Thursday, March 27, 2014

PCAP research suggests it may be time for EGS programming in Sask.

click here to go to the PCAP document on EGS
If nothing else, the Sage Grouse Emergency Protection Order is showing us that rules and regulations will not work if there are no programs that grant value to the actions producers must take on their leased lands to help a species at risk recover. But will the public, and our elected representatives, take the next step of finding some money to develop and institute such programs?

A survey conducted by the Prairie Conservation Action Plan (PCAP) in Saskatchewan a few months ago seems to suggest that we may be getting there and just need a little nudge.

PCAP is a high level partnership that brings together diverse stakeholders from the Saskatchewan Stockgrowers Association to the Sask. Wildlife Federation, to the Society for Range Management and various provincial and federal government agencies.

One set of questions in the PCAP survey asked respondents how far they would go to support public policy that values the role livestock producers and farmers play in managing land in ways that conserve things like water quality and species at risk--what is often referred to these days as "Ecological Goods and Services" or EGS.

76.4% agreed that supporting EGS was about "being responsible toward the environment."  Ok, fine, but what about that next step of recognizing the value of producers who take measures to ensure EGS are maintained? Well, 59.2% said they "support programs that value farmers and livestock producers' roles in maintaining EGS." And 45.2% "support public investment into policies that promote EGS."

That last one is the sign that things are shifting, I think, even though at 45% we think "yeah but that is not even half of the population." These kinds of surveys will always show a high percentage of folks in favour of a public good--for example, better roads in your town--but when you ask how many are actually willing to reach into their pockets to pay for the necessary work the numbers will drop below 50%. I don't care if it is roads, libraries, or climate change measures--this is what you get in a survey. It is in our nature to want public goods but not always be willing to pay for them to be fostered and maintained.

The analysis at the end of the document perhaps says it best:

"Survey results indicate 45.2% of the public supports public investment into policies promoting EGS. While work needs to be done to promote the values that farmers, livestock producers and other land managers are doing to provide EGS to the public, a baseline has now been established of current public opinion, which will be useful for partners or sectors developing or evaluating EGS programs."

Ranchers' current concerns over the Sage Grouse Emergency Protection Order present an opportunity to move from "stick" to "carrot" in the way we handle our endangered species recovery. It is time that governments come forward with some money to develop programs with producers at the table, along with conservation NGOs--programs that reflect the public's interest in supporting EGS so that a Sage Grouse will be an asset on your land instead of a liability. Anything less is not likely to help this bird that may well disappear from the Canadian sage brush plains in the next few years.

image courtesy of Alberta Wilderness Association

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