Cana­dian grass­lands at risk —landown­ers and con­ser­va­tion­ists tak­ing ac­tion, SACPA told

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Farm News - BY DAVE MABELL — South­ern Al­berta News­pa­pers

Pronghorn herds are smaller, and bur­row­ing owls have all but dis­ap­peared.

And about 75 per cent of Canada’s species at risk live in the grass­lands across south­ern Al­berta and neigh­bour­ing prov­inces, a Leth­bridge au­di­ence learned May 16.

But landown­ers and con­ser­va­tion­minded Cana­di­ans are tak­ing ac­tion, re­ported Leta Pezderic. By part­ner­ing with the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada, they are en­sur­ing that at least some ar­eas re­main in­tact as habi­tat for the Prairies’ wide range of plant and an­i­mal life. Pezderic, grass­lands na­ture area man­ager for the con­ser­vancy, told the South­ern Al­berta Coun­cil on Pub­lic Af­fairs most of the land preser­va­tion is ac­com­plished through con­ser­va­tion ease­ments. The na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion works with farm­ers, ranch­ers and oth­ers who want to see their land con­tinue to re­main pro­duc­tive – but not to be con­verted to res­i­den­tial, in­dus­trial or other uses.

In re­turn for a le­gal caveat say­ing the land use will re­main in per­pe­tu­ity – re­gard­less if it’s passed on to the next gen­er­a­tion or sold to a third party – the owner re­ceives fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion along with on­go­ing ser­vices to help with its stew­ard­ship. But about 30 per cent of the land un­der le­gal pro­tec­tion has been pur­chased from a mo­ti­vated seller, she added. Funds for those pur­chases come from donors across Canada and from provin­cial gov­ern­ments.

“We had a phe­nom­e­nal re­la­tion­ship with the NDP gov­ern­ment,” Pezderic said, with many projects com­pleted.

But mem­bers are con­cerned about the United Con­ser­va­tive Party’s pro­pos­als to sell Crown land, cur­rently af­forded some level of pro­tec­tion. Ques­tion­ers pointed to the loss of habi­tat in Saskatchew­an, af­ter its gov­ern­ment sold some of the well-run pub­lic graz­ing land.

Al­berta’s grass­lands be­gan shrink­ing more than a cen­tury ago, as home­stead­ers be­gan break­ing the prairie soil. To­day, much has also been lost to ur­ban­iza­tion.

Even now, “It’s dis­ap­pear­ing at an alarm­ing rate.” Grass­lands’ value can’t be un­der­es­ti­mated, Pezderic pointed out. As well as pro­tect­ing the soil pro­file and the nat­u­ral habi­tat, it fa­cil­i­tates bio­di­ver­sity – and acts as a sponge dur­ing rain storms.

The grass­lands also re­cy­cle nat­u­ral nu­tri­ents, re­sist weeds and po­ten­tially in­va­sive species, and se­quester car­bon in much the same way as Canada’s forests.

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