NCC land purchase expands conservation area in Sask.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada buys 307 acres of land west of Saskatoon, which will continue to be used for grazing

A national non-profit conservation organization has expanded its landholdings in central Saskatchewan.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada announced earlier this month that it has acquired 307 acres of land near Asquith, Sask., west of Saskatoon.

The NCC bought the land from a local landowner for an undisclosed price.

The land consists of native and tame grasslands, aspen forests, stabilized sand dunes and wetland areas.

The land had been used for grazing cattle and will continue to be grazed through a lease agreement with a local cattle producer.

It also supports a diverse plant population and provides valuable natural habitat for many wildlife species, said Anja Sorensen, NCC’s program director for southeast and central Saskatchewan.

Sorensen said NCC’s priority is to retain the land in its current state.

Cultivation, crop production, haying and development will not be permitted.

Conserving the area helps to avoid further habitat loss and fragmentation from agricultural activity and urbanization, NCC said.

“NCC has secured another 307 acres of property north of the town of Asquith — about five miles to the north — and about 45 minutes west of Saskatoon,” said Sorensen.

“It’s close to another three NCC properties nearby so we’re just really excited to have secured another piece of property to continue to conserve this habitat corridor.”

“In total, we have a conservation area of just over 1,300 acres in the Asquith area.”

NCC protects natural habitat by acquiring title to privately owned land or by signing conservation agreements with landowners who retain title to the land.

Across Canada, more than 35 million acres are protected by the organization, including almost 500,000 acres in Saskatchewan.

The Asquith acquisition was financed with support from several funding partners including the federal government’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program and the provincial government’s Fish and Wildlife Development Fund.

A number of individual donors also supported the project.

Sorensen said NCC provides public, on-foot access at almost all of its properties, including the newly acquired Asquith property.

Plans are in the works to develop a series of walking trails through the area with interpretive signs.

The trails will allow people to observe wildlife species and enjoy unspoiled natural surroundings.

“We’re really excited to have the opportunity to provide the public with access to this new property and to get out and enjoy nature… so next spring, we’re looking forward to designating the new property as part of a new NCC nature destination,” Sorensen said.

“This is going to include work establishing a hiking trail, and putting up some interpretive signs, all with the support of the Saskatoon Nature Society.”

“There’s a very diverse plant community and of course it provides a home to a wide diversity of wildlife species …,” she said.

According to NCC, Saskatchewan’s native grasslands are among the rarest and most at-risk habitats in the world.

During the past 25 years, Saskatchewan has lost more than two million acres of native grassland. More than 80 percent of the province’s original native grassland area is now under cultivation.

According to NCC, the grasslands and wetlands on the Asquith property provide habitat for a number of at-risk species including the American badger (special concern), the bobolink (threatened), the bank swallow (threatened) and the northern leopard frog (special concern).

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