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.
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.
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.
The location of the large areas of remaining native prairie is already known. These remaining areas are on provincial and federal Crown lands, and many already having some degree of protection within community pasture networks, and wildlife habitat lands. However, these lands are open to oil and gas development, and most do not have native-grass based management plans in place.
CPAWS is working is to help establish better protection for these lands both in terms of allowed uses and good management plans. We are undertaking direct action on high priority sites of known interest and importance that are currently under threat.
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