Ranching

A vision for the future of PFRA community pastures

Posted by on 7. April 2013 in Blog / Journal, Conservation, Ranching | Comments Off on A vision for the future of PFRA community pastures

A vision for the future of PFRA community pastures

Earlier this year I wrote a post about the largest land transfer in to occur in the recent Canadian history, affecting management of 9,290 square kilometres of native prairie (see the article titled “What is the future for PFRA community pastures?“). In a nutshell, the Canadian government decided that it does not want to look after some of the largest un-fragmented tracts of grasslands found anywhere in the world, and told the three prairie provinces that they can do whatever they want with the land that used to be under the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (rather successful) supervision for over 75 years. There are 62 federal community pastures in Saskatchewan, totaling 7,160 square kilometres (1,77 million acres). The land for the community pastures is almost all provincially owned. The province has said that it does not want to manage the former federal pastures, and plans to sell or lease the land to current pasture patrons (farmers and ranchers who have been grazing livestock on the pastures). In contrast, the government of Manitoba plans to keep the land under public ownership and lease it to the former patrons. In the meantime, two excellent articles about this pivotal moment in the Canadian history have been published in influential public media: one in this weekend edition of The Globe and Mail “Why is Ottawa abandoning swaths of prairie grassland?” by Trevor Herriot (accompanied by an article “Range rider is a cowboy conservationist” presenting the views of one of the PFRA pasture managers who will be directly impacted by the changes). The second article is by a writer Candace Savage in the April edition of  Canadian Geographic, “The future of natural prairie pastures“. I am quite proud that editors of the magazine picked one of my images to illustrate the story.     A non-profit citizens group Public Pastures – Public Interest (PPPI) released a set of principles to protect the wider public interest during the transition of PFRA community pastures. PPPI is a group of Saskatchewan residents who believe that the benefits from public pastures to livestock producers and the people of Saskatchewan can best be served by continuing public ownership of these last vestiges of native grasslands. This set of principles has been endorsed by over 30 45 Canadian and international groups and organizations, including the Alberta Wilderness Association, Bird Studies Canada, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (Switzerland), National Farmers Union, Nature Canada, Nature Saskatchewan, National Audubon Society (USA), Saskatchewan Environmental Society and Temperate Grasslands Conservation Initiative. Here are the six principles developed by the Public Pastures – Public Interest, and suggestions for the strategy to move forward.   A Vision for the Future of Saskatchewan Heritage Rangelands The Principles 1. Keep ownership of the PFRA pastures in the public domain. This is the best way to balance diverse interests, to preserve the integrity of the pastures, and to ensure that the legacy of the pastures is secured for future generations. 2. Maintain livestock grazing as a priority. Livestock grazing is essential to the management of healthy prairie grasslands and to maintaining cattle and other livestock production now and in the future. This is a win-win arrangement that benefits producers and preserves the natural ecosystems in the pastures. 3. Utilize professional pasture managers. It has taken decades to build up the expertise needed to manage the livestock and grazing, the ecosystems, and the habitats for indigenous species and species at risk. Pasture managers are part of a system-wide team that helps them to improve their individual practices and provides coordinated support. Pasture patrons have dubbed their...

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What is the future for PFRA community pastures?

Posted by on 31. January 2013 in Blog / Journal, Conservation, Ranching | Comments Off on What is the future for PFRA community pastures?

What is the future for PFRA community pastures?

For over 75 years, the Canadian government has managed a large swath of community pastures across the Canadian Prairies, comprising of 929,000 hectares (2.3 million acres) of some of the largest unfragmented tracts of grasslands found anywhere in the world. If grasslands included in the Community Pasture Program (CPP) were a country, they would rank 168th in size – slightly larger than the Republic of Cyprus and right behind Lebanon. Or in the Canadian context, the PFRA community pastures cover the area that is 1.6 times the size of Prince Edward Island.     The federal Community Pasture Program was established under the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) in mid 1930s. The pasture program was created to reclaim badly eroded lands caused by a prolonged and disastrous drought which forced thousands of people to leave the Canadian Prairie region between 1931 and 1941. At the time of establishment, the PFRA goals were to stabilize and reduce the effects of soil erosion and address the lack of water resources on agricultural land. Over the years, PFRA mandate expanded to include management of a “productive, bio-diverse rangeland  and to promote environmentally responsible land use practices”. The program uses cattle grazing as the primary tool to maintain a healthy and diverse landscape, which is representative of the natural functioning prairie ecosystems. Over many years of careful management, PFRA pastures reclaimed the  badly mismanaged rangeland and now provide stable grazing access to 2,500 ranchers who graze over 200,000 heads of cattle each year. In addition to securing quality grazing to livestock producers, PFRA pastures provide habitat for the prairie’s unique and imperiled plant and animal species. Did you know that 31 of threatened and species at risk of extinction in Canada call the  PFRA pastures their home? Out of 85 community pastures in the national system, 60 are located in Saskatchewan, with a total surface area of 729,000 hectares (1.8 million acres). This represents almost 16 % of the  natural prairie that  still remain in the province. In addition to community pastures currently managed by federal agencies, the province of Saskatchewan owns and manages 56 community pastures for a total surface area of  2.57 million acres. Majority of this land is under native pasture cover. The Saskatchewan Pasture Program operates on similar principles as the CPP, but with less emphasis on management for conservation purposes.     The Government of Canada had made a decision that management of the Community Pasture Program is no longer with the federal’s government mandate. In the Federal Budget tabled in March of 2012, the AAFC announced plans to discontinue pasture operations and gradually divest itself from the control of the land over a 5 year period. Given that a substantial proportion of pasture lands is owned by the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, management and control of large area of rangeland will revert to the provinces. In summer of 2012, the province of Saskatchewan announced that it plans to sell or lease the PFRA pastures on a pasture-by-pasture basis. This is very different approach compared to what the government of Manitoba plans to do: keep the community pastures in public ownership as a Crown land and lase it to the newly formed pasture patron co-operative. The idea of selling (or leasing) and managing the pastures on individual basis does not bring good news for many prairie animals and plants. Ranchers have been good stewards and managers of the land, and prairie species benefited from proper range management. However, economic hardship (of which have been many instances in this part of the world) might put the importance of...

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Maple Creek Ranch Rodeo

Posted by on 31. July 2012 in Blog / Journal, Ranching | 2 comments

Maple Creek Ranch Rodeo

I enjoy visiting and photographing rodeos in smaller centres throughout Saskatchewan. My favourites are rodeos taking place in Maple Creek and Wood Mountain. The Wood Mountain Stampede is Canada’s longest continuously running rodeo, this year entering its’ 123rd season. Much longer than a better-advertised Calgary Stampede. This year I decided to try something different. I went to see the 25th Annual Ranch Rodeo in Maple Creek. The Ranch Rodeo is slightly different than your average rodeo. It is designed to replicate the usual activities and duties cowboys have to perform while working out on the range. Eight teams of five riders compete “for pride and a buckle”. There is a lot of rivalry going on as riders know each other well, and often work together as ranch hands.There are several timed events that challenge the skills of a cowboys both individually and through team work: Penning – a team has to separate three marked cows from the herd and drive them into a holding pen on the other side of the arena Doctoring – this event involves separating marked animals, team roping, symbolically tagging the animal and then releasing it – all timed   Branding – a team of cowboys captures and secures a calf, paints the brand (no burning iron involved) and then releases the animal Wild cow milking – this is a crazy one. All of the teams are positioned on one side of the arena. On mark, they gallop to the other side where where each team has to capture an adult cow (not your docile barn variety), milk it, run back with a bottle of milk and give it to the judges. The official rules call for a “bottle” to be used, but I saw milk being carried in plastic glasses, beer cans and other rather innovative types of containers Horse catching – a team member has to rope, saddle and remount one of their team’s horses Bronc riding – a traditional rodeo event, where individual team members have to ride a bronc for a 6 second time period. Judges decide on a winner. Although this is a “traditional” rodeo event, there wasn’t much of a tradition in the outfits these cowboys were wearing. Check out the guy with a black hat   At the end, two teams were tied for the first place based on collected points. The winner was decided by a team race on the track circling the arena. It was a relay race – riders had to pass on a saddle bag and cross the finish line carrying the bag. You drop it and your team is disqualified. After a dramatic race, the team wearing navy blue wests – the Bar T Welding team – crossed the finish line before everyone else. The Ranch Rodeo was a great fun to watch and photograph. I am glad that I went to see it instead of the Calgary Stampede. And I believe that I would not be allowed in Calgary to hang out so close to the action....

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