Friday, October 19, 2012

Not there yet, but some pretty good news on the community pastures

Burrowing owl family--one of the 31 or more endangered species who will be affected by our decisions on the community pastures--
image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood

In a news release this morning, the Saskatchewan Government announced a new plan for the PFRA community pastures (i.e. the federal Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration community pastures that are being transferred back to the province because Stephen Harper has washed his hands of any responsibility for them).

Though it is not quite time to congratulate the Saskatchewan Government for saving the day on the pastures, today’s announcement does represent a real improvement. Sometime next week, I will look at the primary issue that has not been addressed in this new plan (namely, they are still putting the pastures up for sale, removing these agriculturally and ecologically important landscapes from public oversight, and leaving them vulnerable over the long term to market forces and to takeover from out of province interests--both immediately with the issue of investors possibly bankrolling the patron groups or down the road when the patrons eventually re-sell the land), but for today it is time to look at the half-full part of the glass.

The gist of the change is that, although the province still seems to prefer to sell the pastures to grazing patron groups, they have added a new option that will help producers who want to continue to have access to a pasture without purchasing the land. Specifically, this new plan allows for leasing the land. In the words of the news release, “patrons will have the opportunity to own or lease these pastures.”
blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis), a common native grass on the pastures--
image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood

This option is a meaningful improvement for several reasons--it definitely will help out the local cattlemen who cannot afford to buy land at escalating prices--but the one I like best is that patrons who have traditionally used the pastures will be less inclined to go search for money to purchase them if they know they have the option to lease.

Land that stays in the public domain is land that all citizens may continue to benefit from and have at least the potential of some say over the way it is treated. Hunters who have always had access to the pastures in season will continue to do so. The same goes for botanists and bird watchers as well as scientists and naturalists conducting grassland research. While they may not be grazing patrons, these interest groups and the Canadian public at large, will continue to have recourse through government to be involved in the way these rare and unique ecosystems are used and accessed, as long as the province retains ownership. If today’s announcement leads to more of the pastures remaining as Crown land, then this will turn out to be a very good decision indeed.

As I said earlier, there are some remaining concerns because these legacy grasslands, so rich with endangered species and the history of ranching in this province, are still up for sale, but we have to give provincial Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart credit for brokering a more palatable plan and be grateful for the real progress we are beginning to make on the whole question of what Saskatchewan people want to have happen to our last large pieces of native prairie.

Mr.  Stewart is showing signs that he is going to be an Agriculture Minister who is approachable and unafraid of public discussion and consultation--one who wants to hear from the whole public, and who recognizes that there are ecological issues related to food production that are important to farmers and non-farmers alike. Last week he met with representatives from all the major environmental NGOs, discussing this new plan with them ahead of its announcement. That alone is a big improvement over his many predecessors who have been in charge of that department. In addition to the main points mentioned in the new plan, Mr. Stewart has apparently said that he would like to establish an advisory committee for overseeing the pastures system, and that he would like representation from the ENGOs on that committee. That is encouraging to say the least and I think those of us concerned about prairie conservation should commend him and embrace that opportunity to participate in an open and accountable public process that will oversee how our community pastures are used.
Do have a look at the announcement if you have time and let me know what you think.

a prairie critter that the last Sask. Ag minister did not like
--image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood


  1. Combine all of this with the changes that were made to the wildlife act it doesn't appear that very much of this land will come under any provincial protection. This whole concept of protection is negated by the fact this government has been very lax in classifying species as endangered in the last decade.

  2. Wow, nice blog! We have a lot in common. I grew up on the prairies of South Dakota. After working as a wildlife biologist in Alaska, I became a teacher in Seattle, which is a far more corrupt city that I ever could have imagined. At any rate, I became a political activist, but my spiritual roots are still in West Dakota.

    Do you know how I can contact Hamilton Greenwood? I'd like to ask him if I can use his photo of blue grama grass in a book about symbols of the fifty states I'm working on. If you don't want to share his contact information here, you can e-mail me via my contact page @ (It's a brand new website, so don't be shocked it it doesn't look developed yet.)


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