Saturday, April 12, 2014

Wyoming spends millions to protect Sage-grouse and their habitat--what about Saskatchewan?

from a website for the U.S. Western Governors' Association

The more I talk to the men and women who run cattle on government land, the more it becomes clear that, apart from their purchased lease rights, they don’t expect much from the rest of the world. They like the way they live and the places they live and they want to be left alone. If they must receive any notice, they would prefer that it was for having chosen to work with grassland rather than destroy it with a plough. And they want conservationists to see the irony and injustice in regulations that penalize ranchers for being the ones who chose a form of agriculture that, when it is done right, protects the oases of prairie remaining in the ecological desert of cropland. 

Recognition, though, will not be enough. If we want to protect rare grassland habitats and species without eroding the income of ranchers who agree to apply certain management practices, our provincial and federal governments will have to commit some significant funding. In the last nine years, the state of Wyoming has spent nearly $8 million working with ranchers and the resource industry to keep the Greater Sage-Grouse off the endangered list. How much has Saskatchewan (which has twice as many people and more than twice the government budget) spent to conserve or restore Greater Sage-Grouse habitat during the last ten or even twenty years? Nothing. 

In fact, Saskatchewan Environment several years ago abolished the one endangered species biologist position they had. The ministry now claims to have risen above endangered species management by taking an "ecosystems based management" approach instead. Which sounds nice, but if you only have enough budget to go to meetings and write strategic plans and reports and there is nothing left to support and implement actual plans such as the South of the Divide Multi-species Action Plan (a multi-stakeholder initiative primarily between the Saskatchewan Stockgrowers Association and many government agencies) then the ecosystems you talk and write about will continue to erode along with their many species at risk. It is time to put some money behind our planning and talk and take things to implementation in the field.

In the U.S., where state governments and the oil and gas industry are spending millions every year to work with ranchers and others just to keep the sage grouse off their Endangered Species List, the Governors (!) of eleven Western states meet annually to compare and compile sage-grouse protection programs, producing a report!

Meanwhile here in Canada, our politicians don't give the grouse a second thought as it moves rapidly from severe endangerment to extirpation.

The Greater Sage-Grouse is now Canada’s most endangered bird. Last week, I received word that one of Saskatchewan’s last sage-grouse leks had only two males dancing on a patch of grass that had once been stamped flat by dozens.  We may or may not be able to restore the sage-grouse, but there are many other grassland creatures declining now and they all need the long term protection and conservation management that public lands and public funding can offer.

Sage-grouse male on lek, image courtesy of Associated Press

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