Native grasslands are safe: ag minister

Conservationists fear demise | Safeguards are in place to protect grassland, says Lyle Stewart

Saskatchewan conservationists say the government should find out exactly how much grassland, both publicly and privately owned, is left and where it is located.

They also suggest a moratorium on breaking any grassland until a policy for managing it can be developed.

Agriculture minister Lyle Stewart said neither is planned.

“We’re not contemplating a review of crown land,” he said.

As for a moratorium: “That’s not going to happen.”

He said little native grassland is being broken because most of it went under the plow decades ago. The government can’t stop farmers who own land and want to break old yard sites or square the edges of fields and break native grass in the process.

Environmentally sensitive crown land is subject to easements and is monitored, he said.

“We’re pretty satisfied that the proper safeguards are in place,” Stewart said.

“Grassland being broken in substantial acreages is just not an issue.”

Trevor Herriot, a spokesperson for Public Pastures-Public Interest (PPPI), said he hears many reports of native grass being plowed, but people are reluctant to give details because the issue is contentious.

One case raised earlier this month suggested that a new owner was plowing a field of native grass in southwestern Saskatchewan that| had been crown land.

However, it later turned out the land was in crested wheatgrass.

The government confirmed that 160 acres of the land in question had been owned by the crown but was seeded to tame grass for at least 20 years.

Still, Herriot said he and other conservationists worry that high commodity prices will mean more land is broken so that farmers can take advantage of those prices.

He said the situation isn’t good for cattle producers, either.

“We have a shared interest in keeping land under grass,” he said.

An inventory of where the grass is and what condition it is in would be useful for everyone, Herriot said.

PPPI believes there should also be a lease rate that keeps Saskatchewan cattle producers competitive with their neighbours, particularly on the former federal pastures that are soon to be turned over to the province and then patrons.

Herriot said lessees can’t be ex-pected to look after the wider interests of biodiversity and species at risk unless they receive a price break.

“Maybe we have to come up with a system that will give our cattlemen a better price on animal unit months rates that they pay, especially if they’re following certain best management practices that protect that public interest,” he said.

At the same time, he said neither cattle producers nor conservationists want a situation where the government is “super regulating.”

Proper public policy should be good for all, he said.

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