NCC buys native grassland in southern Sask.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada says the 2,140 acres on Buffalo Pound Lake would continue to be used for grazing

A 2,140-acre expanse of grassland along Buffalo Pound Lake in southern Saskatchewan has been purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Canada with financial assistance from various partners.

Total cost of the transaction is estimated at $3.38 million. The names of the former owners of the property were not released.

Cameron Wood, director of conservation for the NCC in Saskatchewan, said the land belonged to a local ranching family that had owned it for several generations but he was unsure the family wanted their identity disclosed.

Wood said the property, which includes about seven kilometres of shoreline along the lake, would continue to be used for grazing.

“Grazing will continue on the property after this,” he said during an online news conference announcing the acquisition.

“Grazing is something that we see as hugely valuable both for the local economy and ranchers and producers, but it’s also vital for conservation. These systems evolved under grazing of bison and wildfire and grazing livestock is a valuable tool to manipulate those processes and without it we’re never going to be able to achieve our conservation goals. So that certainly will be incorporated into the management of the property.”

A large portion of the property is native grassland but there are also some areas of tame forage that Wood said the NCC would work to convert back to native species.

The NCC said the deal was made with participation from numerous partners, including the federal government, Saskatchewan government, MapleCross Fund, K+S Potash Canada, the Joyce Gemmell Jessen Habitat Conservation Fund and various other donors.

“This area is at risk for future development, as shorelines are in demand for recreation and industry,” the NCC said in a news release.

“Conserving this important natural area can sustain a healthy ecosystem, including supporting recreation and economic needs. Keeping the province’s grasslands and lakes healthy benefits the people and wildlife who depend on them.”

During the news conference, Colin Braithwaite, a vice-president at K+S Potash, said the company’s contribution was part of efforts to offset the loss of some 480 acres of grassland that were impacted during the construction of its Bethune mine.

“The objective to work with the province and NCC was (to) achieve no net loss of native grasslands as a result of construction of our mine. However, calculating an appropriate offset is not as simple as it sounds,” said Braithwaite.

“The formula we all came up with eventually led to the largest known industry offset of grassland habitat in Saskatchewan, nearly $1 million.”

Isobel Ralston and Jan Oedenes, founders of the MapleCross Fund, said by video from Ontario that they have never been to the Buffalo Pound site but believe in conservation and the preservation of natural habitat.

Their donation helped complete the project, said Jennifer McKillop, NCC’s regional vice-president in Saskatchewan. Nearly 300 other donors also provided financial support.

Wood added that the region and the lake help filter water for Regina and Moose Jaw and the site is an important wildlife corridor for the Upper Qu’Appelle region. Buffalo Pound Lake is a critical stopover for migratory birds and waterfowl and the surrounding area is home to various at-risk species.

The next step is for NCC personnel to do an inventory of plant and animal species on the property and use the resulting information to develop a management plan.

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