|Prickly Pear Cactus at Caledonia--Elmsthorpe PFRA Pasture|
In particular, we are hearing little discussion of how prospective MLAs would work to protect our most endangered landscapes and their biodiversity from the market forces that threaten them--land and commodity prices driving more cultivation of native grass remnants, inadequate regulation and oversight of resource development, and public policy and market realities that do not foster good stewardship among private landowners and leaseholders on native grassland.
It must be said that the provincial NDP platform does make a clear statement about the former PFRA pastures under its agricultural section: "We will insist that the new federal government halt the process of ending the community pasture program, and collaborate with pasture patrons to more cost-effectively manage pastures that have already transitioned."
Their environmental platform also says they "will develop a Nature Index of Saskatchewan, to measure, track and publicly report on the state of Saskatchewan’s environment, modeled on the Norwegian Nature Index." They also promise to implement a comprehensive biodiversity action plan.
and "reverse the Sask. Party’s cuts to environmental protection."
|sunflowers on native grassland|
Meanwhile, groups like Public Pastures--Public Interest, the Community Pastures Patrons Association, and the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan have been working to get grasslands in general and the PFRA pasture issues in particular onto the agenda of political candidates. This week APAS joined with The Western Producer to host a dialogue with the incumbent minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Lyle Stewart, and representatives of the other political parties. They called it "Why Agriculture Matters." The forum went well and the Community Pastures Patrons Association of Saskatchewan asked whether the candidates' parties would be willing to consider putting $1 to 2 million into the management of the public benefits of the community pastures being transferred to Saskatchewan.
All of the candidates other than Mr. Stewart responded to the question by indicating that they would support such an investment in the wellbeing of these lands. Rick Swenson of the Progressive Conservative Party and Cathy Sproule of the NDP gave particularly strong answers in favour of some funding for the transitioned pastures.
This week Joanne Havelock, of Public Pastures--Public Interest, sent out to prospective candidates and to PPPI supporters some terrific material to use in talking to other voters or to candidates about the conservation issues around publicly-owned grasslands. You can find it all here at the PPPI website, but my favourite part is a list of Ten Reaseons Why Public Grasslands Matter. Here it is:
1. Because they are rare and threatened by cultivation and other kinds of development.
Canada has its own threatened Amazonian forest - our native prairie. It is widely considered one of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada. Less than 20% of our native prairie remains in Saskatchewan. The rest has been turned into agricultural fields, cities and roads. Some types of native grassland, such as northern fescue, are even more diminished, to less than 10% of their original.
2. Because they support endangered species.
Many of the federally-listed Species at Risk in Saskatchewan are found in our native grasslands. This is a direct result of the habitat loss. In Southern Saskatchewan, many of the native birds and animals require native prairie to survive - it is their only home. Over 30 Species at Risk are known to live on the Community Pastures.
3. Because they are diverse.
While a quarter section of agricultural land may contain a few agricultural crop species, a quarter section of native prairie will support over a hundred species of grasses and wildflowers and hundreds of animal species including birds, insects and myriad bacteria and fungi. Sadly our croplands are biological deserts bereft of almost all of their original native diversity.
4. Because they protect soil and water.
Grasslands help mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration by the grasses and other plants. They prevent soil erosion. They also contribute to water security as healthy plants and their root systems filter and purify our water.
5. Because they sequester carbon.
Most of the carbon held in the ecosphere is found in soils. Unbroken native prairie sequesters a vast deposit of soil carbon - one of Canada’s largest carbon sinks. Most of this carbon is lost when prairie is broken. This happens because soil bacteria quickly convert the stores of soil carbon into CO2, a greenhouse gas that directly contributes to global warming. Acre for acre, prairie soils hold more carbon than boreal forest soils.
6. Because they support ranching economy and culture.
Grasslands are important to cattle ranchers and their communities as they provide land for grazing - for both domestic and wild species of animals. As publicly-owned lands, they can support smaller producers, and can demonstrate how economic, cultural and environmental objectives can be integrated.
7. Because they contain the cultural heritage of the prairie.
Many archaeological sites are still to be found on these relatively undisturbed prairie grasslands. These sites have significant cultural and heritage values for all Saskatchewan people: indigenous, settler and other newcomers.
8. Because people need native prairie places they can visit.
Saskatchewan people use these publicly-owned lands for recreational and cultural purposes. They are important to the nearby rural communities and are very important elements of Indigenous traditional culture.
9. Because all natural land has value that goes beyond economics.
Public lands are more than a commodity. While they have financial value for agriculture, they also provide important environmental, heritage, cultural, indigenous and recreational values.
10. Because we have a responsibility to the future.
These grasslands - as threatened as the Amazon rainforest - are our children’s heritage and our responsibility. Our children’s prairie heritage is under threat: the beauty of a fresh prairie morning; birds singing; wildflowers dancing in the breeze. We must ensure that our children inherit a province rich in the possibilities of our grasslands.