Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Alberta Advantage: a pasture management model from our neighbours

some of the folks involved with making the management of Antelope Creek Ranch work for the wider public interest
Here is a story that shows how a group of stakeholders and government agencies aiming to conserve grassland ecology can work with a large piece of grassland to maximize livestock gains while at the same time minimizing the damage from oil and gas development and ensuring that wildlife habitat is protected.

Antelope Creek Ranch, near Brooks, Alberta, is a model that Saskatchewan's PFRA grazing patrons and conservation community might want to take a close look at. The 5000 plus acres of pasture land are managed cooperatively in partnership with the Alberta Fish and Game Association (AFGA), Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and Wildlife Habitat Canada (WHC). Here is a quote from the history section of their website, but the whole site is worth a good look.
The ACR celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2006, testament to a success story that it is possible for ranching, oil and gas operations and wildlife to co-exist on the same property. The ranch is managed for livestock and wildlife amid long-standing EnCana Corporation (formerly Pan Canadian Energy Corporation), and relatively recent Pengrowth Energy Trust (formerly Murphy Oil) oil and gas operations – a work in progress to promote the wise use of native mixed grass prairie in southern Alberta, and elsewhere in western Canada.
One of the nice features of the Antelope Creek Ranch is that they encourage day hikers and wildlife viewers. In fact the website (see below for a screen capture) suggests birdwatchers and hunters alike contact the ranch managers for favourable locations for their chosen activity.

Wouldn't you like to see some of Saskatchewan's PFRA pastures managed this way? There is no reason why we couldn't adapt the model and make it work for our grazing patrons and the ecosystems contained in the first ten pastures to be transferred first to provincial jurisdiction.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

History and Drama of a Prairie Commons--great pastures article in CCPA newsletter

Public Pastures-Public Interest board members, Dr. Josef Schmutz, a conservation biologist at the University of Saskatchewan and Dr. Katherine Arbuthnot, a conservation psychologist at the University of Regina, teamed up to write an authoritative review of the history of the PFRA, looking at the multiple benefits of the community pastures, and presenting an alternate strategy to management that is emerging among concerned Saskatchewan citizens. It was published online this week on the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website.

Here is a brief excerpt:
"The crux of the issue is that the PFRA pastures do 
more  for  us  than  produce  cattle.  The  current 
professional  management  program  coordinates 
multiple  functions  and  benefits.  Pasture 
managers  enable  sustainable  grazing  on 
endangered  ecosystems,  while  tending  the 
sometimes  conflicting  habitat  requirements  of 
many  species  at  risk.  The  pay‐off  for  such 
management  includes  soil  conservation,  water 
conservation,  and  carbon  sequestration,  in 
addition to the economic value of the cattle. The 
wise option would be to retain this expertise that 
has been developed over nearly 80 years, but it is 
unlikely that pasture patrons could afford to pay 
for this on their own. Nor should they."
Do read the entire article. Meanwhile, if you are in Regina and want to help out the cause, come to our Ken Hamm house concert this Friday, April 19. Only $20. Ken is giving all of the proceeds to PPPI in our efforts to ensure the pastures receive the protection and conservation management they deserve. There are a handful of tickets left so if you want one email

Master blues guitarist Ken Hamm will be playing at a PPPI benefit house concert this Friday in Regina

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Road is How: images from a prairie road waiting for spring

Went for a short drive this morning down one of my favourite roads running east of the city. People who live on the road sometimes call it "Old 16" because it was at one time a main highway into the city, Highway 16, before the new 16 that is part of the Yellowhead highway in Central Saskatchewan.
the western termination of Old 16

The book I have been working on since the fall of 2011 is based on a three day walk down Old 16. For now at least, I am calling it The Road is How: Three Days Afoot through Nature, Eros, and Soul.* The title borrows from something Soren Kiekegaard once wrote about the road as a spiritual image.

This morning Old 16 was bathed in blue light reflected off far too much snow for April 14. The sun was only half-obscured by gauzy clouds and though the wind was cold, spring seemed at least a possibility.

Horned Larks help. They are the first breeding birds back from the south (the central U.S.). They chase each other and then land briefly in pairs, before taking off again on little courtship flights and what appears to be brief aerial battles thirty feet above the snowy fields.

like many grassland songbirds, the Horned Lark has long hind claws that help it to walk and stand rather than hop like a robin would

When I saw a bird sitting on the wire at first I thought it might be a meadowlark, but as I got close enough for a very distant telephoto shot (80 metres or so) I realized it was a Northern Shrike. The Northern Shrike, which winters down here and breeds in the far north of the province, shares with its endangered grassland relative, the Loggerhead Shrike, the habit of eating vertebrate prey. Shrikes are the only songbirds in fact who regularly prey on mice, amphibians and birds. The hooked bill visible in this image tells the story.

Another northern predator that depends on the prairie for its winter survival is the snowy owl. I flushed a perfectly white adult male off the side of the road, where he looked like any other chunk of snow piled up by the graders. Here he is in flight, first at a distance. . .

That is "Monica Farm" shown in this image. Here is a cropped version of the same photo:

After swooping over the road he headed north to land in a small bush about three hundred metres away (this image is about 150X so is even fuzzier than usual):

*HarperCollins will be publishing the new book by this time next year and my editor, Patrick Crean, is expected to get back to me with some editing thoughts very soon.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

PFRA pastures make the Focus Section of today's Globe & Mail

Canadian archives photo in today's Globe & Mail feature on the PFRA pastures
Take a look at this morning's Globe & Mail if you get a chance. The weekend Focus section contains two pieces I wrote for them recently on the community pastures controversy, one of which made it to the online edition. But the paper edition includes some of the most important stuff about the loss of the PFRA managers. It is based on an interview with the inimitable Mert Taylor (pasture manager at Bigstick PFRA), who I have written about in this space.

Here is the online photo gallery, which includes this terrific shot of Mert, taken by Jon Bowie.

Here is a snippet from the online version of the feature:

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Elise Dale, pasture rider at Wolverine Pasture, explains why the PFRA system of management matters

Elise Dale, PFRA Pasture Rider on the Wolverine Pasture
Today I have a guest post from Elise Dale, who has worked as a pasture rider in Wolverine Community Pasture, near Lanigan, Saskatchewan--one of the first ten pastures to be cut loose from Federal support and being put up for sale or lease.

Her story testifies to the need for public input and oversight through professional managers who answer to an agency that protects the public interest in these important conservation areas. Without such oversight independent from direct financial interests in the pastures, things like species at risk protection will fall unfairly on the shoulders of the leasing pasture patrons.

Here is Elise's story:

I grew up on a mixed farming operation, in close proximity to the Wolverine PFRA pasture and three generations of my family have brought cattle to the pasture to graze. I always had an interest in cattle & horses. I raised both, I had a small cow/calf operation until the time factor got in the way of breeding & training quarter horses.
I was lucky to be offered a job at the Wolverine pasture and have worked there as a rider the past few years. From early on I was always in awe of the native American history in this pasture, Spoony Lake is a unique place, up on the north bank there sits a teepee ring with a fire pit and a perfect view of the lake and many times while checking this field Weisbeck (the manager) and I have mused how perfect a spot this is to catch the breeze off the lake with the picturesque view.
Up on the buffalo jump, hunting blinds have weathered the years. Passing these structures, they always make me wonder to myself about the hunters that drew the short stick and were planted up there to turn the herd of bison, some of the blinds have been scattered from the elements and cattle rubbing on them, but one sits almost perfectly unscathed. I wonder, now more than ever, how many people will get to enjoy the very last of our wide open spaces and the story that this land tells.
This pasture was land abandoned in the 1930's and taken over by the federal government to rehabilitate. Their mandate was noble: rehabilitate the land and return it to a functional state. They did just that, they hired and educated a new breed of conservationist, people who appreciate the land and the wildlife living off it. I believe the term environmental stewardship fits here. The man I work for, Eric Weisbeck is one of these men, not a preachy tree hugger but a rational conservationist, and environmental steward.
Eric Weisbeck, Wolverine Pasture Manager, photo courtesy of Brian Payne

He has done a great job of managing the grass and has made this pasture prosper for over a decade. The Wolverine pasture encompasses more than 16,000 acres and not only grazes cattle but is a rich wildlife preserve. Its became a wildlife haven for at risk bird species, Sprague's Pippet, among countless other bird species, as well as mule deer, white tail, elk, and moose.
The current situation arising from the federal governments decision to cut the P.F.R.A pastures is perplexing to me, With an abundance of gravel in this pasture, local and surrounding municipalities, and provincial government bodies are trying to secure their piece of it. I believe steps need to be taken with proper conservation and archaeological easements, as well as mining regulations on gravel pits so this land will thrive under new owners and managers. How the land with the gravel will fair through all this weighs in the decision of which entity will be given the rights to determine how, when and where the natural resources will be extracted. i.e. government bodies or pasture group, who has the best interest of both environment and resources in mind?
I am not sure I have the answers as to what should happen with the gravel extraction. If left in the hands of the producer group, given the chance they may jump on the chance to subsidize their grazing rates by selling gravel or selling land to interested parties. By the state the provincial government leaves their other gravel pits in their control, I wouldn't be easily convinced that they would manage them in a respectable manner. Guidelines need to set so that interested government bodies will not rape the land for its gravel and a piece of our countries unique heritage will be lost forever.

Spooner Lake, in Wolverine Community Pasture, image courtesy of Elise Dale

Share this post

Get widget