Pasture swap operates under temporary arrangement

A land swap between Ottawa and Saskatchewan is taking longer than expected but an interim agreement is allowing ranchers who used three former federal pastures to continue grazing cattle.

The Govenlock, Nashlyn and Battle Creek pastures in southwestern Saskatchewan are part of the swap necessitated by the transfer of all former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration pastures to provincial control.

There were small parcels within some of the pastures, often those with pasture manager homes and handling facilities, that couldn’t be transferred and as a result the parties agreed to exchange the three large pastures for the smaller parcels.

Then, the federal divestiture process required the government to offer the lands first to other departments, and Environment and Climate Change Canada wanted them.

The pastures are under ECCC control now, even though the exchange hasn’t been completed.

Randy Stokke, a Consul area rancher who has been part of the group dealing with the exchange, said initially only Govenlock was transferring to ECCC but adding the other two meant more negotiations for leaseholders.

“We actually finalized an agreement with Environment Canada two weeks ago,” he said in mid-June. “At this point we have basically a 15-year agreement. I guess neither one of us are happy so it must be a good agreement.”

ECCC spokesperson Samantha Bayard said in an email that the grazing licences are for one year but contain clauses to ensure they will roll into 15-year agreements when the land swap is complete.

“Land-use restrictions include prohibitions on cultivation, destruction of critical habitat or any activity that may degrade habitat conditions for wildlife,” she said. “ECCC and the grazing corporations will work co-operatively on repair and replacement of water and fencing infrastructure to minimize impacts on wildlife while providing for the needs of grazing operations.”

Ranchers are hesitant about working with a new department that has different goals than agriculture did, and they would like longer grazing agreements.

“It’s going to be a learning process,” Stokke said. “All the species-at-risk issues, we’re just going to have to wait and see how we can work through these things.”

The leaseholders want to be involved in developing management programs for the area, in addition to the agreements to graze the pastures.

“At this point they’ve agreed to include us,” he said. “We’re hoping that their word is good and they will go forward with this. I feel it’s a great opportunity to show the country that the ranching community and (Canadian Wildlife Service) can work together and have a business on conservation land.”

The pastures total about 160,000 acres all in one block, which is something conservationists want. Leaseholders maintain if they hadn’t properly managed the lands, the species at risk and habitat wouldn’t be there.

Bayard said the main difference between ECCC and Agriculture Canada management is that the grazing corporations are fully responsible for the livestock. Agriculture Canada had pasture managers.

The two parties developed grazing plans for this year together, and ECCC staff will monitor wildlife and species at risk, control third-party access and manage habitat to improve range condition as required.

Stokke observed that it has been a long five years to get to this point. Work with the previous Conservative government had been proceeding well but the 2015 election forced a re-start. Now, another federal election looms.

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