Friday, March 13, 2015

Show me the money--where is the money for Sage Grouse recovery?

Last week's post reviewed the Greater Sage-Grouse Emergency Protection Order one year later. In it I asked why ranchers are not reassured when they hear from Environment Canada that “funds are available” for people who want to volunteer to take actions to help the species.

There is money available. In a document called “Questions and Answers to the EPO,” Environment Canada says “The Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (HSP) provides funding for projects that conserve and protect species at risk and their habitats. Over the past 13 years, the HSP has supported over 2,100 projects across Canada, contributing over $125 million towards on-the-ground conservation action by partners and stakeholders. The HSP continues to be available to assist individuals and groups seeking to implement actions for the conservation and protection of this species.”

Now, let’s take a look at the math here. $125 million sounds like a lot of money, but if you divide it by 2,100 projects that are supposed to be helping Canada’s Species at Risk, you get an average of just under $60,000 per project. But wait a minute—this $125 million was spread out over 13 years. It takes many years of work to see results in any species recovery work. Let’s assume a minimum of 4 years per project. A project with $60,000 spread out over four years is getting merely $15,000 a year to help a species in trouble. Should this be reassuring to anyone who is worried that they might be left holding the bag for the Sage Grouse recovery?

To be fair, Environment Canada does spend money on its own programs to help species at risk recover—at least I think they do. Canada’s Economic Action Plan (can we have a plan without the word “economic”?) in 2012 stated proudly that it was “providing $50 million over two years to support activities to protect species at risk.” 
Ok, $25 million a year to protect the Whooping Crane, Orca Whale, Caribou and all the other creatures on the list? Canada’s growing roster of species at risk has more than 500 creatures on it. But only 195 of them have actual recovery strategies in place (that is a whole other issue). Let’s say that half of those will spend some of that $25 million a year. How much annual funding goes to each species recovery? About the price of a bungalow in Regina--$250,000. Anyone reassured yet?

Of course, this is a lot of spitball math. How much actual government money is being spent on the recovery of the Greater Sage-Grouse? I don’t have access to all the figures but Alberta and the federal government have put together a total of $4.2 million to spread over a ten year captive breeding and rearing project at the Calgary Zoo.

The Zoo says it will raise another $1.1 million bringing the total to $5.3 million or $530,000 a year over the ten years of the program. Not a lot of money but we can’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Let’s say the program works and they breed and rear a lot of Sage Grouse. They can release them into the available sage brush habitat in Saskatchewan and Alberta but clearly there is something amiss in the habitat or else we would not be thinking of raising them in captivity.
Sage brush country (image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood)

And that brings us back to the good ol’ EPO. So far I have not heard of actual dollar amounts that will go to the most important work of all—helping landowners in sage grouse habitat comply with the order without having to pay for any new costs, and paying for programs that will support any landowners who are willing to take special measures to enhance habitat.

Of course, there is always the funding available through the Habitat Stewardship Program mentioned above—whether it is $15,000 a year or $150,000 a year. Not a lot of money but even so how do landowners get it? Do they have to take the initiative and fill out the forms and create the plans and programs themselves? Do they wait for some NGO to come along with a program?

To get some real progress in Sage Grouse country we probably need to work with ten to twenty landowners who have the right habitat and are willing to participate. They will have to go to meetings and take time out to host the biologists and ecologists at their ranchers and perhaps will have to do some of the actual fence work and changes to habitat themselves. If they agree to proposed changes, they may end up changing their grazing plan for the year. Their time and opportunity costs are worth as much as yours or mine. Let’s say, for the sake of argument that an average of $3000 to $6000 per year each would cover the costs incurred by landowners who agree to participate. Assuming fifteen participating landowners, that would amount to a total of somewhere between $45,000 and $90,000 a year.
Telling people that funds are available sounds good, but how do these funds translate into actual support for landowners who we expect to take actions to help the Greater Sage-Grouse? From their perspective the Species at Risk Act makes an endangered species and its habitat a liability. It costs them money, or could cost them money. Until they see some real money supporting the changes to grazing and fencing that they are supposed to sign up for voluntarily, why would they see the Sage Grouse as anything but a hassle?

A couple of weeks ago, region four of the Saskatchewan Stockgrowers Association met for a meeting in the Province's southwest. They passed resolutions to urge the federal government to review or change the Species at Risk Act to make it “less onerous on landowners and land managers.”

Can you blame them? 

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