Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A welcome light at the end of the tunnel for Community Pastures. . .maybe?

by Hamilton Greenwood
This morning I received a media release issued by a steering committee representing Saskatchewan’s First Nations. The group is led by Roland Crowe, elder statesman of First Nations leadership and the man who was able to unify indigenous and non-indigenous policy-makers around the issue of Treaty Land Entitlement back in the ‘90s.

The release says that the province’s First Nations are advancing an alternative for the former Federal PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) pastures that are being handed back to Saskatchewan. Instead of selling them, as the Saskatchewan Party has said they intend to, the Chiefs and other First Nations leaders behind this proposal believe they have a way of keeping the 1.6 million acres of grassland under the Crown while meeting the needs of local livestock producers and maintaining the high level of ecological integrity established by the PFRA over the decades.

Here is a quote from the release:

“Whenever Crown land is being sold, there are some moral and legal imperatives that cannot be ignored,” said former FSIN Chief Roland Crowe. “There are obligations to consider our interests as first peoples and those of all stakeholders. We have an historical and economic interest in the way these pastures will be used and we do not want to see them parcelled up and sold off. Rather than placing them in the hands of a privileged few or worse in the hands of investors and non residents, let’s work together to find a way to conserve and manage these grasslands locally and in whole rather than in part for the good of all Saskatchewan people.”
People should read the release for themselves (see below) but here are some reasons why I feel this proposal deserves a serious hearing by our elected leaders:

1. Sask. First Nations have some experience in managing grassland. Some of the Qu’Appelle First Nations have grazing lands on their traditional reserves and in fact some of it had been managed by the PFRA until the Feds turned the land over to the First Nation. The transition went well by all reports and local non-aboriginal grazing patrons have had a working relationship with the First Nations managers, and continue to graze their cattle on reserve grasslands.

2. The basics of the proposal sound a lot better than any other alternative at the present time: First, they say they are committed to the idea of keeping all of the former PFRA pastures as Crown land. Second, they have said they will retain the current pasture managers and other on site staff (riders mostly) if they want to continue to work on the pastures. And third, they say they will strive to establish a governance model for the lands that will include non-grazing interest groups as well as the livestock organizations and local grazing patrons. In other words, environmental NGOs will have a place at the table and a chance to influence the decisions on how the lands will be used. Of course, it remains to be seen how that will work in actuality, but no one else--certainly not the provincial government or the livestock organizations--are making any serious overtures toward people and organizations that want to protect the ecological integrity of these grasslands.

3. They have Carl Neggers on their side. Who is Carl Neggers? Well, oddly enough, Carl used to be the Director General of the PFRA. He knows the pastures system, and believes in the value of keeping ecologically sensitive and endangered land like this in the public trust. He understands the PFRA system’s origins in the Dirty Thirties, the taxpayer investment over the past 75 years restoring the lands to health and serving local livestock producers, and he was there through the last years when there was increasing pressure from Federal politicians to cut the pastures loose. Carl is a passionate believer in the “triple bottom line” of people, profit, and planet, a big thinker who is convinced that there is a way to bring economic benefits to some First Nations communities while at the same time protecting that long investment Canada has made in protecting some of the largest and best remnants of native grassland ecology.

4. Finally, there are some moral and historical reasons that must be considered, a few troublesome little facts about the way we cleared this land of buffalo and Indians before we could turn it into farms and towns. These 1.6 million acres are the closest thing we have to the way the world looked before our forbears exterminated the buffalo and drove the plains peoples onto reserves. If this proposal contains even a remote possibility of bringing a bit more justice and mutual respect into the relations between settler peoples and Aboriginal people, then it must be given a fair and honest chance to have a moment in the sun. I believe it has at least that and perhaps a lot more.

Who knows? I am just enough of a dreamer to wonder if this could be the start of something restorative and healing not merely for our beleaguered prairie ecosystems, but for the two solitudes of prairie peoples who both need desperately to get back in touch with the real world of grass and sky and song.

Buffalo at Grasslands National Park, Hamilton Greenwood

Here is the actual text of the media release:   Community Pastures Cooperative: a First Nations Sustainable Land Management Joint Venture   First Nation Chiefs present a cooperative business proposal to keep 1.6 million acres of ecologically sensitive grazing land in the hands of all Saskatchewan citizens.

Saskatchewan’s First Nations, lead by various TLE Chiefs, want to bring forward a cooperative business option called the “First Nations Sustainable Land Management Joint Venture” for the federal and provincial government(s) to consider regarding the discontinuation of the Community Pasture Program. Many provincial First Nations are concerned that the Saskatchewan Government intends to sell 1.6 million acres of the province’s most ecologically rich grasslands to a select few cattle producers.

“Whenever Crown land is being sold, there are some moral and legal imperatives that cannot be ignored,” said former FSIN Chief Roland Crowe. “There are obligations to consider our interests as first peoples and those of all stakeholders. We have an historical and economic interest in the way these pastures will be used and we do not want to see them parcelled up and sold off. Rather than placing them in the hands of a privileged few or worse in the hands of investors and non residents, let’s work together to find a way to conserve and manage these grasslands locally and in whole rather than in part for the good of all Saskatchewan people.”

With those concerns and that vision in mind, a steering committee representing various First Nations and chaired by former FSIN Chief Roland Crowe has been formed. Crowe is well known nationally for negotiating the Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) agreement in 1992, which was an inclusive and cooperative approach that considered the interests of multiple stakeholders. The successful TLE approach is the underpinning for this current pasture business model. Crowe has contacted the Canadian and Saskatchewan Governments to present this management approach as a superior alternative to simply selling off the 62 community pastures. Roland Crowe said that First Nations believe that this land--some of the last large remnants of the prairie the way it was before settlement--should remain in the public trust and continue to be managed for both economic and ecological imperatives using an inclusive, transparent and third party based governance model.

Key management proposal elements include:

• The Province of Saskatchewan would retain title to all 1.6 million acres of provincial lands currently being managed under the federal government's Community Pasture Program.

• Pastures would be managed by the First Nations Sustainable Land Management Joint Venture retaining all 62 pastures under one coherent long-term vision, managing each landscape and ecosystem according to its particular needs and at the same high level of management fostered by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitations Administration (PFRA) over the past 80 years.

• An inclusive management board would modulate the balance of economic and ecological imperatives, with representation from First Nations, the federal and provincial governments, cattle producers, bison growers, research community and environmental NGOs.

• The initiative would bring economic benefits for First Nations for their work in managing the pasture system, balancing grazing, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity in ways that are both profitable and environmentally sound.

• The ecological value of the native pasture and the protection of species at risk and biodiversity would be a top priority, along with the current and long term grazing needs of small to medium-sized local stock growers.

• To take advantage of the knowledge base of current pasture management staff, a transitional plan would request that all existing managers and riders be offered the opportunity to be part of the new management system, with protection consideration to both pension benefits and salaries.

To develop this inclusive First Nations’ business model, the steering committee has engaged the leadership assistance of Carl Neggers, former Director General of PFRA who has significant experience with the highly successful Community Pasture Program.

“Managing grazing lands used by local cattlemen is nothing new for Saskatchewan First Nations” said Neggers. “In fact; several pastures that were established on reserves by the former PFRA were turned over to First Nations management and continue to serve the economic interests of local livestock producers to this day.” Neggers believes that under the proposed third party joint venture approach, enabled through a sound and inclusive business model, this pasture management initiative should appeal to the various stakeholders and still achieve important public policy goals. “History has proven that these lands are better managed and more viable from both a business and ecological perspective as contiguous blocks” said Neggers.

From the First Nations point of view, it is a viable and cooperative joint venture business opportunity that appeals to their traditional understanding of using and sharing the fruits of the land in sustainable ways.

Further Information:

Carl Neggers, SM Solutions Inc



Former Chief – Roland Crowe


Killdeer Badlands, Hamilton Greenwood


  1. Wow, this would be a win-win for everyone! I hope it actually happens!

  2. How would the land remain in the crown and be a TLE claim at the same time?

  3. Great question, but if I understand them (and they are being honest), they are not initially invoking any TLE rights on the land. They are saying to the Govt, "keep it as Crown land and we will manage it with this multi-stakeholder approach." But, if Lyle Stewart and the Sask Party are not willing to listen to this offer, they I would not be surprised if Sask. First Nations then play the TLE card. Does that make sense?

  4. Three words. One Earth Farms.

  5. what about One Earth? As near as I can tell there is no connection between the Sprott organization and this proposal from FSIN chiefs. Do you know something I should know?

  6. This sure sounds like the best option for the province, the first nations people and the rest of us who care about this earth. I'm crossing my fingers.

  7. I don't see this as feasible solution. Who would benefit from this multi stakeholder house of cards?

  8. One word. OIL. This group isn't interested in the land they are interested in what is underneath the land. If the land is sold or leased to the existing patrons as the province is planning to do. The crown will continue to generate surface revenue from oil and gas revenue. If the land goes as a TLE claim the crown will lose the revenue.

  9. who benefits from a multi-stakeholder approach you ask? The same people who benefit from a multi-stakeholder approach to public education or hospitals or highways--the public. For decades the pastures have been managed by an institution that is answerable to all possible stakeholders--our Federal government--and they have been managed exceedingly well. Selling them to anyone--cowboys or Indians--could well lead to their degradation in the face of market pressures.

  10. On the question of oil and sub-surface rights, I agree that this is an important point and one that will drive decision making out of the hands of local grazing patrons. I believe it would be a mistake to sell this land to anyone--it should stay under the Crown as ecologically irreplaceable land that must have the highest levels of protection and management, which of course includes grazing.

  11. When producers put their cattle on first nation pastures they put them there at their own risk. SK laws such as brand regulations, etc don't apply on reserve property.

  12. Interesting about the regulations on First Nations pastures. Not sure if that would apply here if the land is kept as provincial Crown land. Again, if this ends up being about First Nations buying the pastures, then I'd be concerned too--not because I am opposed to TLE settlement, but because I believe these pastures must receive the highest level of protection. (So why all the "anonymous" comments anyway? What are people afraid of with this issue? Open dialogue about this issue is important but if people cannot reveal who they are when they speak it is better to at least have their thoughts contribute to the conversation, I suppose.)

  13. "Three words One Earth Farms" Clint Timmons. Just thought i would mention that is my comment. lol

  14. I get the impression that many people believe that the only way to protect native prairie is for the gov to own it. How much of the remaining native prairie is privately owned in SK?

    Historically gov policy has been one of the largest threats to native prairie. This goes all the way back to the homesteading act, wheat board grain delivery policy and crop insurance that all encouraged/required the breaking of land.

  15. I wonder what the position of SWF is on private ownership vs TLE?

    If the land is going to be sold to someone isn't it logical to sell it to the people actually using it?

  16. Thanks Clint--good to have a name for at least one of the anonymous commenters

  17. Thanks for the comment on govt ownership of native prairie. There is a generally accepted concept in conservation circles that the best way to protect most forms of wild habitat in perpetuity is for it to be held in trust either by a private land trust or by the public as a whole via government. Private land trusts such as the Nature Conservancy can only afford to purchase relatively small amounts of land. With native grassland of course most of it is already in the hands of private landowners, though the Crown does own a lot as well, leasing it to ranchers. Some but not all private owners of native prairie do a fair to excellent job of managing it, but what about their successors or people they sell to? Without the protection in perpetuity that a private or public trust provides, the land will eventually end up in the hands of someone who will either allow it to degrade or will subdivide into ranchettes or cultivate areas that can be cultivated. That is the first reason that government ownership is valued. The second is that with well-funded programs, such as the PFRA pasture system, government ownership can include a level of management that will protect the biodiversity from the depradations of the marketplace.

  18. What would the Sask Wildlife Federation say about TLE? You'd have to ask them that--they were involved as a stakeholder when the agreement happened in 1992. As for "users" owning the pastures, it seems that you are, like Ag minister Lyle Stewart, assuming that grazing patrons are the only users of these grasslands. This is 1.6 million acres of the grassland that has for decades been managed for ecological health as well as grazing. Funny you should mention the SWF. Their members and other hunters have for a long time benefited from having access to the pastures during hunting season, but all Canadians benefit from the biodiversity, the cultural legacy, the carbon sequestration, and the other ecological goods and services of these lands (e.g. protecting against soil erosion and maintaining healthy watersheds). In fact, A study commissioned by the PFRA in 2002 examined the private and public benefits of the pastures and concluded that while local grazers gained benefits valued at $1,127 per 100 acres, society as a whole gained another $982 per 100 acres.

  19. Maybe we should turn all the pastures into parks and reintroduce the extirpated jackalope.


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