Conservation groups concerned with the loss of prairie grasslands habitat say Canada’s new federal government should suspend the transfer of former PFRA pastures to local grazing groups.
Officials from Nature Saskatchewan, Nature Canada and the Alberta Wildernesss Association say a Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau should stop the transfer process until a long-term plan is put in place to preserve grasslands habitat and ensure that the pastures are maintained in their current condition.
Jordan Ignatiuk, executive director of Nature Saskatchewan, said the conservation groups do not object to transferring the pastures to local grazing groups.
However, conservationists are concerned with long-term preservation of the lands, which provide critical habitat for endangered wildlife species, including the Greater Sage Grouse, the Burrowing Owl, the Ferruginous Hawk and the Swift Fox.
If beef markets fall and local grazing groups are unable to retain managerial control of the lands, there is no guarantee that the properties will not be transferred to other groups or sold to private owners and used for development or crop production.
“What we want is an assurance of protection for the grasslands,” said Ignatiuk.
“Right now, the transfer agreements are divesting to the province and the patrons associations (will eventually) take them over … but there’s really no long-term assurance that those lands will be protected.”
Ignatiuk said his group has no objection to grazing, a practice that’s compatible with the Nature Saskatchewan’s conservation objectives.
There are 62 former PFRA community pastures in Saskatchewan, covering about 1.78 million acres.
So far, 20 pastures have been transferred to user-ownership groups, referred to as patron groups.
The remaining lands are scheduled to be transferred over the next three years.