Sunday, March 29, 2015

Keep White Butte as a natural area

native spear grasses and sage at White Butte

Saskatchewan people love grass—some of us prefer needle and thread (our provincial grass) in native grassland, and some of us prefer wide swards of Kentucky blue grass cut short so we can walk over its soft carpet and enjoy the beauty of a lawn or golf course.
                There are people who think lawns are an abomination, but I’m not one of them. I love the scent of fresh cut grass and the landscaped aesthetic of a green stretch between clumps of trees. I spent thousands of hours golfing as a teenager, mostly because I liked the look of rolling hills of bluegrass with trees casting long shadows—it certainly wasn’t the satisfaction of a well-struck ball that kept me coming back. These days, I might golf once a year if a friend invites me, but I spend a lot of time walking through the wild grass that has made this land prairie. 
In Saskatchewan, where cultivated land makes up more than 80 per cent or more of the land base south of the forest, we have room for many golf courses without harming native prairie. In fact, it is said that this province has more golf courses per capita than any other.
Now that our native grassland has dwindled down to small remnants in many areas, though, you would think there is no reason for golf courses and native prairie to come into conflict.  Unfortunately, that is not the case. When we build golf courses in coulees and river valleys (e.g. Katepwa and Ochapowace), native grassland is destroyed to plant the fairways and create greens and tee boxes.  There are more recent examples where native grassland ecosystems were permanently damaged to create golf courses in Saskatchewan, such as Dakota Dunes near Saskatoon.
These places are often passed off as “sustainable” or “ecological” golf courses, but this is a lot of rear-guard PR that has no data to back it up. A survey of the biodiversity of any “ecological” golf course will show that there are important species diminished or entirely absent from the landscape when it is compared to intact habitat nearby. Sure, robins, deer, foxes and other abundant species that tolerate or prefer disturbed landscapes will flourish, helping the course claim to be “wildlife-friendly”, but many of the rarer species and ecological relationships will simply disappear.
I found out recently that one of Regina’s only remaining patches of native prairie is being considered for a golf course. Speaking to friends who belong to the Regina Ski Club, I learned that a private golf course company is asking the Province to let them build a course on the southern half of the White Butte Recreation Site, a couple of miles east of Regina along Highway One.

Walking trail sign for trails (in red) where a golf course is proposed at White Butte

looking north from the proposed golf course site
White Butte contains two square miles of one of the rarest grassland types in Canada—Aspen Parkland. According to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, less than ten per cent of the Aspen Parkland remains in Canada, though it once formed a wide swath of the northern Plains from southern Manitoba northwest to Edmonton.
Unlike almost all of the surrounding private subdivisions now filling up with starter castles, this piece of public land at White Butte has never felt the farmer's plow or the developer’s bulldozer.
The Regina Plains landscape area contains 1.1 million acres of land. Less than 0.1 % of it is native prairie. The rest has been plowed up to grow crops or paved over with roads and urban development. White Butte represents a big chunk of the public lands that are included in that miniscule 0.1 % remnant.
As unbroken prairie, it contains vital habitat for both the increasingly rare rough fescue grass and our provincial bird, the Sharp-tailed Grouse, which winters and breeds on the property.  I have seen them dancing there myself in April right in the middle of where the golf course would be built. Two weeks ago a handful of birding friends came with me to look for Sharp-tails and we quickly found seven. They will no doubt be on their dancing grounds or “lek” very soon and then building nests. This is a species in decline in the province, as any experienced upland bird hunter or naturalist will testify. The Aspen Parkland is its preferred habitat and with urban sprawl near our cities, our provincial bird is getting harder and harder to find without a long trip south.
The Sharp-tailed Grouse, our provincial bird, depends on White Butte for habitat

It is entirely possible that the golf course builders have no inkling of how rare and important White Butte is in the Regina area. No doubt they are excited by the potential for savings in this opportunity. Leasing Crown land to build a golf course near Regina is much cheaper than having to spend many millions to purchase an adjacent piece of private land.
I wonder what the other golf courses in the Regina area would say to this. You have to think they would disapprove of a new course receiving what amounts to a government subsidy. There are twelve golf courses in the immediate Regina area by my count: Aspen Links (just across the highway at Emerald Park), Deer Valley, Flowing Springs, Joanne Goulet, Lakeview (par 3), Regent Park (par 3), Murray, Royal Regina, Sherwood Forest, Tor Hill, Wascana, and Green Acres. Widen the radius to an hour’s drive and you can rope in many more.
Twelve golf courses, but only three pieces of public land where you can hike or experience natural prairie near the city—Condie, Wascana Trails, and White Butte. The White Butte Recreation area provides ski trails and hiking trails maintained by the Regina Ski Club. The proposed golf course would be built immediately south of the existing ski trail network, but the members of the club passed a strong resolution to oppose the course nonetheless. Many of them are also nature lovers and they are concerned that the natural buffer zone of wild landscape to the south would be severely damaged by a golf course.
As well, snowshoers, hikers, bird-watchers, other naturalists and dog walkers use the natural area where the golf course would go. The day we looked for grouse I spoke to a man who was training his dog on the site. I asked what he thought of the idea. “That would be awful,” he said. “I like it the way it is.”
            That pretty well says it all. I imagine that most people who like to visit White Butte would feel the same way, even if they are golfers. Most of us know that if you build a golf course on disturbed landscape like cropland, you can improve habitat, but if you build it on native prairie, you destroy it.
I have included some more photos from two recent trips to White Butte, but if you want to keep White Butte as wild prairie for future generations, please take a moment to send a letter or email to the Minister of Parks, Culture, and Sport:

Hon. Mark Docherty
Room 315, Legislative Building,
2405 Legislative Drive,
Regina, SK,
Canada, S4S 0B3

Or email (though letters are always better):

Better yet, phone him:


more images of White Butte  

looking for grouse

deer trails

open area frequented by the sharp-tailed grouse

blue grama grass left from last summer

two northern harriers were doing their spring sky dance over the site


  1. You forgot horse people. Those might just be riding trails, not just deer trails. And, the last thing we need is ANOTHER bloody golf course.

  2. true, people may ride horseback at White Butte, but that is a deer trail in the photo. Lots of sign and I saw eight white-tailed deer there.

  3. We have to call Mark Docherty on this 306 787-0092..Please...
    This cannot happen...Tor Hill, Murray, Flowing Springs, etc are all close by for those golfers...ENOUGH OF THIS ALREADY!!!!

  4. Thanks Rob--I am pretty sure the Province will do the right thing if we speak up.

  5. Follow the dots. Uncover the names behind this project and you will get a huge insight into the favoured consideration that is likely from this government. Trust me.

  6. We are working at it. So far all we know is that the proponents met with Minister Docherty privately to get his approval before the ministry had a chance to do their work reviewing the application and before the public consultation--which we believe will be between Arpil 17 and 22 at the White City Community Centre.

  7. another battle to fight ... with only 3 hiking trails in the Regina area and 12 golf courses it's ridiculous!! thank you Trevor for doing everything you can to protect native grassland!

  8. This just makes me sad! But I'll spread the word and contact Doherty.

  9. People DO ride horseback in White Butte. I have for 20 years. The white tail numbers are way down after a few hard winters. Hopefully they will rebound, but that will never happen if they don't have the habitat. Have seen the occasional moose there too. The loss of this area to a golf course would be a tragedy to all the hikers, snowshoe-ers, dog walkers, and horseback riders, not to mention the wildlife that makes the area it's home. Native plants would be wiped out, and area residents will end up with even bigger water issues than they have already, as the area in question is low to begin with and would likely be built up to enable year round use. This cannot happen. It would be nothing but a disaster!

    1. Thanks Ellen--make sure you send a letter in sharing those thoughts with the minister

    2. Called and left a message after work today.

  10. Building a golf course would be a terrible waste of a precious resource; natural prairie. The wildlife area provides natural drainage for the area as well. Several years ago there were three moose living in the low wet area in the trails. Putting in a golf course means the end of opportunities for wildlife to flourish.

  11. Good points David--I hope you will send a similar message to Minister Docherty very soon. Time is short.

    1. Is the minister having public hearings? do you know when they are? I'm a member of the Ski Club. I'm sure that others in the Club will be upset about this as well. I'll spread the word.

  12. Yes, we think the hearing will be at the White City Community Centre some time around April 17 or 22. We need to pack that hall--because the proponents will. The ski club passed a resolution but they need to be active and vocal--get all members who care to write letters very soon. Letters are very important.

  13. Native undisturbed grasslands are very important habitat for native pollinators (bees, butterflies, and others) too, many species of which are under a lot of pressure

  14. Another point for letters: school field trips

    1. Good suggestion Trish. A teacher at Balgonie contacted me today. He is very concerned.

  15. Thanks for getting the word out. For trail runners, walkers, dog lovers, mountain bikers, snow shoe enthusiasts and everyone else you and others have mentioned, White Butte is too valuable to give up to a golf course. Even when the frigid, winter wind blows, this treed oasis, minutes from Regina, provides shelter and a place to enjoy nature and the outdoors!

  16. Well said Windnsnow. I hope you will send that in your letter to the minister soon!

  17. Letter written. In the mail before 5 pm.
    ''...At a time when the province is growing and, I hope, we are trying to encourage our citizens to make use of the natural bounty of our environment, it would be a travesty to transform, even a part, of such a well-used, year-round recreation site to a manicured, (at best) two season, fee-driven golf course.

    Golfers in the Regina area have many courses to choose from. School children, athletes and outdoors enthusiasts have very little undeveloped land left on which to enjoy their healthy pursuits. Your Ministry’s mandate: “…supports, celebrates and helps build pride in Saskatchewan. The Ministry's strategic focus is on tourism enhancement, quality of life and economic growth”. My pride as a citizen of this province comes from the knowledge that my government supports the existence of such natural recreation sites; I have personally directed tourists and out of province/country friends to White Butte. Lastly, our province’s economic growth depends on a multiplicity of recreation options for existing and new citizens – options that are not carbon copies of those in other provinces and states..."

  18. Excellent letter, Windsnow--much obliged

  19. I spent a lot of hours in all seasons in the park growing up. This place holds a very close place in my heart. My family lost our puppy German Shorthaired Pointer tragically in this park, I learned how to build a tree fort in this park, I spent countless hours cross country skiing and bmxing in this park as a adolescent. We had a student from Wales do his entire masters degree based on the ecology of this park in the early 90's. If White Butte is turned into a golf course, I'll loose it!

  20. That is a moving piece of testimony, Keating. PLEASE send a letter with that in it right away to Minister Docherty. He needs to know this kind of thing. Thanks.

  21. Great post save the beautiful nature.. I love your post.


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