A Saskatchewan conservation group is calling on provincial candidates to make grasslands preservation a priority in the election this fall.
Public Pastures - Public Interest advocates for the preservation and restoration of our province's native prairies. They are concerned with the rapidly decreasing amount of grasslands in Saskatchewan - a number estimated to be below 10 per cent of the province's original prairies.
PPPI's co-chair Trevor Herriot describes how this issue has grown since the first settlers.
“Well, it really goes back to the way we homesteaded and the land tenure system we set up. Our ancestors were given pieces of land and over the last century, it's been consolidated into bigger and bigger farm operations. During that time, the global agriculture business has pressured producers to be more and more of what they're considering ‘efficient.’ That means that farmers are pressured to convert every piece of their land for crop production. So it's not that farmers are at fault, it's the global food system that they're living under and that we all benefit from."
This practice of converting native land into cropland creates what Herriot calls, "monocultures:" biological systems that lack biodiversity and longevity. The benefits that these monocultures provide are largely inferior to those provided by native pastures.
"Grasslands are better at capturing carbon, retaining water and preventing floods, as well as maintaining high levels of biodiversity. There are 50 endangered animals in the province and many of them depend on the native prairie and are disappearing due to land conversion."
Excessive cultivation can irreparably damage the land for decades to come.
"When you break up the prairie, you're breaking this bio-crust along the ground.
That stuff is particularly hard to recover. And you never get it back to the exact diversity and health of a native prairie which has evolved other thousands of years. It's kind of like old-growth forests, these are old-growth prairies. You can replant native grasses, but instead of hundreds of species, you get just about 10 or 15. So diversity just isn't there."
Herriot argues then, that the most sustainable and truly efficient use of prairie land is livestock grazing. However, the average age of ranchers is steadily getting high and there are increased concerns that when they retire, their land will be sold and broken up the rest.
"We need to have governments and municipalities that will provide support for producers who want to try to restore our native prairies There's no reason why we can't do this and do it in an economically viable way."
PPPI hopes that future governments will stop the sale of Crown grasslands and conduct a rigorous inventory of the remaining native prairies in Saskatchewan.
"We all share the grasslands as part of our heritage as prairie people."Click here to see more...