The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation is among five key conservation groups receiving funding through the Weston Family Foundation.
The Weston Family Prairie Grasslands Initiative is a five-year program with the goal to celebrate, steward and protect one of Canada’s most ecologically valuable and threatened ecosystems.
Nearly $25M has been committed by the Weston Family Foundation to five conservation based organizations the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation, Grasslands National Park (Parks Canada), and Meewasin Valley Authority.
Each organization will bring additional funding and in-kind donations for a total of $70M.
The Stock Growers will receive $3.4 million from the Weston's Family Foundation to improve species at risk habitat, enable wildlife movement, expand the amount of land protection in the prairies and increase long-term ecological and economic stability.
Stock Grower Foundation Chair Ray McDougald believes the most vulnerable time for the prairie is when older producers retire and the land is sold.
"Prairie grassland which can be arable has a number of interested parties vying for ownership. One being the rancher, who will continue it as prairie, another being farmers who are interested in its potential for farming. Oftentimes a third type of purchaser, depending on the location, is the developer or the acreage owner."
He notes this can elevate the price of the land making it difficult for younger producers to purchase it.
McDougald says native grasslands are the last refuge for 31 species at risk, and an important forage resource for Saskatchewan's cow-calf sector.
He says the funding will enable them to help "keep ranchers ranching" by creating on the ground projects and term easements or agreements with producers.
"This would allow the rancher to receive funds to help in his retirement plans and also be able to sell his land to a younger rancher at a reduced rate, allowing the ranch to remain viable."
He notes the announcement builds on the success that we've seen with the South of the Divide, and Species at Risk Partnership projects that enhance the grasslands, species at risk habitat, and increase the viability of ranching.
New generation Saskatchewan cattle rancher Chay Anderson added in the long-run, a successful ranch and healthy grasslands are directly related.
"Areas with species at risk and grasslands that require rejuvenating require years of management. Engagement with the ranchers and managers of the grasslands is crucial to understanding the local animal habits and tendencies to create an accurate plan for protecting the species that play critical roles in a healthy ecosystem."
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The Weston Family Foundation invited a number of organizations to submit proposals to celebrate, steward and protect Canadian prairie grasslands more information on the foundation and the new Weston Family Prairie Grasslands Initiative can be found here