By Marcia Love
Species at risk was a big part of the discussion during the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association Zone 4 annual general meeting last week.
About 30 producers attended the meeting at the Armoury on Feb. 27.
SSGA President Doug Gillespie gave a report on what the association has been working on provincially, which includes species at risk concerns from producers.
It has been a major issue for a number of land users in the Southwest who have land affected by the greater sage-grouse emergency protection order in particular.
Gillespie also touched on BSE, which is big news again after a cow tested positive for the disease in Alberta last month. He noted this shows the urgency of filling quotas for testing.
“We’re only reaching about 40 per cent, so the Southwest really could contribute to getting more of these cows tested so we can get our numbers up to our quota level that we need to raise our status from where we’re at,” he said, adding the Southwest is reportedly the best place to have testing done because the cattle are fed mostly grain and hay, not feed from mills.
Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP David Anderson attended the meeting to hear concerns regarding the Species at Risk Act (SARA). He noted the bill was fought several times before it was passed in 2002.
“I’ve always been a firm believer that that bill needs a strong rewrite – that it should have been based on co-operation, compensation if necessary, not the coercive aspects of it that we find,” he stated.
Anderson and Medicine Hat MP LaVar Payne have been working with local groups, and Anderson said he would like to see these people have more say in how the land affected by orders is properly managed.
“I think people here know how to do that better than anybody,” he said.
He noted he is limited in commenting on the issue as there are current court cases involving the sage grouse emergency protection order.
Species at risk
A special presentation was made by Tom Harrison, a consultant with the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance which is a group of producers in the Southwest concerned about the management of native prairie and species at risk. He was contracted in the fall to become the executive director of the South of the Divide Conservation Action Program (SODCAP).
The program is a non-profit organization set up to create a multi-species at risk action plan. This will be done by co-ordinating land management practices to help sustain and recover species at risk and their habitat in the South of the Divide region while balancing sustainable land and resource use.
Its board of directors is comprised of producers, environmental non-governmental organizations, industry members and local government. The current board is made up of representatives from the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association, SSGA, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), SaskPower and Crescent Point Energy.
Harrison touched on the importance of native prairie from both an environmental and agricultural standpoint.
“We’re not here to impede any development,” he stated. “We recognize that we still need oil and gas and gravel and that there will be development and agricultural production on the lands.”
The area discussed is essentially the Milk River Watershed, comprised of 14 municipalities and about a dozen community pastures.
The multi-species at risk plan is still in the draft stages and has been developing since Environment Canada, the Ministry of Environment and Grasslands National Park first started work on it in 2007. The draft identifies critical and important habitat, methods of protecting it, and analyzes threats to species at risk as well as actions to recover the species.
Harrison pointed out there is about one million hectares of land in the Southwest that could be a candidate for critical habitat, which would be comprised of native grassland.
He notes species at risk include the swift fox, loggerhead shrike and greater sage-grouse.
Within the recovery measures, 30 different threats have been identified.
“The biggest one is the loss of native habitat,” Harrison said, adding infrastructure development, predators and disease are threats as well.
As far as community pastures, Harrison said it will be important to stay in contact with the patron groups that will be running them in the future, but so far the pastures are in excellent shape.
Another area being worked on is the mapping of future developments, including oil and gas, gravel extraction and wind power development.
SODCAP also addresses compensating for loss of habitat if there is damage done through this development by replacing it elsewhere to “bank the habitat.” Harrison said this isn’t a new concept and has been practised in the United States for years.
One producer present disagreed with this and compared it to carbon credits. But Harrison said there are few other options and developments simply would not be allowed.
Anderson said there is another option, in which economic development be considered a benefit rather than a negative consequence as it creates strong benefits for local communities.
“The reality is that industry is… a positive thing in our communities, and typically there’s very little damage actually done to critical habitat,” he stated. “We’ve controlled and maintained habitat in this area for 100 years, and now the reason it’s seen as critical habitat is because people have done such a good job of maintaining and managing it.”
The MP said there are those in government who are working to ensure some local people maintain control over the habitat instead of having outside people telling them what the rules and regulations are.
A proposal has been submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Agri-Environmental Group Planning, which would provide services to producers through the Growing Forward 2 program.
“We’re probably the only watershed in Saskatchewan that doesn’t have one of these right now,” Harrison said.
Currently funding is coming from areas such as Environment Canada, the Habitat Stewardship Program, Ministry of Environment and SaskPower.
Harrison added SODCAP has been communicating with Sustainable Canada, a group comprised of local producers affected by the sage grouse protection order who are calling for “common sense conservation.” Representatives of Sustainable Canada were present. The two groups have toured through the U.S. together and attended meetings.
“Principle-wise, I think we’re on the same line and agree,” Harrison said.
Six resolutions were brought to the SSGA and carried by the membership, with one of them being that the SSGA lobby the federal government to review or change SARA to be “less onerous on landowners and land managers.”
In another resolution related to SARA, it was voted the SSGA would lobby the federal government opposing the possible designation of the plains bison as a threatened species under the act.
The majority of members also voted in favour of the SSGA lobbying the federal and provincial governments to cease financial support of the NCC and other environmental non-governmental organizations for the purpose of purchasing agricultural lands.
A resolution was also passed for the SSGA to lobby the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment to increase the number of tags issued for elk and moose due to the increased population in the Southwest.
Another resolution addressed a possible mandatory per-head levy for producer-funded BSE testing. It was resolved the SSGA would be opposed to establishing such a levy.
A final resolution was passed for the SSGA to lobby the federal and provincial governments to revise the Conservation Easements Act to make conservation easements no longer than 25 years.
In other business, Brad Howe, Ray McDougald, Neil Block and Grieta Krisjanson were all elected as SSGA Zone 4 directors.