yellow-bellied racers and sex lives of longspurs, I appreciated this conference's new focus on the one species that can make a difference in conservation. "Engaging people in conservation" was the theme, and people were there in excellent numbers. Almost 400 of us, engaged and engaging one another, exchanging handshakes, email addresses, brochures, and ideas.

We wrapped up yesterday with a triumphant summary from conference rapporteur, Canmore's Kevin Van Tighem--former superintendent of Banff National Park, a great defender of prairie and the author of several wonderful books.

Kevin (who has been helping me in working through a draft of my new book) was gracious enough to email me the entire text of his wonderful summary. Here are two segments among many that resonated for me:

In this first one he is starting to list some of the encouraging things he witnessed at the conference:

1.       Rather than letting the complexity and unknowns and risks of economic innovation discourage us, there is some amazing work being done to quantify ecological goods and services like native prairie restoration, carbon capture, wetland recharge and so forth, and then to develop economic instruments that can enable those whose stewardship of private lands ensures a continuing or renewed supply of those benefits to profit economically from them.   This is probably, to me, some of the most exciting and important work underway today because it goes both to reversing the loss of prairie Canada’s ecological wealth and revitalizing and renewing rural economy.  Farming is not just about producing food; it is about sustaining land.   Society values both.  The market should reward both and, frankly, ecological goods and services are worthy of public investment.  We’ve certainly never had difficulty investing public funds in ways that degrade ecosystems, even though I can’t think of any credible argument that the degradation of ecosystems is in the long-term public interest.  So it’s way past time for government to redirect public investment into incentives and rewards for things that are truly in the public interest – living landscapes, clean air and water, vitality, wholeness – restored and vibrant ecosystems.  In other words: a future worth living in and a future where we can still know ourselves as prairie people because the prairie, the whole prairie, is still there.

This second excerpt expresses a thought that was dawning on me as I listened to people speaking about market instruments and EG&S: perhaps we need to approach the pastures question from the other end of things: instead of trying to convince the public that it needs these pastures maintained well and protected in perpetuity, look for ways to deliver products from the pastures that consumers will want to buy because they are bird-friendly, grassland-friendly, and carbon offsetting. As organic beef producer, Keith Everts, said on the last morning, we get lots of fair trade from other places; it's time for some fair trade Canada.

[Note Kevin's deft reference to working with First Nations on the community pastures]:

This truly is a time of “dangerous opportunity”.  The motivators today – the levers that can deliver successes we could only have dreamed of before – are, ironically, the very threats that frighten us most.
Climate change for example:  yes, it adds new vulnerabilities in our stressed and fragmented prairie ecosystems but it has also created huge social license issues for the energy industry and governments who rely on their profits.  Meaningful, tangible and lasting protection of prairie ecosystems – whether through new Heritage Rangelands in Alberta or innovative First Nations Joint Ventures on Saskatchewan’s community pastures – can go a long way towards repairing the damage others’ blunders have caused to Canada’s social license and reputation.  

Health and sustainability concerns are increasingly motivating consumers to seek out products they can feel good about, whether that be Forest Stewardship Council certified wood, bird-friendly coffee or sustainably-produced beef.   The markets are finally ready to help us conserve prairie and reward enlightened stewardship. 
image by Allan McKeigan

Friday, February 15, 2013

Public Forum on the PFRA Pastures in Saskatoon


Over one million acres of Canada's most important grasslands
are up for sale! Have you been consulted?

courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood

This facilitated, open forum brings together key stakeholders and the public to discuss the future of our publicly owned community pastures

Keynote:  Thursday, February 28th - 7 p.m. 
Frances Morrison Library, 311-23rd Street E

Candace Savage, the best-selling author of Prairie: A Natural History and A Geography in Blood, will highlight the heritage of the PFRA pastures and their critical importance for grassland conservation.

Panel Forum: Friday, March 1st – 1-4 p.m.
Edwards School of Business - Georgia Goodspeed Theatre (Rm. 18), University of Saskatchewan

A panel discussion on the history and context of the community pastures, ecological and economic benefits, importance for species at risk, and First Nations interests in the land. Open microphone session to follow.

Ø  Author and naturalist Trevor Herriot (Public Pastures - Public Interest)
Ø  Prof. Suren Kulshreshtha (Department of Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics, U of Sask.)
Ø  Ian McCreary (Community Pasture Patrons Association of Saskatchewan)
Ø  Former FSIN Chief Roland Crowe (Piapot First Nation) and Carl Neggers (SM Solutions Inc.)

Edwards School of Business is located at 25 Campus Drive (enter the University grounds at intersection of College and Wiggins Ave). Additional details, directions to the venue and campus parking map are available on Pasture Posts (, the web site for Public Pastures - Public Interest, a Saskatchewan citizens group and non-profit that draws together rural and urban people who share an interest in conserving public grasslands. Please call 306-382-2642 if you need more information.

Both events are free of charge - contributions to defray costs are welcome

courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood

Sunday, February 10, 2013

the tawny language of grassland: a poem by Bruce Rice

dawn in one of Grasslands National Park's prairie dog towns

This week's post is a sneak peek at a grassland inspired poem from the forthcoming book by Regina poet and PPPI apparatchik, Bruce Rice. Anyone who has read Gary Snyder's masterful Practice of the Wild will catch the nod to "tawny language."


We made this park when land was cheap.
Even then we weren’t sure
what we bought — poverty saved it.

We gave it to antelope, kit foxes,
rattlers — to the heels of shadows.
It holds us up, this is our ground.

March storms leave cattle bones
hanging from trees in the coulees when the snow drifts
vanish. After that, nothing is strange.

Tourists come to see 12,000 tepee rings, blue
gamma grass, needle-and-thread grass, 70 Mile Butte, and two pages
of things that can kill you.

There’s a space in the text, the tawny language
of years in the open. The things that belong here
live lightly as grass.

And none of them ask,
do you really believe
you’re an animal.

© Bruce Rice 2013

Friday, February 1, 2013

A story from Wolverine Community Pasture

multi-species grazing project at Wolverine Community Pasture, summer of 2012, image courtesy of Brian Payne
Today's post was a story sent to me by Brian Payne, one of Canada's most experienced multi-species grazing practitioners. Last summer the Wolverine PFRA pasture north of Lanigan, Saskatchewan--which is one of the best pieces of native grassland in the entire Aspen Parkland eco-region and one of the ten pastures put up for sale by the Province--used Brian and his herd of 700 Boer goats to knock back the brushy growth that can take over in our more northerly pastures where moisture levels are higher. This is but one example of the progressive, visionary approach to range management that has been placed at risk by the Federal government's decision to cut the PFRA loose.

The "goat camp" Brian refers to in this story is a spot near the big lake in the pasture where he camped for more than a month with his herd, living in a small camper--Brian, 700 goats and five dogs that specialize in protecting goats from coyotes.

I will let Brian tell the rest of the story, but it is a vivid testimony to the lively culture of our public grasslands--part of this province's heritage and rural character that we will lose if we do not take measures to ensure that something like the PFRA system is put in place to continue serving the needs of local cattle producers and the wider public interests of conservation and ecological health.

It was a hot, early August day on the Wolverine pasture near Lanigan, when my goat camp was visited by Eric Weisbeck, the pasture manager. As we discussed the brush management work the goat herd was doing, Eric noticed something moving in the distance. We thought at first it might be a lone goat that got separated from the herd. Without any hesitation Eric decided to take his horse and investigate. He joked that this would be his first experience at herding a goat on horseback and we chuckled as he rode off into the distance.
     The other rider who was accompanying Eric began to talk about the changes to the pasture that he had seen over his lifetime in the area. Over the decades, native, short grass prairie had slowly been replaced by scrub brush like bufffalo berry and silver willow. Aspen groves and wild rose were also doing their best to reduce the cattle grazing acreage at Wolverine.  As the sun beat down, we discussed cattle-only grazing and the lack of fire suppression as probable causes for this productivity decline in the pasture.
     Eric was now off his horse and working at something near the fenceline. My companion and I speculated that he was probably replacing some staples or loose wire and got back to the beauty of the landscape that surrounded us. I talked about my cleansing dips in the pristine little lake, the multitude of minnows that accompanied every swish of my washcloth and the coyote scat that made me realilze I shared my swimming hole with others! I knew that my grandson would love this place. It was a "froggers dream". I couldn't rinse my dishes or pump water for my goats without disturbing large numbers of frogs on the lakes edge or the muskrat that shared the shoreline with us.
    " Spooney Lake's wild inhabitants had been truly blessed by their protection through the PFRA pasture system"; I mused, as we watched Eric return to the camp. My rider friend commented on the fact that we were in the middle of a bunch of Tipi rings and asked if I had seen the hunter's blinds and the old Buffalo jump on the other side of the lake. After nodding an affirmative, I added my own  stories of archaeological discovery while chasing goats over the surrounding area. We both marveled at the persistence and strength of  the eastern European pioneers who had tried to settle in the area. All that remains of the farms that were abandoned are silent and overgrown monuments in stone. Fencelines, foundations and perhaps even dams provide silent testimony to their struggle for existence on this sub-marginal land.
     Eric was now within sight and we turned our attention to what he had found hanging on the fenceline. A short-eared owl had caught a wingtip and it's desperate struggles were what we had seen in the distance. Severely dehydrated, we put the owl beside the calm waters of the lake. Eric left with his companion and I spent some time with my new campsite comrade. We all knew that the owl's chances for survival were poor. We also all recognized that caring hands had made his last moments bearable.
Eric Weisbeck, Wolverine Pasture Manager, holding injured short-eared owl. Image courtesy of Brian Payne

      The PFRA has created a culture of environmental stewardship that we all need to understand and appreciate. Eric is just one of many committed professionals who have maintained and enhanced our public lands. If we don't protect the land we can never protect the species that inhabit it; including ourselves.
image courtesy of Brian Payne

Share this post

Get widget