Atwood’s Prairie Passages tour highlights concerns over community pastures in Sask.

Atwood’s Prairie Passages tour highlights concerns over community pastures in Sask. SouthWest Saskatchewan  Saskatchewan Environment

Two prominent Canadian authors raised concerns over the future of 62 former PFRA community pastures and the importance of preserving prairie grasslands during a four-day tour of southwest Saskatchewan.

The Prairie Passages tour from June 24 to 27 gave Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson a close-up look at the ecological importance of grasslands and an opportunity to listen to the concerns of community pasture patrons and ranchers.
The two authors, who are members of Birdlife International, were joined by representatives of Nature Canada and Public Pastures – Public Interest (PPPI), a citizen-based organization that wants to maintain Saskatchewan’s public grasslands as healthy prairie ecosystems and working landscapes.
The tour included visits to the Grasslands National Park and community pastures in the Val Marie and Swift Current areas.
Tour members spoke about their observations during a come-and-go reception in Val Marie on June 26.
The tour concluded with a fundraising dinner for grasslands education and research in Regina on June 27 and a press conference the following morning.
Atwood and Gibson attended the Birdlife International World Congress in Ottawa shortly before undertaking their trip to Saskatchewan. According to Atwood the worldwide connections between conservationists are making concerns over grasslands and community pastures in Saskatchewan an international matter.
“This is no longer a local issue, it is no longer even a national issue,” she said after visiting the Swift Current-Webb community pasture. “It is now a global issue. … Grasslands were heavily discussed at the recent congress in Ottawa, which involved 121 countries.”
The tour group included Dr. Alberto Yanosky, the executive director of Birdlife International partner organization Guyra Paraguay. He recently received the 2013 National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for leadership in Latin American conservation.
Yanosky spoke at the Val Marie reception about his work with ranchers to conserve the remaining grasslands of South America. He noted that more than 85 per cent of the southern pampas grasslands have been destroyed and migrating birds will fly from the Saskatchewan prairie to those faraway southern grasslands.
“We share so many different species,” he said. “They migrate and they unite us. There are no ecological boundaries. … We share this fantastic richness.”
The conservation value of the PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) community pastures was a key focus of the tour. These lands, which are larger than Prince Edward Island and worth over $1 billion, was transferred to the province in the 2012 federal budget.
The Saskatchewan government plans to sell or lease these pastures to patron-controlled operation, with the transition of the first 10 federal community pastures scheduled for the 2014 grazing season.
Atwood felt more consultation and transparency are required to ensure there is an appropriate plan for the protection of the pastures.
“What we’re hearing from patrons here and ranchers is that they have not been listened to … and we know in the work we do in Birdlife [International] that unless you consult local people, unless you work with them, you will fail.”
While the Harper government made the decision to return the federal community pastures to the provinces, Atwood felt it is an issue that cuts across party political lines.
“Canadian taxpayers have been paying into this program for a very long time,” she mentioned. “Things having to do with land and where you live, that is a cross party thing. It shouldn’t have anything to do with what party you belong to and what we find in global conservation is that’s true. … It’s about how people are treated. Are people being treated fairly, is the government that they elected responsive to them, are they being heard?”
PPPI spokesperson Trevor Herriot emphasized that the decision about federal community pastures is not simply an agricultural issue, but also a conservation issue of concern to all Canadians. It will have an impact on local communities, ranchers and pasture management staff.
“Most of the patrons that we’ve spoken to are very concerned,” he said. “They feel that they’re not really being listened to, that they’re not given clear enough terms to really make a decision for a business plan and that they need more time to do that and to make important decisions.”
He felt there cannot be proper conservation management of these pastures without professional staff.
“Without professional managers you’re missing that referee,” he said. “The guy who decides whose cow goes where and who is really able to intelligently manage the animals of several cattlemen all together and do a good job of putting meat on those animals but at the same time conserving the resource.”

via SW Sask News – Prairie Post – Prairie Post

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