prairies

Prairies

Saskatchewan's prairie is part of a huge continental ecosystem called the Great Plains Grassland. But Grasslands are now one of North America’s most threatened ecosystems.

Current issues

Support CPAWS-SK in Protecting Saskatchewan's Prairies
Prairies
Saskatchewan's prairie is part of a huge continental ecosystem called the Great Plains Grassland. But Grasslands are now one of North America’s most threatened ecosystems.
Learn more about Prairies
Great Sand Hills
The Great Sand Hills are one of Canada’s largest active sand dunes. Continued vigilance is necessary to ensure this great treasure is not compromised by oil and gas development.
Learn more about Great Sand Hills
Sturgeon River Plains Bison Management Planning
The Sturgeon River Plains Bison are Canada’s only wild, free ranging herd of Plains bison still within their historic range.
Learn more about Sturgeon River Plains Bison Management Planning

The Great Plains is a mosaic of different grassland communities extending from southern Canada to Texas. In Saskatchewan, those who live and travel on the prairie know the land to be rich in varying landscapes ranging from the flat or gently rolling grasslands, to lush coulees (wooded valleys), wide river valleys, aspen bluffs, delicate and shifting sand hills, beautiful badlands and seasonal wetlands (sloughs) cradled in low spots everywhere and filled by spring runoffs. It is a land pulsating with life, endless in its moods. Grass is the foundation of the prairie with eighty percent of the prairie land made up of different species of grass. The roots of these tenacious plants hold the soil in place and protect the land against erosion. Dozens of varieties of wildflowers bloom in their midst. An array of different birds, mammals and insects, live in harmony on the landscape. In the 1930s, during the “dustbowl” drought years, about 7000 km2 of Saskatchewan’s grassland habitat became Community Pastures, managed by the federal government for conservation in collaboration with ranchers. The Govenlock/Nashlyn/Battle Creek Community Pastures, in particular, are some of the most ecologically significant pieces of grassland in Canada, spanning 85,000 hectares and supporting several species at risk and providing critical habitat for Greater Sage Grouse, one of Canada's most endangered birds. It is part of the Govenlock/Nashlyn/Battle Creek Important Bird Area designated by Bird Studies Canada.

 

The threat

Over the past 150 years of homesteading and settling, the prairies have become Canada’s most impacted landscape. Prairie ecosystems have suffered major degradations including the near extirpation of over 60 million bison, along with their companion predators, the plains grizzly and the wolf. Other unique species such as the pronghorn antelope, swift fox, black footed ferret, black tailed prairie dog, ferruginous hawk, and sage grouse have seen their habitats shrink and become fragmented, and their populations threatened. Only about 4% of Saskatchewan's 24 million hectares of original prairie landscape remains in native vegetation in good ecological condition. The days of homesteading are long over, yet  the prairies face more threats than ever before. There is ongoing pressure on the agricultural community to plough native grassland for crops. And the oil and gas development as well as other industrial activities continue to expand into untouched native grasslands.

In 2012, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada disbanded the “Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act” (PFRA) program and announced that the lands would be divested to provincial governments. The Government of Saskatchewan then said it intended to transfer the land into private management with no requirement to conserve their precious grassland ecosystems. In June 2017, the federal government confirmed it will seek to maintain ownership and conservation-focused management for the Nashlyn and Battle Creek community pastures, in addition to the Govenlock Pasture, which include the best remaining habitat in Canada for the endangered greater sage grouse and many other grassland species at risk. This is a welcome step that would secure 850 km2 of critically important endangered grassland habitat. However, the remaining 6400 km2 of land that was part of the PFRA program remains at risk. If the conservation designations for these areas are lost, Saskatchewan would move further away from the international target of 17% protection by 2020. More importantly, divesting the remaining pastures in this way could further endanger species that rely on healthy grassland ecosystems, pushing them closer to extinction.

 

What CPAWS is doing

CPAWS continues to work with the federal and provincial governments to make certain they continue to work with ranchers/pasture patrons to finalize permanent protection of Govenlock, Nashlyn and Battle Creek with a focus on conservation based management, including grazing. We are also working to ensure the federal and provincial governments should also work together to find solutions that will ensure conservation-based management continues for the remaining divested pastures in Saskatchewan.

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