Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ottawa cutting SARA off at the knees; Scientists speak out

Long-billed Curlews, one of Canada's Species at Risk may lose what little protection they have (image by Hamilton Greenwood)

One of the most worrisome parts of the 62 PFRA pastures being divested from Federal control and handed over to the province of Saskatchewan is the question of what will happen to the endangered species that have come to depend on these large tracts of well-managed grassland. At least 31 plants and animals listed under the Federal Species at Risk Act as endangered, threatened, or "special concern" need the habitat on the community pastures to be managed as it has been.

As a friend who knows intimately this relationship between the PFRA pastures and its rare prairie creatures said to me once, Species at Risk are on the pastures BECAUSE of what has been done in the last 70 years NOT IN SPITE OF IT. Management of this kind of land requires a lot of expertise if sustaining biodiversity and Species at Risk are part of the overall goals. We hear that farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of our grassland. They sometimes are. We all know of ranchers who keep an eye out for a burrowing owl on their pasture. Another one who protects Ferruginous Hawks and knows enough to leave the old homestead where the shrikes nest. That is all good. Keeping an eye out for one or two species is one thing, but some of these large PFRA pastures will have significant numbers of nest sites and locations for six or seven species at risk. Some of them are hard to see much less identify and their habitat requirements are still not fully understood by the biologists who study them for years. Managing grazing in ways that meet most of their needs--some need short grass and others need tall, others still need moist areas or shrubby habitat--takes us to a level of complexity that is almost impossible for a private landowner to manage.  

Burrowing Owl--one of 31 species at risk on our community pastures (image by Hamilton Greenwood)
This balanced system of caring for biodiversity while serving the local community and providing an economic opportunity for livestock producers took almost 80 yrs of trial and error, research, planning and investment to figure out. To say that this model of conservation and protection of Species at Risk can be matched by local committees of grazing patrons on 62 pastures, each with their own business plans and self-managing the land, is disingenuous at best.

Hundreds of people are signing petitions and sending letters to the Provincial Minister of Agriculture expressing their concerns on this topic. Recent responses from the Ministry are reassuring us once again that farmers and ranchers are the best stewards so there is nothing to worry about and Species at Risk will somehow be protected by the Federal Species at Risk Act, even though the land is no longer under Federal control. (See this post for a Species at Risk expert's response to that.)

Tonight I had an interesting phone call from a patron of the Wolverine Community Pasture near Lanigan. Wolverine is one of the first ten to be sold or leased. This patron told me that he heard that the local patron group is very concerned about the environment in their pasture if it is not managed properly. Yes, our livestock producers care. But they aren't stupid. They see the value of the PFRA system and they recognize, if they are honest, that without the kind of management oversight the PFRA always provided, the long term environmental health of the grass, the wildlife and the waterways on these pastures will be degraded.

Meanwhile, that very Species at Risk Act, in which we are to place our confidence, is being the Stephen Harper government. This article makes it clear that the the Act, which many say has been a failure because politicians have interfered with it and not implementing its provisions, is about to become even less effective.

And here is a news story  that says the province's will not be able to fill in to protect endangered species if the Federal Act is weakened.

Meanwhile, Canadian scientists are expressing their dismay at the Federal government's retrograde actions. Here is a letter  from Canada's scientists, which they are still gathering signatures for.

If you are a scientist or have a science degree and would like to join the campaign and sign the letter, please go to this site and fill in the necessary fields. Post or email this to your contacts if you want to help. 

Canada's endangered creatures, from the Polar Bear to the Orca to the Sprague's Pipits on our community pastures are worth standing up for.

freshly banded Sprague's Pipit, image courtesy of Stephen Davis

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