Saturday November 29, 2014

Native Prairie important to preserve


It’s easy when you live in Saskatchewan to think of the beauty of a northern lake surrounded by evergreens.

We look at the diversity of the parkland and understand there is a balance needed to ensure the diversity survives.

But as we head south in the province we tend to see only a vista stretching to the horizon which can be turned to grain production.

It is easy to imagine the earliest settlers arriving on the Canadian Prairies and seeing grassland they knew once tilled could sustain fields of wheat.

It had to be a scene which would have been both exhilarating and unsettling, the sheer vastness of grain growing land laid out before those farmers who had only small plows, a couple of horses and dreams to take on the conversion of the wild prairie to crop production.

But the Prairies are a unique and diverse ecosystem, and over the decades since the first settlers arrived, most of that natural system has been lost to the plow.

So it is important we now focus some attention of preserving what remains.

That is why the Native Prairie Appreciation Week, the 16th of which was marked June 15-21, is important.

The week, declared jointly by Saskatchewan Agriculture and Saskatchewan Environment, may not get the broad public awareness it deserves, but it is at least a step in a process to bring attention to the uniqueness of a natural prairie environment.

The week, as you might expect, included tours and speakers, to give those attending a greater appreciation for native prairie.

But the message needs to go to a larger audience.

We as a society have to recognize of all the ecosystems in the province, perhaps none are more unique to Saskatchewan than is that of our Prairies.

The prairie environment is what supported the massive bison herds of our past.

They are also home to some of the most recognizable and rare native species in the province, the swift fox, burrowing owl and black-footed ferret among them.

The ferret is an animal whose story tells much of the fragile nature of the prairies and its inhabitants.

The black-footed ferret was thought extinct, and in the 1930s was actually listed as extinct locally in Saskatchewan.

“We really don’t understand what happened to cause them to disappear in Canada,” said Pat Fargey, Species at Risk/Ecosystem Management Specialist with Grasslands National Park in Southern Saskatchewan in a 2010 companion piece in Yorkton This Week.

There is likelihood an effort to poison coyotes, and before that wolves, to protect livestock, was a contributing factor, but Fargey said not all Prairie dogs were eliminated, so the ferret’s demise is something of a mystery.

But a ranch dog in Wyoming would prove a hero for the black-footed ferret when, in the 1980s he brought a dead ferret to its owner. The colony was discovered and it would become a source of stock for captive breeding programs which have led to releases of the animal back into preserved prairie habitat including the Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan.

The Grasslands Park is another aspect of a growing effort to keep the last native prairie as natural as possible.

The same can be said for The Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan, (SK PCAP) a partnership bringing together 30 agencies and organizations representing producers, industry, provincial & federal governments, environmental non-government organizations, research and educational institutions working towards a common vision of prairie and species at risk conservation in Saskatchewan.

In isolation the PCAP, park, or Native Prairie Appreciation Week would affect limited change in how we as a broader society see an expanse of native grasses, but by building one upon the other, the overall effort will hopefully achieve the greater appreciation we need to preserve the precious native acres remaining.

Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.



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