Consultation began this week on the Saskatchewan government’s decision to wind down its community pasture program.
The measure was announced in last week’s provincial budget, al-though the government said there is no financial impact in 2017-18 and the program operates on a break-even basis through the Pastures Revolving Fund.
This grazing season will be the last that the program operates as it currently does. There are 50 pastures encompassing 780,000 acres.
Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart said none of the 136 employees will be affected this year.
“We don’t believe that looking after privately owned cattle is a core function of government,” he said.
“We’ve been reviewing our programs and we’re eliminating the ones that we don’t think we should be in, and that’s one that’s been identified.”
He said the pastures would still be available for grazing cattle. The consultation will determine an operating model and possibly ownership of at least some of the crown land.
The program was created in 1922 to help small cattle producers and diversify agriculture.
Stewart said the program has served that purpose.
About five percent of the provincial herd and about 1,300 producers use the pastures.
The public consultation will take place online March 27 through May 8, and the ministry will meet with stakeholders including First Nations and Métis communities on future management options.
Land that might be sold will be subject to the provisions of the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act, which classifies it into three categories of ecological value.
Land with high ecological value cannot be sold, while land that is of moderate value can be sold but requires a crown conservation easement. Low value land may be sold without restriction.
Stewart said one-third of the land is classified as high value.
“The other two-thirds will be split between moderate and low, with the majority of that being moderate,” he said.
Depending on how the transition occurs, there could be jobs for existing employees to continue managing the grazing land, he said.
Shane Jahnke, president of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association, said discontinuation of the program wouldn’t cause too much concern.
“It wasn’t a shock after what we went through with the federal pastures,” he said.
“The government has assured us that they are going to work with the patrons to maintain grazing on them, so that’s a positive sign.”
Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association chair Ryan Beierbach said producers have been fairly happy with the transition of the federal pastures to patron control and this should be a smoother process.
However, NDP agriculture critic Cathy Sproule said she is concerned that small and medium sized cattle producers won’t have access to pastures.
“I think it’s just going to shut down a whole bunch of people out of cattle, which is not a good thing for the province,” she said.
The online consultation documents can be found at www.saskatchewan.ca/pastures.