Ranchers vital to native prairie conservation

By Tim Kalinowski


Ranchers are vital partners in grasslands conservation, says Carolyn Gaudet, manager of the Sask. Prairie Conservation Action Plan, and should play a central role in creating policies which protect and enhance grassland diversity.
“From our perspective, them having species-at-risk on their land is they are already doing something right,” says Gaudet. “We acknowledge what they are doing, and that we appreciate all the work and effort, and everything they do… Our ranchers are the stewards of the land. They are on the ground entity that can have the most tangible affect on habitat in the native prairie ecosystem.”
Sask. PCAP is an umbrella organization for 30 conservation, ranch and government groups all with the stated purpose of preserving the last remaining grassland eco-systems in Saskatchewan. The organization was founded by the Saskatchewan Stockgrowers Association to give ranchers a voice in setting conservation policies, and to create a better interface with like-minded conservation groups.
“We pitch a big tent. We want to see a healthy, native prairie ecosystem. We want to conserve native grasslands,” says Gaudet. “This organization was started by stockgrowers, and we have always had that big component including the farming and ranching perspective.”
That is not to say ranchers cannot always do better in terms of bringing in Best Management Practices on their land to get more bang for their buck. Gaudet explains.
“If grazing is done well it can do wonders for an ecosystem, but if it is done poorly it can have a negative effect on the landscape…They can modify or graze in certain ways that creates a heterogeneity of different habitat types. In order maintain the highest level of biodiversity, there needs to be a variety of habitats; so vegetation of different heights and that kind of thing.
“The same can be said for how (landowners) set up their structures, fences and watering systems.”
Gaudet says using these types of BMPs go hand-in-hand with creating more prosperity for stockgrowers.
“Best Management Practices helps them go beyond what they are currently doing, and helps them understand how they can do more,” states Gaudet. “If they are properly managing their land, not only is it good for their livelihood, it is good for the ecosystem and prairie conservation in general… In this case being more sustainable is also better for the long-term success of their business.”
Gaudet is grateful for the ongoing participation of many native prairie landowners and leaseholders across Saskatchewan in PCAP’s education and awareness efforts to protect all grasslands for future generations to experience and cherish.
“We work on opening up those lines of communication with the farming and ranching community, which is why PCAP was created… A lot of our staff have a ranching background; so it is not like we are city people trying to connect with ranchers… We kind of know where the ranchers are coming from. They feel heard and respected. Those two things have to go together.”

Photo by Andrew McKinley, Eco-Friendly Saskatchewan
By helping preserve grasslands for their cattle, ranchers create a favourable habitat for all manner of fauna and flora, great and small, on the prairies.