Stock growers want compensation for conservation

Sage grouse protection | Producers concerned about fencing costs under new regulations to protect wild sage grouse

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — Saskatchewan’s cow-calf producers say those who raise cattle in the area where a sage grouse protection order has been issued should be fairly compensated.

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association has added its voice to others who are concerned about the emergency protection order issued by the federal government late last year.

It came into effect in February and includes 1,700 sq. kilometres in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The protection order imposes restrictions on noise levels and travel within certain areas in an effort to stop the population decline. The number of birds has dropped by 98 percent since the 1980s, from 2,491 to 138 in 2012.

The order does not limit grazing and does not apply to private land.

However, many SSGA members in the southwest use crown lease land, on which the order does apply.

Lynn Grant from Val Marie, Sask., said much of the land under the order has been under federal jurisdiction for years, and still the grouse population has dropped.

He said if those management practices haven’t worked so far, why would they work now.

“I’m still at a loss to explain how the measures taken in the order are expected to do anything for the bird population going forward, when the vast majority of those measures would have been in place,” Grant said.

“My concern is if the bird population doesn’t recover in whatever period of time, what happens next?”

David Ingstrup, regional director for the Canadian Wildlife Service, said the grouse would likely move to extirpated status on Canada’s endangered species list if the population doesn’t recover.

He said the United States is taking a different approach.

“They’re trying to pull out all stops right now through stewardship measures and a lot of innovative programs with ranchers to try to stabilize populations,” he said.

The grouse isn’t on the American endangered list, but Canadian populations are at the fringe of the sage grouse range.

Grant told Ingstrup that most ranchers would like to see the birds return or remain, but they also don’t want to have ineffective measures imposed on them.

“Effectively, the act makes all these species and their habitat a liability to the landowner or land manager rather than an asset,” he said.

Larry Grant, also of Val Marie, said that the federal Species at Risk Act requires communication, consultation and collaboration with those affected, but none of that has happened.

He said there are problems with what the ranchers will be asked to do.

For example, fences will need a top smooth wire, and the top two wires must be marked.

However, the order has estimated only $125 per kilometre in extra fencing costs, and one or two person hours of extra labour per kilometre fenced. The markers have to be placed every 1.5 metres, and Grant said the cows are likely to pull them off.

He said ranchers will be blamed if the program fails, but it’s likely that predators such as raccoons and snakes and diseases such as West Nile Virus will have a bigger effect on populations.

“Everything in there is aimed right at the rancher,” he said.

Miles Anderson of Fir Mountain, Sask., said compensation is a must. He has sage grouse on his ranch and said he’s spent the past two years dealing with a “mess.”

“To the rancher, it’s almost an assumption that they’re there because you have the habitat. You’re almost guilty by association by having the habitat there. The birds have shrunk the traditional area they live in, and as things get better for them, they’ll expand.”

However, he said ranchers can’t do much about predators.

“There has to be some form of financial compensation to you, if not just for your time and whatever monetary things you have to do as stated in both (the emergency order and the recovery strategy),” he said.

Rural municipalities won’t be able to do roadwork at certain times, which will cost money, he added.

Anderson also cited a survey that found people believe the birds are worth $25 each to them. Perhaps society should contribute and let some of that money flow back to ranchers, he said.

The SSGA membership passed a resolution calling for producers to be fairly compensated for the financial stress and costs they will incur because of the emergency order.

However, they also passed a resolution asking that the order be delayed until meaningful consultation with ranchers takes place.

More broadly, another resolution asks the SSGA executive to lobby the federal and provincial governments to enable the sections of the federal Species at Risk Act that support voluntary conservation agreements that are fully compensated and recognized.

Ingstrup said no conservation agreements have yet been implemented, but he expected some pilot projects to be started this year.

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