Ac­quired land shel­ters at-risk species

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - JENNIFER ACK­ER­MAN jack­e­man@post­media.com

Na­ture con­ser­va­tion­ists are cel­e­brat­ing af­ter a re­cent sur­vey found 10 at-risk species in­hab­it­ing a pro­tected area of na­tive grass­lands in south­west Saskatchewan.

“The rea­son that we safe­guard these places is so ... species like that will have habi­tat in the long term,” said Michael Bu­rak, Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada’s (NCC) pro­gram di­rec­tor for south­west Saskatchewan.

The area is known as the Wide­view Com­plex, near Grass­lands Na­tional Park, and was ac­quired by the NCC ear­lier this year. It’s lo­cated in the Milk River Basin area, about 30 kilo­me­tres south­west of Mankota.

“What­ever hap­pens to ex­ist­ing un­pro­tected lands that are sur­round­ing it, there will al­ways be this big chunk of 3,000 acres,” Bu­rak added.

Only 20 per cent of Saskatchewan’s na­tive grass­lands re­mains.

The sur­vey, which re­ceived fed­eral and pro­vin­cial fund­ing, was con­ducted this sum­mer and doc­u­mented all species, in­clud­ing those at risk, found on the prop­erty. The data col­lected will in­form the NCC on how best to care for the land in or­der to main­tain a healthy habi­tat for the species present there.

“It’s pretty un­com­mon to find such a large num­ber of a species at risk all us­ing the same land­scape,” said Bu­rak. But he said the way the land had been main­tained prior to the NCC ac­quir­ing it helped cre­ate a di­ver­si­fied habi­tat.

Owned by a live­stock pro­ducer who grazed his cat­tle on the land, sev­eral dugouts were spread out across the prop­erty, pro­vid­ing a va­ri­ety of wa­ter sources. Graz­ing more in some areas and less in oth­ers cre­ated a range of grass heights suit­able for sev­eral dif­fer­ent species. The owner also lim­ited ac­cess to cer­tain sec­tions of the land, less­en­ing the over­all im­pact to the land.

Since the own­er­ship change, the NCC has main­tained the land in ba­si­cally the same way — leas­ing the land to cat­tle farm­ers for graz­ing — and af­ter pos­i­tive re­sults from the sum­mer sur­vey, plans to keep do­ing the same.

The at-risk species in­clude nine birds and one am­phib­ian, the North­ern leop­ard frog. It was us­ing wa­ter sources on the land as breed­ing grounds — a very good sign, ac­cord­ing to Bu­rak.

They are all listed un­der the Fed­eral Species at Risk Act, or have been as­sessed by the Com­mit­tee on the Sta­tus of En­dan­gered Wildlife in Canada and are await­ing ad­di­tion to the act. The risk lev­els range from “spe­cial con­cern” — the low­est tier — to “en­dan­gered.”

Bill Arm­strong is a for­mer jour­nal­ist and writer of a blog called Land Lines for the NCC. He, along with ap­prox­i­mately eight other vol­un­teers and four NCC staff mem­bers, helped com­plete the sur­vey.

“Some­times it feels like you’re in this alone in ap­pre­ci­at­ing this kind of work,” said Arm­strong. “It’s good to know that you’ve got peo­ple out there who are of like mind and are will­ing to spend a day to come out and help.”

Al­though they cov­ered a lot of ground that day, he feels they’ve just scratched the sur­face.

What’s next?

Ac­cord­ing to Bu­rak, the NCC plans to do more in-depth sur­vey­ing in hopes of bump­ing up the num­ber from 10. The sum­mer sur­vey was con­ducted dur­ing the day. He said there are some an­i­mals, like the swift fox, that are eas­ier to find at night, or dur­ing the win­ter by fol­low­ing their snow tracks.

NA­TURE CON­SER­VANCY OF CANADA/JAVA POST PRO­DUC­TIONS.

Tif­fany Cas­sidy and Dale Gross of Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada ex­plore the Wide­view Com­plex, a 3,000-acre na­tive grass­lands area. Af­ter a sur­vey called a bioblitz was done last sum­mer, 10 at-risk species were found to in­habit the area.

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