Thursday, September 24, 2015

Photos and a video--from this summer's research

sunset on the northern range at Old Man on His Back
This summer photographer Branimir Gjetvaj and I began working on a book that will use photos and stories to draw attention to the human and natural heritage at stake on our remaining wild prairie in Saskatchewan.

While Branimir was crouching over things with his camera or running to catch the last rays of magic hour, I would often take out my point and shoot and snap a few shots. This post shows a few of those moments, as well as a short video I made using clips during a tour of grassland places with ranchers and conservationists and Canadian Wildlife Services staff.

Just across the border into Manitoba there is a PFRA community pasture that contains a historic site and active cemetery where the Metis settlement of Ste. Madeleine lasted from 1880s to 1939. The local Metis still come to celebrate their culture and ties to Ste. Madeleine, as well as to bury their loved ones.

Three-flowered avens, chickweed and native grasses surround the headstones at Ste. Madeleine

In early August we went to Caledonia-Elmsthorpe PFRA pasture--one of the prettiest pastures and only an hour south of Regina. The Saskatchewan Trails Association and Public Pastures – Public Interest sponsored a weekend of exploring the pasture on horseback and on foot. Here is a shot of Branimir with two horses and their riders (on left is Sharon Elder, the dynamo who did all the work organizing the event).
Branimir at work on Caledonia-Elmsthorpe Community Pasture

A creek at Caledonia.

This is Nick Schmidt, the new manager at Lone Tree Community Pasture south of Val Marie right on the Montana border. Lone Tree is now managed and leased by a grazing corporation made up of former patrons. Nick lives on the property and is working with the leaseholders to manage the pasture.
Nick Schmidt, pasture manager at Lone Tree Community Pasture

Nick was one of the many people kind enough to host those of us who were on tour sponsored by the South of the Divide Conservation Action Program (Sodcap).

SODCAP seems to have some good energy and good people on its side--I think we can expect to hear some good pilot projects coming from them in the next year.

I learned a great deal on the two days of that tour sitting between ranchers and conservationists and Canadian Wildlife Service representatives--all equally motivated to find ways to ensure our grassland species will survive in healthy populations.

This photo shows our tour surrounded by the hills of Lone Tree pasture.
Sodcap on tour at Lone Tree Community Pasture

The day before we visited a ranch managed by Orin Balas, chair of the Prairie Conservation Action Plan. Here he is talking to Bob McLean, Executive Director at the Canadian Wildlife Service.
Rancher Orin Balas (left) and CWS Executive Director, Bob McLean
Orin's rangeland was possibly the healthiest looking piece of native prairie I saw all summer--almost no weeds, and grazed enough to keep the grass in good condition. It looked like excellent Sprague's Pipit habitat, and Orin is doing what he can to help provide the pipit with the right habitat.

Here is a close-up shot of speargrass and dotted blazingstar on the uplands on Orin's pastures looking south toward the Frenchman River north of Val Marie.

And here is a shot of rancher Tara Mulhern Davidson, who works for SODCAP, helping us identify grasses at Orin's place.

And here is a video showing footage from Orin's pastures and a broad valley at Lone Tree where we spent the afternoon.

And, finally, a gratuitous bluebird shot, just because.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

US Sage Grouse decision only days away

The deadline is September 30th but there are indications that the US will make a decision to list or not list the Greater Sage-Grouse as an Endangered Species as early as September 15.

The video shown above--a trailer for "The Sage Brush Sea" airing Sept. 16 on PBS--is from a documentary produced by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, one of the conservation movement's brightest stars. The lab also published on their web site a very helpful piece entitled "Five Things You Need to Know about Greater Sage-Grouse and the Endangered Species Act."

The story includes the following map, showing how the range has retracted and how the overall population has declined by 95%--most recently and dramatically due to oil and gas development in the species' range.

Whether the species is listed or not, the massive conservation efforts launched on its behalf south of the border will continue and the entire ecosystem and its increasingly rare species stands to benefit.

The American program to save the Greater Sage-Grouse is the largest single-species effort ever for conservation. And part of what is making it work so well is that hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested into the private lands of ranchers to make their land healthier.

People in Canada's government wildlife agencies and in the conservation and ranching NGOs are beginning to see that a parallel effort in SW Saskatchewan and SE Alberta will be necessary if we hope to hold onto our remaining Sage Grouse and many other grassland species at risk.

All that is missing is the political will and funding to get some pilot projects and programming underway.

Here is one more video from the Cornell Lab.

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