Thursday, April 30, 2015

Finding a publicly-owned grassland close to home

When I talk to people about Saskatchewan’s publicly-owned grasslands they will often tell me they’ve never seen one, have never had the chance to walk or even drive through a big piece of Crown grassland. Many have been to Grasslands National Park but have never spent any time at other grassland places.

That is a shame, but completely understandable for a couple of reasons: 1. most of these places are a few miles away from the largest urban centres, 2. it is hard to find our public grasslands, and 3. gaining access can be tricky.
The first problem can be solved with a vehicle, but the other two take some work. In this post I am going to try to explain how to find a community pasture and then how to get access permission.
Some day I would love to make a really good map showing all our Crown owned grasslands—in provincial parks, in leased WHPA (Wildlife Habitat Protection Act) grasslands, and in our provincial and federal (PFRA) community pastures. The closest thing to that is Saskatchewan’s Representative Areas Network map (click here to see pdf) , which uses colour coding to indicate most if not all of these grasslands. Unfortunately, they are not named so it takes some interpretation and cross-referencing with other maps to figure out which piece of grassland is which.

But if you are like me and find maps fun you can actually figure out where the community pastures are and where the WHPA lands are. Here is a piece of the RAN map blown up which I printed and then scribbled on to show where the parks, community pastures and WHPA grasslands are located in one small piece of the province triangulating Swift Current, the Elbow of the South Saskatchewan River and Moose Jaw. Click on the image to enlarge it.
mapping the publicly-owned grasslands in one region
Interpreting the colour coding from the RAN map and correlating things with two maps that show the PFRA pastures (click here) and the Provincial Community pastures (click here), I was able to figure out which piece of land is which.

The next step is to get a road map version that will show you how to get to the place you want to try to see. Here is what a road map for the same region looks like.
same area showing roads and waterways more clearly
Of course a more detailed back roads map or Google Map would get you the gravel roads in the vicinity too, which are often the best way to visit a piece of grassland.

Ok, so let’s say you map out a piece of grassland you want to visit. Then what? How do you get permission to go for a walk in a community pasture or a privately managed piece of WHPA land? If it is a community pasture and you know the name of the pasture, you can often find the phone number for the pasture manager online.

For the provincial pastures in my example, they are all in the south region of the pastures system and the managers phone numbers are listed on this web page.

For the PFRA pastures, at least those that have not been transitioned to private management yet, you can simply Google for contact information by the name of the pasture and usually you will find the phone number. (If you have trouble, contact me at and I will see if I can find the phone number for you.)

So you phone (evenings are usually best) and cordially ask for permission to go for a hike on the pasture on a certain date. The manager may tell you which areas of the pasture you can and cannot go. If it has been terribly dry, the manager may not allow you on the pasture at all. They will remind you about leaving closed gates closed and open gates open, and tell you to not drive on the pasture, other than on the main gravelled roads.

If things go well, you may stop in at the pasture headquarters to talk to the manager in person when you arrive and get some more guidance on how to treat the land and where you can go and where you can’t go. In general I have found pasture managers to be straight shooters who will respond to well to honesty and respect, but they have every right to deny you access so bear that in mind when you contact them.

Now, what if it is WHPA land under a private lease that you have your heart set on? That gets trickier, but if you are willing to do some asking door to door you can often get permission to hike in their grassland. What works best is to drive to the area and then look for the nearest farmstead where there are some vehicles parked in the yard. Knock on the door and explain your interest in walking through a pasture. If it is not their lease they will know whose it is and either phone them for you or give you a number or directions to their yard site.

Once you locate the leaseholder who has the WHPA land, it is the same as with pasture managers. Be polite and deferential, explain that you will not drive off trails, and will leave gates as you find them, and you will stay away from their livestock. In most cases you will find a friendly person who takes pride in their land and loves to talk about the landscape and the wildlife.
As you can tell, it can be a bit like a treasure hunt, but that is part of the fun.
Once your visit is over, it never hurts to check in again and thank your hosts, tell them what you saw, and let them know that you appreciate their stewardship of the prairie.

If you do visit one of Saskatchewan's public grasslands this summer, drop me a line and tell me how it went:


  1. Its great to know that there is land out there that can be ours to explore with a few simple steps. Looking forward to going for a walk this summer. Thanks for the tips! I'll drop you a line and let you know how it went and what I saw. Cheers!

  2. Visited the SWF McClean block several times this fall. i was was amzed by the practically untouched parkland environment.


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