Swift Current, SK – Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association (SSGA) and Parks Canada’s Grasslands National Park (GNP) are teaming up to collaborate on a unique grass bank pilot project to conserve habitat for species at risk, particularly the Greater Sage-grouse, Sprague’s Pipit, and Chestnut-collared Longspur.
“This project is noteworthy because Parks Canada is using cattle to help manage the park,” said SSGA President Shane Jahnke. “This project demonstrates the important benefits of cattle grazing for the environment.”
Grasslands National Park is playing an active role in implementing recovery and conservation for the Greater Sage-grouse in the East Block of the Park by restoring grazing on a landscape where it was excluded for more than 20 years.
“National parks play an important role in contributing to the recovery of species at risk. 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 any one party working in isolation,” stated Adriana Bacheschi, Acting Field Unit Superintendent, South Saskatchewan Field Unit.
The project area covers 40,000 acres of public and private land, much of which is considered critical habitat for Greater Sage-grouse, Sprague’s Pipits, and Chestnut-collared Longspurs. Local ranchers will manage grazing on portions of the East Block of GNP and their adjacent private land with a goal of achieving habitat targets for the three species. Habitat targets are set and measured by the South of the Divide Conservation Action Program. Ranchers benefit from the program when they meet the habitat targets through a reduced grazing fee on GNP land, and through a financial incentive from SSGA through the Species at Risk Partnerships on Agriculture Land (SARPAL) program. The project is being undertaken with financial support of Environment and Climate Change Canada through the SARPAL fund.
Because the ranchers undertake conservation management on both Park land and their own lands, the habitat for the species at risk is expanded more than GNP or the ranchers could achieve alone. The project aims to help ranchers implement grazing strategies that maintain habitat for multiple species at risk.
“This grass bank project is unique in a couple of respects. This is not your average grazing,” stated the SSGA president, noting that a patchy style of grazing would be utilized for Greater Sage-grouse habitat. Each species at risk will have their own habitat targets and grazing management will be tailored to the objectives of each species.
“Because we are dealing with large remote landscapes and difficult terrain, fencing is not as practical,” Jahnke commented on the management practices. Instead, grazing is managed using the traditional environmentally-friendly practice of riding, as well as salt and/or lick tub placement, topography, and time of use.
Achieving habitat targets through grazing means that ranchers need to change their conventional grazing management to take into account the habitat requirements of species at risk. To ensure that conservation targets are achieved, SSGA provides funding for programming and monitoring to the South of the Divide Conservation Action Program.
“The SSGA is excited to be part of this project,” Jahnke stated. “It provides an opportunity for collaboration between ranchers, Parks, and scientists to help species recover and to actually measure conservation benefits.” This program will bring the local knowledge of effective grazing practices together with applied science and research to reach specific species habitat targets.
By using incentives and working collaboratively, Parks Canada and the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association hope to develop positive and productive relationships in the communities surrounding Grasslands National Park.
For more information contact:
General Manager, SSGA
External Relations Manager
Parks Canada – Saskatchewan South Field Unit
Parks Canada entered into several collaborative agreements with local ranchers to achieve beneficial grazing and habitat management objectives on a large landscape within the proposed boundary of the East Block of Grasslands National Park, which contains priority habitat for Greater Sage-grouse and other species at risk on both public and private land.
The grass banking concept allows ranchers access to certain Grasslands National Park lands for grazing purposes, and they are financially compensated for management activities that provide conservation benefits on these lands. In return for access to Grasslands National Park, the ranchers agree to also implement conservation grazing on their privately-owned land that is within the proposed boundary of the East Block of GNP.
SSGA is a province-wide, member-driven advocacy organization representing the interests of independent, self-reliant cattle producers for 105 years. The SSGA advocates through education, communication and research for an economically and environmentally sustainable cattle industry, where cattlemen are free to do business–within a free and open market place, free from industry limiting laws and regulation.
Canada’s Greater Sage-grouse population has been reduced to remnant populations in Alberta and Saskatchewan over the past several decades. Without increased protection and additional conservation actions, the Greater Sage-grouse could be extirpated from Canada within approximately five years. Approximately eighty square miles of its critical habitat falls within the proposed boundary of the East Block of Grasslands National Park. Some of the species at risk in Grasslands National Park and the surrounding area include Greater Sage-grouse and upland songbirds like the Sprague’s Pipit and Chestn