Thursday, May 18, 2017

Grassland protection and loss--by the numbers

[Thanks to Katherine Arbuthnott of Public Pastures--Public Interest for gathering the data and research for many of the figures shown below.]

  • We estimate that we have somewhere around 20% of our native prairie remaining but it is a very rough estimate based on old and inadequate data. (See this document by the Prairie Conservation Action Plan.) According to the most recent estimates which are all based on research from the 1994 Southern Digital Land Cover (SDLC) Digital Data--Saskatchewan has lost more than 80% of its native grasslands to cultivation and urban development. We should have a more up to date and accurate figure, but the province has never done a proper inventory of its native land cover south of the boreal forest.
  • Per cent of grassland remaining by eco-region: 13% in aspen parkland, 16% in moist mixed grassland, and 31% in mixed grassland(From Hammermeister, A., Gauthier, D., & McGovern, K. (2001). Saskatchewan’s native prairie: Taking stock of a vanishing ecosystem and dwindling resource. Native Plant Society of SK report. And Statistics Canada census of agriculture, 2006; access here.)
  • Between 1971 and 1986, approximately 25% of grasslands were lost to agriculture, industry, and urban development.
    ( From Coupland, R.T. (1987). Endangered prairie habitats: the mixed prairie. In Proceedings of the Workshop on Endangered Species in the Prairie Provinces, Edmonton, AB, 24-26 January, 1986. )
  • Between 1987 and 2001, an additional 10% was lost across all eco-regions: 15% in aspen parkland, 8% in mixed grasslands, and 5% in Cyprus uplands. This means that approximately 1% of the small areas of native grasslands remaining are lost each year. (From Watmough, M.D., & Schmoll, M.J. (2007). Environment Canada’s prairie and northern region habitat monitoring program, Phase II. Technical report series No. 493. Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Edmonton, AB.)

  • 85% of the land south of our forest is privately owned.
    ("Game Management Plan: 2017-2027", Government of Saskatchewan).
  • Saskatchewan has 24% of all private land in Canada, but merely 6.5% of the nation's total area ("Land Use in Saskatchewan," P.C.. Rump and Kent Harper, Govt of Sask, 1980). In Saskatchewan most habitat loss is driven by industrialized agriculture on privately owned land.
  • Some areas of Saskatchewan have among the highest rates of grassland habitat loss in the entire Great Plains.
    (World Wildlife Fund Plowprint Report, 2016.). 
  • The transfer of the former federal community pastures has effectively removed all conservation programming and protection from 1.78 M acres of land, which are all listed under Saskatchewan's Representative Areas Network as officially protected. . . at least for now.
  • The Province of Saskatchewan has removed another 1.8 M acres of public land in the grassland eco-zone from the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act to make it available for sale--effectively removing its legislative protection.
  • In its March Budget the Province announced that it is shutting down the Provincial Community Pasture program (another 780,000 acres, 590,000 acres of which have also been listed under Saskatchewan's Representative Areas Network as officially protected).

  • It remains to be seen whether some of these grasslands will be subdivided and sold, but if they are no longer receiving any form of government management or programming and will be treated more or less like any other privately leased Crown grasslands, their status as protected areas will eventually be lost.
  • This brings the tally of acres losing conservation programming and protection in Saskatchewan to more than 2.3 Million. That puts at risk more than one-third of the 6 Million acres in Saskatchewan's prairie ecozone officially protected under our (much neglected) Representative Areas Network.


  1. since 1985, i have had the ppertunity to roam around the prairies for a few days every 5 years or so. Bow Island area. What did concern me in 2014 was that little corners in farmers field's where now all being used by people, as in argiculture or recreation. I couldn't find as many cacti. I don't know if the two were related, but this year i sometimes do a post on FB to raise awareness to my beloved prairie. And Thank you so much for your work, found your book in the library.

    1. You are very welcome Jozien-- thanks for doing your part and taking the time to write

  2. Thank you for compiling these important facts about SK's highly under appreciated and in turn under protected grasslands. The kettle is boiling and we have to get to the stove! aka save our crowns!!

  3. I think you have to start by laying the blame at the feet of the Harper Conservatives, for the divestiture of the PFRA Community Pastures. The successive Saskatchewan governments appear not to have valued native Prairie grasslands, as you don't measure what you don't value. Of course, under Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party, looks like most of what's left will be sold. For shame.

    1. yes it is fair to say that no Sk govt has really valued our native prairie, but I think we are making progress and getting many people and policy makers to sit up and take notice. I do not think we will see large pieces of Crown native grasslands sold--partly because of the public outcry it would cause--but small isolated parcels will be sold from time to time as we have seen in the last couple of years. That is bad enough and we must continue to speak against it when it happens.

  4. The RAN in the south is a pretend system. The pastures never were protected and it was a lie to list them as such in the first place. I argued against listing them while working on the system in the 90s but deceptive gov't optics prevailed. WHPA has been sadly diminished to feed private interests - our children's legacy is being squandered. Meanwhile all political parties turn an indifferent, even blind,eye to the destruction of our prairie heritage. Is it time for more radical action?

    1. Even so, delisting WHPA lands so they can be sold and closing community pasture programs are both one step farther away from anything that we might loosely call "protection." If we can keep the land public there is at least a chance of future govt policy that may work with private producers in ways that provide better protection and conservation programming.


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