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Sask. farmers help protect species at risk

Sask. farmers help protect species at risk

SSGA and GNP are launching a pilot project to conserve habitat for species at risk

By Kate Ayers
Staff Writer

Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association (SSGA) and Parks Canada’s Grasslands National Park (GNP) are working together on a pilot project to protect the habitat of at-risk species.

This grass bank project focuses on the Greater Sage-grouse, Sprague’s Pipit and the Chestnut-collared Longspur, a SSGA release said on Monday.

“This project is noteworthy because Parks Canada is using cattle to help manage the park,” Shane Jahnke, SSGA president, said in the release.

“This project demonstrates the important benefits of cattle grazing for the environment.”

For over 20 years, Grasslands National Park did not permit grazing in the east block. Now, grazing will return in this area.

“Grazing is hugely important in managing habitat for species at risk in grassland ecosystems,” Chad MacPherson, SSGA’s general manager, said in an email statement to yesterday.

“These ecosystems evolved with large herbivores, so removing grazing from the system can cause problems for both plants and wildlife. Restoring grazing helps increase the variability in the structure of vegetation.”

All three species at risk benefit from having the cattle on pasture. Grazing ensures the vegetation does not get too dense and allows the birds to more easily move through the grasses to find food. 

“National parks play an important role in contributing to the recovery of species at risk,” Adriana Bacheschi, the acting field unit superintendent of the south Saskatchewan field unit, said in the release.

“By combining our conservation efforts in Grasslands National Park with those of local ranchers, we can influence and expand suitable habitat on a scale that would not be possible by one party working in isolation.”

The project extends over 40,000 acres of both private and public land, the majority of which is considered habitat for at-risk species, the release said.

Local ranchers will manage grazing on GNP land and private land with habitat targets for the three species at risk.

Upon reaching these targets, ranchers receive such benefits as reduced grazing fees on GNP land and financial incentives through the Species at Risk Partnership on Agriculture Land (SARPAL) program from SSGA, the release said.

Project organizers want to help ranchers apply grazing strategies that conserve the habitat of at-risk species.

“Because we are dealing with large, remote landscapes and difficult terrain, fencing is not as practical,” Jahnke said in the release.

Instead, participants will manage grazing through the traditional practice of riding horseback, as well as topography and time of use.

This pilot project “provides an opportunity for collaboration between ranchers, parks, and scientists to help species recover and to actually measure conservation benefits,” Jahnke added.

The park is using the project to learn about different management practices and strategies to engage with neighbouring ranchers.

“This partnership approach is special because it allows for a wider impact than just park lands,” MacPherson said.

“The park managers will be exploring options for expanding this type of project.”

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