Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thoughts from the (first?) Community Pastures Forum

Well, we are all feeling exhausted and exhilarated from the experience of holding our first Community Pastures Forum. Of all the things we learned on Friday, perhaps the most important was that there are so many ways to value these 62 pieces of prairie that serve cattle producers and our threatened prairie ecosystems so effectively. The 75 people who attended on such a snowy day reflected a range of interests and backgrounds worthy of the prairie's own diversity. We had several pasture patrons, including two who sit on the patron committees for their local PFRA pasture. We had some anonymous government staff, federal and provincial. There were of course many people rural and urban--naturalists, hunters, photographers and others--who look to the pastures for the solace, adventure, and inspiration wilder lands can offer.

So much happened, so many encouraging ideas and messages from people with broad experience with the grazing and conservation side of things. We now have some specific tasks to undertake, which I will not detail in this space, but here are some of my favourite moments from the day, in no particular order:

  • Listening to Maureen Clay, recently retired supervisor of 13 PFRA pastures and their staff, explain the value of the pasture managers and their intimate knowledge of the land.
  • When I realized that, while current staff were forbidden from participating, there were at least five retired PFRA employees with us--some of them people who once held senior positions in management working for decades in Engineering or in the pastures side of things. They all stayed for the whole day, and when we discussed ideas and strategies at the end, a key bit of advice from their quarter made all the difference.
  • The noon hour panelists were all eloquent and passionate in their assessment of what must be done to protect the pastures in the interests of livestock producers, pasture employees, the local communities they live in, the public at large, and the biodiversity and ecological wellbeing of the prairie regions of the province.
  • It is always a treat to hear former Chief Roland Crowe speak and he was in good form but it was gratifying also to see him standing with the men in cowboy hats and talking to them about the issues.
  • The young people--there were a few people thirty and younger, including one young livestock producer who made a couple of cogent points on how the PFRA pastures system could be adapted to encourage or support cattlemen of his generation.
  • When at the beginning of the day Jack Boan, professor emiritus (econ.) of the University of Regina, walked in and sat down in the front row. Later Jack took the mic and told us that he worked for the PFRA as a young man, but then went on to say that his good friend, George Ledingham, former U of R Biology professor "would have been with us today, but he has gone on to his reward." George was the gentle but persistent force that over thirty years managed to talk the powers that be into finally recognizing the value of grasslands in a national park. Jack finished with his assessment of the "austerity disease" that has come across the border from the United States to infect Canadian governments.
  • The many new points and perspectives people brought to the event--for example, ideas on how to communicate to the wider public the story of why native grasslands matter.

And finally, here is a note I received from a person who like quite a few others who have spoken to me in recent weeks, wants to remain nameless for fear of repercussions from the provincial or federal government:
"Thanks for arranging the forum today; it was excellent.  My only wish was that there had been those elusive representatives from MOA and AESB (and not retirees either).  . . . .There was one point I'd like to contribute, is that there is a true disconnect from the pastures and the general public.  For those of us who make a living, or a concerted effort to access the "back forty", we have a deep connection to the land.  But for the general public who have no rural connection, rallying the public (especially those in other provinces) is a formidable task.  The message can't only tug at heartstrings, but has to have some real tangible implications to the public. That's my two cents worth anyway."

Yes, there is a lot of work ahead, but now there are many of us to do it and for that I am very grateful.

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