Acquired land shelters at-risk species
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.
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.
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.