Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Red Williams: province is abandoning its role of protecting land from cultivation

Crown grasslands that are sold may be broken

Red Williams, professor emeritus of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine from the University of Saskatchewan, has published this week some comments on the Province of Saskatchewan's recent announcement that it has decided to sell some of its leased grasslands formerly protected under the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act.

In his 89 years, Red has seen agriculture go through a great deal of technological change as the prairie was converted into industrialized cropping landscapes. More than most of us he knows what has been lost and knows the cost of short-sighted agricultural policy. Here is the text of a note he sent out earlier this week in his newsletter, which he still pens regularly from his home in Saskatoon:

Lease Land for Sale
The Saskatchewan government has taken one more step in the ideological trend that has been evident over its tenure. The land previously held or leased with restrictions on its use has been a contention for years. The larger ranchers and farmers have wanted to have title to their leased land in a long time lease while the smaller operators would prefer that it continue as is because of the cost of purchase. The claim by the Minister of Agriculture that it is alright because the lessees have been good stewards of the land is pure “poppy cock.” They have been required to maintain the land in its original state which is the objective of the government’s ownership whether the land is suitable for grain production or not.

We have still not seen the end of the move to sell-off the PFRA lands to individuals or groups and therefore exposing them to cultivation and resale. The whole picture is one in which land held in trust by government is being abandoned and eventually lost of its original purpose of protection from cultivation. It is all a matter of political ideology; whether you believe in conservation or in the total exploitation of the land resource.

With little expectation that an election will change the administration in the next term, it behooves the public to object as strongly as possible that the wholesale sale of protected lands is counter to the will of the majority.


  1. Hello Trevor
    Thank you for the conveying this information. Red Willams’ statements and opinion are not fear mongering. WWF report from 2009 “New directions for the prairie economy; connecting conservation and rural development in the Northern Great Plains” states that in the United States, hundreds of thousands of acres of native prairie are being plowed over and Conservation Reserve Program Lands (seeded and native grassland cover) are being converted into crop production for food and biofuels. Market trends, strong demand for food and biofuel stocks, as well as crop and farming technology are similar in Canada and I am sure that a comparable trend in land use change is occurring here.

    And here are some hard facts. A 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that nearly 8% of Northern Great Plains region in the U.S.A. underwent land-use and land-cover change from 1973 to 2000. Total agricultural land cover declined by more than 2% overall, mostly to sub-urban sprawl. From 2006 – 2011 there was an estimated loss of 1.3 million acres of grassland in the Western Corn Belt. This was mainly due to conversion to corn & soybean production. Source: Wright & Wibmerly, PNAS 110: 4134-4139 (2013). Just to get a sense of scale; 1.3 million acres is 1.6 times the size of Prince Edward Island, or a total land cover in the Canadian PFRA community pasture system. The Americans lost the equivalent amount of grasslands in only 5 years.

  2. Thanks Branimir--I appreciate you providing that startling data on grassland loss. The comparison you closed your comment with says it all. A million acres of grassland can disappear in no time if we are not vigilant in providing proper protection.

  3. It is clear that Prairie Grasslands across Canada, as well as the US, are emerging as targets for dispersal and under marginal ranking will be subject to cultivation and agricultural purposes.
    What's not so clear is how it is possible to manage these Grasslands, in Saskatchewan, without the application of high technology sensory inventory tools in light of the sheer thousands of acres under changing public ownership.
    With federal transfer to the Provincial administration of large acreages the taking inventory not only Provincial Grasslands, but now additional holdings, calls for use of sensory and powerful spatial inventory/mapping technologies...with out which effective applied objective stewardship will be very unlikely!
    How do Provinvial Leaders know what Grassland Acreages are top ranking and which ought to receive status as high value land banking resources. Which should be placed under agricultural ideology and which ought to be subject to other forms of resource stewardship.
    The opportunity is still bright for Saskatchewans Grasslands and Wildlife Stewardship and the comprehensive inventory technology is in hand. Application of these Stewardship technology tools brightens the Saskatchewans land future now!


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