Friday, March 8, 2013

Paying for professional management of the PFRA pastures

watching out for . . .

Today I will say a few things about a subject that has had little attention in the public discussion of the PFRA pastures—professional management, its cost and why it is worth paying for. [Many of the good ideas and some of the phrasing in this post come from fellow PPPI member, Laura Stewart.]

We know that our cow-calf ranchers are good stewards of their own individual holdings. For them, the long term matters and they are careful because good management serves their own interests as well as the general interests of wildlife conservation. Which begs the question, why not simply sell or lease the PFRA pastures directly to cattlemen and let them manage it themselves as leaseholder-operators?

I want to answer that important question by looking at two kinds of messages we are hearing from Saskatchewan Agriculture on this question.

We hear them say that the Province cannot run the pasture system—it is too much work and too costly and that would not be responsible to taxpayers.

But in the next breath we hear that stewardship of the pastures is easy and affordable for the patrons to manage—no problem. They should be able to do it and easily make a dollar as cattlemen.

Well, you can’t have it both ways. If this work is not difficult or costly, why won’t the province run the pastures? if it is difficult and costly, why should the patrons have to do it?

The truth is, of course, there are important programs and management systems that do cost something, because they are worth something—they are serving the wider public interest and the long term interests of grazing at the same time—but these programs and systems will fall through the cracks in the sale and leasing of the PFRA lands, unless we take measures to ensure that they continue.

The PFRA pasture managers look after large mixed herds of cattle grazing pastures of 20,000 or 30,000 acres of endangered ecosystems that are home to sometimes ten or more species at risk, some of which have conflicting habitat requirements. That expertise and the programs that support the managers must be retained, but patrons should not be expected to pay for them all alone. The good management of these endangered ecosystems provides soil conservation, water conservation, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, economic and recreational goods to all Canadians. All Canadians should help bear or account for the costs of protecting those goods.

For our forest ecosystems in the north, we keep the land under the Crown and we have government agencies, forestry branches, that protect the wider public interest in having healthy forests while managing the pulp, paper, and lumber industries that take an economic interest in the trees. It would take a tiny fraction of the budget of our forestry branch to provide some support to the proper ecological management of these grasslands, which, compared with our northern forests, are much more significant nationally and globally in terms of protecting rare and representative landscapes. But if even that small expenditure is unacceptable for our Province to take on, why not get the oil and gas industry to pay for it? They make hundreds of millions from the PFRA pastures every year. 

Meanwhile, here is a simple way for the public to take some responsibility for these benefits without incurring direct costs.  All our Provincial government has to do is to negotiate a fair deal with the new Community Pasture Patrons Association of Saskatchewan. By "fair deal", I mean one that would keep the base land lease costs low enough so every pasture can make a commitment to employing a professional manager.

If we can find a way for our pasture patrons to do that and they are able to run the pastures more or less as the PFRA always did--with professional managers who manage for biodiversity and protect the land from overstocking--we will have the foundation for a way forward that may well satisfy the needs of cattlemen, hunters, conservationists, and all of us who receive the $34 million in public benefits that these grasslands return to Canadians every year. And there may be a way to make the whole agreement agnostic to the nature of the government ownership--so that while most pastures remain under the Crown, a few pastures with willing patrons could agree to their pasture being sold to a First Nation or group of First Nations.

There would be many details to hammer out, but I think we could right now sit down as stakeholders and work out a basic agreement along those lines. Everyone could come out a winner--the cattlemen, conservationists, the general public, the pasture employees, First Nations, and the Provincial Government.

Anyone know Premier Wall's cell number?

good things on the horizon


  1. Hi Trevor,

    As I read your blog, you always provide hope through possible solutions. I received this TED video last week and my holistic bias has led me to forwarding this along. The PFRA pastures have answers and solutions to many issues confronting us if they can be secured by those who have the future in mind.

    I have been following the wild pollinator concerns since CCD arrived in 2007. There is a huge concern for domestic honey bees, and justifiably so. However, there needs to be an equal concern for the wild native pollinators. Their habitat depends on wild areas and shelter belt plantings. Closing Indian Head will have repercussions on our food supply.

    The community pastures with their wild flowering plants are a magnet for pollinators. It is sad that the bio tech corporations refuse to take responsibility for the harm that their chemicals are doing to many insect populations. I think that the "science" is going to soon reveal the truth.

    Thank you again for the awareness that you bring to all of these critical issues!



  2. So true, Don. I think we are heading toward a lot more awareness of these issues and how they intertwine.

  3. Hey Trevor, I didn't know how else to reach you so I am putting this on your comment section. First off, I really enjoy your blog and read it regularly. I don't know if you remember me or not but my wife and I came out to Cherry Lake with Erin Knuttila, Andre Magnon and Theresa Holt a few years ago. My name is Jason Burns and I told you that my friend and I had written a song inspired by your book River In a Dry Land. Well we have recorded it and are in the process of having our vinyl and cds made as we speak. I will get you a pyhsical copy of them when they are ready but until then I would love for you to hear the song you inspired. The song is called Aitkow and can be found here, you can reach me at if you would like to comment, thanks and have a great day

  4. What a great blog you have put together ! I've only just scratched the surface and look forward to reading through all your posts . I do have a quick question or observation ;
    are community pastures open to everyone to access when they please ?
    If they are , the general population would have a tendency to become very protective of them if they new about them .

  5. Thanks Scott. Yes, public access is an important element. However, because of the cattle in the pastures, risk of fire caused by visitors, and other issues related to liability, access is controlled. That means we can visit the pastures--as many naturalists, hikers, photographers and hunters do every year--but you have to get a permit. The cool thing is that many of the pastures have roads that go through or along side them and can be enjoyed by walking, biking, or driving along the public road.

  6. Hi Trevor what about the managers an riders who work there are they still going to have job after somebody else take it over that,s there way of life for them. I,am disgusted with the goverment what there doing i wish somebody can step in an stop this.
    Thank you Devin

  7. Devin-so far it is looking like those pasture managers will be gone from the pastures. This is the most important element of the management of the pastures: the retention of knowledge from these men and women who have spent years protecting the grasslands. These are some of the last great cowboy jobs in Canada, part of an 80 year heritage in conservation that we should be celebrating not eliminating. Thanks for writing.


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