Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Video: why prairie dogs matter

Here's a new video from Montana's American Prairie Reserve, explaining how Black-tailed Prairie Dogs benefit other prairie species from birds to bison.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"A good way to see the country"--Renee and Solomon Carriere of the South Sask. Delta

Saskatchewan River Delta from the air (image from Boreal Songbird Initiative website)

I've been dreaming lately about water, thinking especially about people who have found ways to live well by the ebb and flow of rivers, lakes, and sloughs.

Solomon Carriere is a paddler, hunter, outfitter, and dog-sledder who lives on the Saskatchewan River Delta straddling the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border--10,000 square kilometres of wet wilderness. The largest inland delta in North America and one of Canada's great ecological treasures, the Delta has little protection, other than people like Solomon and his wife Renee who live there and keep an eye on things. For them, the river is everything--food, transportation, livelihood, and sustenance for the soul.

Unfortunately, SaskPower's hydroelectric dams upstream are wreaking havoc with the natural flow of the river, causing siltation and harming aquatic plant and animal populations.

In last December's issue of Canadian Geographic, Allan Casey published an excellent article on the Delta. In it he speaks to Solomon and Renee about their lives and how the river has changed. (Here is a taste: "Twice [Renee] has led school students on 32-day paddling trips from the river’s glacier source in the Rockies to Cumberland House. The kids, none of whom had ever spent a night outdoors, started out fearful, some overweight. By the time they reached home, their bodies had hardened up, their fears of the wild softened.")

But I first heard about the Carriere family in a documentary on the delta created by Ian Toews a few years back: Saskatchewan River Delta.

This week, out of the blue, I received an email from Solomon, which surprised me because I know he lives along the river in a pretty remote spot far from internet access. The message was about an egret he had seen twice this past summer on one of the channels of the delta.

I told him that Great Egrets are pretty uncommon anywhere in the province but are increasing year by year, breeding farther north all the time. He sent along some photos and this video, showing the egret flying ahead of him as he travels along the Stone River toward Cumberland House.

As a competitive long-distance paddler, Solomon is regularly in his canoe up and down the streams that make up the Delta, keeping his paddling muscles in shape. He sent along a photo of the boat he and his adult son, Riel, rowed and paddled from their home on the Delta downstream to Lake Manitoba, which they then crossed (!). I think this is Riel in the rowing position.

Solomon has a Youtube channel, kingsolvidio, which shows some of the things he does in travelling all seasons in the Delta (I think he sneaks into Cumberland House, fifty-one Kms away to go online now and then).

Here is a video about their Lake Manitoba adventure:

When I asked if they actually paddled and rowed the whole way, he replied, "Yeah we paddle. It's a good way to see the country."

Carriere's ancestors lived along the river, as many Metis did from along the waterways of Canada's NorthWest from the 1700s into the Twentieth Century.

As long as there are still people like Renee and Solomon along the waters there is someone keeping an eye on the birds, the moose, the muskrat and the fish; someone who just by watching and speaking on behalf of the more-than-human world around them, show the rest of us what it is to lead a rich and gracious life, congruent with the river and its life.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October passing

While I fill my hours at other tasks
beneath the flicker of stolen days,
a thought strays to a light-footed bird,
tweed brown and grey . . .

It chances the open for a seed,
until a bolder one floats in
with its colour to chase clouds away . . .

Then a finch who will leave soon,
and a titmouse who will stay . . .

And over them on strands of cumulus
a tumult of white wings . . .

Theirs is the sound of October passing.
It rings within the round hills and
meets the lake . . .

where small fishing birds pause to listen . . .

And eagles, weary of the wind and its promises,
settle into their night roost
among the naked poplars.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Grazing the wild

Waldron Ranch property, now under NCC conservation easement (image courtesy of NCC)
Last week the Nature Conservancy of Canada announced that they had secured a huge conservation easement on 12,000 hectares of fescue grassland in Alberta's foothills, where a co-op of 72 ranchers have been stewarding the land for decades. Pressure to develop the land is immense in southern Alberta so this initiative should prevent it from being subdivided, developed or cultivated into perpetuity. Grazing will continue on the land, as it must. Fescue prairie, like all grassland, needs the disturbance that grazing provides. Bison provided that from the retreat of the glaciers until the 1880s but cattle now provide something of an ecological substitution.

I still run into well-meaning folks who do not believe cattle belong on our native grasslands. Here is one of North America's great defenders of wilderness, Wallace Stegner, outlining his thoughts on why cattle grazing has a role to play in some "wilderness" areas. This passage comes from his famous "Wilderness Letter" which he wrote in 1960 and which ultimately led to the passing of the Wilderness Act fifty years ago in September:

I am not moved by the argument that those wilderness areas which have already been exposed to grazing or mining are already deflowered, and so might as well be "harvested". For mining I cannot say much good except that its operations are generally short-lived. The extractable wealth is taken and the shafts, the tailings, and the ruins left, and in a dry country such as the American West the wounds men make in the earth do not quickly heal. Still, they are only wounds; they aren't absolutely mortal. Better a wounded wilderness than none at all. And as for grazing, if it is strictly controlled so that it does not destroy the ground cover, damage the ecology, or compete with the wildlife it is in itself nothing that need conflict with the wilderness feeling or the validity of the wilderness experience. I have known enough range cattle to recognize them as wild animals; and the people who herd them have, in the wilderness context, the dignity of rareness; they belong on the frontier, moreover, and have a look of rightness. The invasion they make on the virgin country is a sort of invasion that is as old as Neolithic man, and they can, in moderation, even emphasize a man's feeling of belonging to the natural world. Under surveillance, they can belong; under control, they need not deface or mar. I do not believe that in wilderness areas where grazing has never been permitted, it should be permitted; but I do not believe either that an otherwise untouched wilderness should be eliminated from the preservation plan because of limited existing uses such as grazing which are in consonance with the frontier condition and image.
Here are two more grand images of the Waldron property--courtesy of NCC and, as anyone can see, a cause for celebration:

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