Landowner helps to pro­tect na­tive grass­land in south­west Saskatchew­an

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - PRAIRIE OPINION - By Matthew Lieben­berg mlieben­[email protected]­t.com

The owner of two pieces of land in south­west Saskatchew­an is part­ner­ing with the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada (NCC) to pro­tect sen­si­tive grass­land and wet­land ar­eas.

The landowner, who prefers to re­main anony­mous, has en­tered into an agree­ment with NCC to have con­ser­va­tion ease­ments on th­ese prop­er­ties.

Cameron Wood, the NCC’s di­rec­tor of con­ser­va­tion in Saskatchew­an, said it is a sig­nif­i­cant step to pro­tect th­ese prop­er­ties.

“It’s re­ally an ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity for us to be able to con­serve those two prop­er­ties in the south­west part of the prov­ince,” he told the Prairie Post. “They’re lo­cated in an area of the prov­ince that’s sur­rounded by nat­u­ral habi­tat and na­tive grass­lands that’s im­por­tant to main­tain the con­nec­tiv­ity of the land­scape. The prop­er­ties that we were able to con­serve through a con­ser­va­tion ease­ment are re­ally an im­por­tant part of be­ing able to main­tain that for the fu­ture.”

The two prop­er­ties cover a to­tal area of 1,092 hectares (2,698 hectares) and are lo­cated in the Milk River basin nat­u­ral area in the south­west corner of the prov­ince. The land in­cludes na­tive grass­land and wet­land ar­eas, and it is lo­cated in a des­ig­nated Im­por­tant Bird and Bio­di­ver­sity Area (IBA).

This nat­u­ral area pro­vides habi­tat for many species, in­clud­ing 20 species that are listed un­der the fed­eral Species at Risk Act (SARA), for ex­am­ple the en­dan­gered greater sage­grouse.

“We don’t have any doc­u­ments or in­stances of them on those ex­act prop­er­ties, but the sur­round­ing area is part of greater sage-grouse habi­tat, and be­ing able to con­serve those big blocks of grass­lands are im­por­tant to main­tain the ex­tent of their habi­tat, be­cause they are very sen­si­tive to dis­tur­bances,” he said.

The fer­rug­i­nous hawk, which is listed as threat­ened un­der SARA, also oc­curs in this area. There are 50 known fer­rug­i­nous hawk sites in this IBA, and one is lo­cated on one of the prop­er­ties that will now be pro­tected through this con­ser­va­tion ease­ment.

“The pur­pose of the con­ser­va­tion ease­ment agree­ment is re­ally to keep the land as it is right now,” he said. “So it can con­tinue pro­vid­ing that im­por­tant habi­tat in the fu­ture as it has in the past. The land con­tin­ues to be owned and man­aged by a pri­vate landowner, but we have an ease­ment agree­ment that is reg­is­tered to the land ti­tle for­ever that lim­its cer­tain ac­tiv­i­ties that wouldn’t be in favour of con­ser­va­tion. The whole pur­pose of the agree­ment is to keep it as it is into the fu­ture.”

The NCC, which is a not-for-profit, char­i­ta­ble land trust, ne­go­ti­ates with each landowner to de­ter­mine the terms of an ease­ment agree­ment. It en­sures that the prop­erty will not be de­vel­oped, sub­di­vided, drained or har­vested, but the landowner can con­tinue to use the land for cat­tle graz­ing.

“So through that agree­ment we agreed on restric­tion of dif­fer­ent types of ac­tiv­i­ties that would have a neg­a­tive im­pact on con­ser­va­tion,” Wood ex­plained. “The way we make sure that’s ef­fec­tive in the fu­ture is we mon­i­tor that prop­erty reg­u­larly to make sure those com­mit­ments are be­ing up­held by the landowner, and in the fu­ture if there’s some rea­son where they aren’t then we have re­courses in place to be able to cor­rect that.”

This an­nounce­ment by the NCC about the con­ser­va­tion of land in the prov­ince in­cluded a third prop­erty of 578 hectares (1,429 acres) along a river val­ley north­west of Regina, which will pro­tect a large block of na­tive grass­land and other habi­tats. A sim­i­lar con­ser­va­tion ease­ment was ne­go­ti­ated with this landowner, who also wants to re­main anony­mous.

The NCC uses dif­fer­ent con­ser­va­tion ap­proaches to pro­tect habi­tat, in­clud­ing the cre­ation of land­scape plans to iden­tify ar­eas that are im­por­tant for bio­di­ver­sity, and they will also iden­tify in­di­vid­ual pieces of land with a high con­ser­va­tion value.

“We have a few dif­fer­ent ways where we achieve con­ser­va­tion, and which­ever method we use, we use the best avail­able sci­ence and do some re­ally spe­cific plan­ning on a land­scape ba­sis to be able to di­rect our ef­forts,” Wood said.

“We achieve con­ser­va­tion in a cou­ple of ways mainly. One is through the pur­chase of land and then we con­tinue to own and man­age that land to have di­rect con­trol over things like graz­ing the prop­erty. The other is through part­ner­ships like this con­ser­va­tion ease­ment agree­ment.”

The pro­tec­tion of the two prop­er­ties in south­west Saskatchew­an will ex­pand the pro­tected land in that im­me­di­ate area to 14,807 hectares (36,590 acres). NCC and its part­ners have al­ready pro­tected more than 60,700 hectares (150,000 acres) of eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive lands and wa­ters in Saskatchew­an.

The pro­tec­tion of large and con­nected blocks of land are im­por­tant to pro­vide suf­fi­cient habi­tat for var­i­ous species that oc­cur there.

“A lot of the species at risk in the south part of the prov­ince re­ally re­quire large ar­eas of con­nected habi­tat,” he said.

“So if we start par­celling those off and frag­ment­ing it and if the block of habi­tat are fur­ther apart, even if po­ten­tial habi­tat is there, those species are still go­ing to dwin­dle, be­cause they need that habi­tat in large blocks, not dis­con­nected is­lands. That’s part of what makes south­west­ern Saskatchew­an so unique is that there still are ex­am­ples of those very large blocks of na­tive grass­land.”

Wood noted that south­west Saskatchew­an is cer­tainly a high pri­or­ity for NCC’s work in the prov­ince.

“It re­ally is a mecca for species at risk and the value of that habi­tat re­ally fits our model,” he said. “The pro­tec­tion of habi­tat is much more ef­fi­cient than try­ing to recre­ate that habi­tat. So that area of the prov­ince is re­ally an im­por­tant fo­cus of our ef­fort.”

Saskatchew­an res­i­dents can sup­port the NCC’s work in the prov­ince in var­i­ous ways. It is a reg­is­tered char­ity and tax re­ceipts will be is­sued for fi­nan­cial do­na­tions.

The NCC has a vol­un­teer pro­gram and peo­ple can vol­un­teer to par­tic­i­pate in var­i­ous con­ser­va­tion projects. They will also be happy to hear from landown­ers.

“If landown­ers have land that they feel is im­por­tant for con­ser­va­tion and are in­ter­ested in work­ing with Na­ture Con­ser­vancy on that land, ei­ther through a do­na­tion or sale, then they can feel free to get in touch with our staff and we can talk to them about some op­tions,” he said.

Pho­tos by NCC

PRO­TECT­ING THE HABI­TAT: The part­ner­ship be­tween the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada and a landowner will pro­tect sen­si­tive wet­land ar­eas in south­west Saskatchew­an.

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