Thursday, March 14, 2013

A list of public benefits from the PFRA grasslands

the soil erosion, weedy growth, and overgrazing seen in this image comes from the kind of land use practices that do not serve the public interest of soil & water conservation, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration

Last week in this space I was talking in general terms about the public goods and services that the community pastures provide all of us—even those of us who do not go there to hunt antelope or look for Western Spiderwort.

I was making the point that if we want these public benefits (I will list them shortly), if we agree that they are important, it may not be smart to expect the grazing leaseholders to shoulder all of the burden of the cost of managing and protecting those benefits.

Let’s take a quick look at those goods and benefits that come to the public, to see if we really do value them—enough for us to look for ways to pay for the costs of protecting them:

1. Historical/cultural—these lands show us our history as prairie people. They are among the last places where we can go to see what the prairie was like, the prairie that supported our ancestors, indigenous and settler alike. The pastures also have archaeological sites—tipi rings, burials, med. Wheels. And cowboy culture—these are also the last places to see what horseback cowboy culture is like—all PF work is done on horse. Then there is settler history—the story of the families who were enticed into settling and cultivating land that should never have been broken. On certain pastures there are still the ruins of that sad chapter of our history—the leftover signs of the people who had to abandon or be relocated off the land in the ‘30s when the PF system was formed to conserve soil and the health of grazing lands.

2. Soil conservation—that has been part of the PF system from the beginning and the need to continue conserving soil has not gone away, despite what Gerry Ritz has said. If anything under climate change and the likelihood of more severe and frequent droughts, soil conservation is more important than ever.
Food security—by providing affordable grazing access to local producers the pastures maintain our livestock industry in the face of globalization and free trade—without them we would be that much more vulnerable to predatory tactics of multi-national beef interests—Cargill, JBS, etc.

3. Carbon sequestration—it is estimated that the dollar value of carbon storage in the PF grasslands is by itself worth double the overall costs of managing the entire system of pastures. But carbon sequestration disappears under poor management—the land must be grazed in a way that will keep the carbon in the soil.

4. Economic and rural sustainability—by employing staff and serving local livestock producers, the PF system has always helped support local communities in some of the areas of the province that have been rapidly depopulating in recent years. If those pastures fall under the control of out of province interests, and access for local producers is reduced, and there are no salaries for pasture managers and riders, the schools and stores and rinks in those communities will empty out.

5. Water quality—native grass cover provides the prairie’s best surface for recharging ground water resources. As well, if the managers take measures to protect creeks and waterways from cattle damage, the pastures will provide vital source water protection with very little contamination from agricultural chemicals, and cleaner water in general.

6. Hunting and other forms of recreation—while the PF has always controlled access to protect livestock and the grass from fire, people can get permits to go on the land, and hunters in particular, as well as naturalists and photographers, have been able to enjoy the use of the pastures.

7. Research—biologists, geographers, sociologists, range scientists, and other researchers benefit from the outdoor laboratory that the PF system provided—well managed grassland with rich communities of grassland animals and plants in healthy ecosystems.

Ok, so those are merely a few of the benefits that accrue to the wider public interest—to you and me, even if we do not have cattle grazing on the land, even if we are not hunters and birders.

A chart on costs and benefits from the PFRA's 2006-2011 business plan

But what are the forces that threaten these values that serve our interests? The things that these goods have to be protected from?

Well, that is an important question, but it will have to wait for next time.

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