Posts Tagged "PFRA"

Grasslands on Canada’s top 10 endangered places list

Posted by on 26. May 2016 in Blog / Journal, Conservation | Comments Off on Grasslands on Canada’s top 10 endangered places list

Grasslands on Canada’s top 10 endangered places list

The National Trust for Canada (NTC) has released today its latest Top 10 Endangered Places at Risk. NTC is a national charity that leads action to save historic places of cultural and natural significance. The organization’s goal is to inspire Canadians to identify and celebrate their heritage landmarks, cultural landscapes and communities, and conserve them for present and future generations. Two prairie landmarks made the top 10 list: Saskatchewan’s grasslands and wooden grain elevators. These places that define identity, community spirit and a sense of belonging are slowly eroding due to neglect, shift in economics priorities, inappropriate development and weak legislation. First published in 2005, the NTC Top 10 Endangered Places List has raised awareness and supported efforts by local groups working to save them. Incidentally, I have extensively photographed these disappearing natural and cultural icons over 18 years of my travels throughout Western Canada. I shared images and stories with wide audiences about the importance of maintaining these historic places and what they mean to our cultural identity and quality of life. Temperate grasslands are one of the major biomes on the planet. Because grasslands provide a very important source of food for human populations, they are one of the most altered ecosystems we inhabit. The majority of native grasslands in North America have been converted to grow crops for food and fuel and have lost their ability to stabilize the planetary systems. In the 1930s, a combination of unsustainable farming practices and extremely dry climate conditions caused extensive degradation of topsoil. You are probably familiar with the negative consequences of Dust Bowl and the impact on thousands of prairie farmers who abandoned their homesteads during the height of Great Depression. In 1935, Canadian Parliament established the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration with a goal to reclaim badly eroded agricultural lands and manage fragile grasslands through the Community Pasture Program. With a careful, conservation-based management, the CPP was successful in stabilizing and restoring grasslands throughout the Prairie Provinces. Today, 1.8 million acres of grasslands in the Community Pasture Program network represent the last remaining large tracts of prairie habitat, home to many species at risk as well as aboriginal and homestead heritage sites. In 2012, the federal government discontinued the CPP and initiated the transfer of federally managed community pastures to the provinces. Provincial interest in managing the land varies; the government in Manitoba expressed interest in supporting the unified management of pastures with conservation as a strong priority. In contrast, the Saskatchewan government is not interested in supporting conservation-based management and decided to relinquish control to small user groups and market forces. The second heritage icons that are vanishing from prairie landscapes are, once ubiquitous wooden grain elevators. These prairie sentinels are deeply embedded in Canada’s farming psyche. Nearly 6,000 grain elevators used to dot rural landscapes of Western Canada. They formed a sense of identity and belonging to a place. They were symbols of farming life and the strength of rural communities. Changing technology and industrialized scale of contemporary farming made many of the wooden structures obsolete. They have been torn down at an alarming rate. Today, less than 14 percent of the traditional wooden structures still stand. Only 23 elevators have received heritage designation, a minimal form of protection if there aren’t sufficient funds raised by local communities for their...

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Conservation groups call for protection of former PFRA pastures

Posted by on 4. November 2015 in Blog / Journal, Conservation | Comments Off on Conservation groups call for protection of former PFRA pastures

Conservation groups call for protection of former PFRA pastures

The 23rd Prime Minister of Canada was sworn into the office this morning. There are high expectations from the new federal government under the leadership of Justin Trudeau to repair damage caused by the departing Conservatives, especially in the area of environmental protection and climate change. Three large conservation organizations: Nature Canada, Nature Saskatchewan and Alberta Wilderness Association are calling the new Liberal government to announce an immediate pause in transfer of community pastures formerly managed by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) to provincial control, until a legally binding plan is in place to protect their ecological value.     Former Conservative government announced in 2012 that it was cancelling the community pasture program, administered by the PFRA, and transferring the Crown land to the provinces. The Saskatchewan government, in turn, announced that it would sell or lease the former federal community pastures to individual pasture patron groups. Twenty out of the 62 pastures covering 720,000 hectares have already been transferred to patron groups or associations in Saskatchewan. Management structure and the ability to sustainably use the pastures differ widely between the groups. Situation is slightly different in Manitoba; the provincial government is supporting a more unified management structure through a non-profit Association of Manitoba Community Pastures. The AMCP is currently operating 14 pastures, with 9 more to be included in the network.     The community pasture system was created in 1930s with a goal to reclaim badly eroded soils, conserve natural prairie landscapes and provide grazing resource to small and medium size mixed-farm producers. Over the years, the management system under PFRA was developed to include maintenance of critical wildlife habitat, biodiversity protection and increase ecosystem resilience to climate change through water retention and ground aquifer replenishment. Government assistance in protection and management of these unique grassland areas is critical, especially in today’s ever-changing market conditions. Secure access to grazing space for livestock is important to small rural communities. It is also important to protect natural prairie landscapes from negative impacts caused by drought, over-use, development or conversion to intensive crop production. Call for an immediate pause on transfers of former PFRA community pastures should be followed by a commitment by federal and provincial governments to develop a unified plan to conserve native grasslands across the prairie provinces. We can not afford to lose more grasslands, the most threatened ecosystem in Canada.   Related news: Nature Saskatchewan wants pastures on Liberal agenda (Regina Leader Post) Province passes management of community pasture program to non-profit organization (Government of Manitoba press release)...

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The Last Cowboy – a short documentary film about the human cost of PFRA pasture closures

Posted by on 5. December 2014 in Blog / Journal, Ranching | 4 comments

The Last Cowboy – a short documentary film about the human cost of PFRA pasture closures

A few days ago a friend alerted me to a marvelous and touching documentary film about Jim Commodore, a retired cowboy at the Val Marie PFRA Community Pasture. This 6-minute documentary conveys a message about the human cost of the Community Pasture System closure, told through the eyes of a long time cowboy Jim Commodore. The Last Cowboy was produced by Megan Lacelle and Kaitlyn Van de Woestyne, journalism students at the University of Regina. Jim Commodore was born at the Val Marie PFRA pasture in 1941 and spent his working career as a cowboy on the federally run community pasture. In a very humble and personal way, Jim conveys a message about the importance of maintaining healthy prairie environments for the benefit of rural communities, everyday people and the ranching culture of southwest Saskatchewan. Jim talks about the need to care for the livestock, for the grass and water, and the need to “always hold the balance”. The Community Pasture Program was initiated after the Great Depression in the 1930s, with a goal of stabilizing the drought-ravaged land and assisting small to medium-size mixed farm operations. After the federal government pulled out of the Community Pasture Program in 2012, Jim, like many other Saskatchewan residents, did not expect that politicians would shut down “probably one of the most successful programs the federal government has ever conducted”. Here is the mini documentary The Last Cowboy by Megan Lacelle and Kaitlyn Van de Woestyne, posted here with permission.   The Last Cowboy from Megan Lacelle on Vimeo.  Val Marie PFRA Community Pasture is located northwest of Grasslands National Park. It is the largest community pasture in Saskatchewan, with over 41,256 hectares (101,946 acres) of strikingly beautiful native prairie. The Frenchman River slowly meanders through the pasture, with rugged valley slopes adding to its appeal. Home to several species at risk, the Val Marie PFRA community pasture is a national treasure, and needs to be safeguarded and sustained for the benefit of future generations. This federally managed pasture is set to close in 2017. It will be transferred to the province of Saskatchewan, which plans to either sell the land or lease it to a yet-to-be-formed pasture patron association. The most poignant moment in the documentary is when Jim laments that the Val Marie community pasture might share the same destiny with him: “I am closing down too. I am at that stage in my life, so I guess, we are closing down together”   I have put together a photography tribute to the life of cowboys on PFRA community pastures, hard-working people who have been looking after the federal community pastures in the Prairie Provinces for over 75 years. At the end of that post, I included a few links to articles about the impact of federal Community Pasture Program closures on small rural communities. I would also recommend a recent article by Andrea Hill published in The Star Phoenix, Still at home on the range. Andrea writes about the impact of federal pasture closures on pasture managers and riders, and how they are adjusting to the change....

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A short visit to prairies of southern Saskatchewan

Posted by on 31. August 2014 in Blog / Journal | Comments Off on A short visit to prairies of southern Saskatchewan

A short visit to prairies of southern Saskatchewan

August went by in a blink of an eye. At least for me this year. I have been preoccupied with efforts to finish my thesis (I am currently enrolled in a Master of Sustainable Development program at the University of Saskatchewan). A self-imposed restriction on travel & photography resulted in a rather slim harvest of images. A week ago I had to attend a meeting in Val Marie, just a stone throw from Grassland National Park. An opportunity to take my camera gear on a short jaunt and deal with the nagging withdrawal symptoms. Last year Parks Canada started an extensive trail construction on the iconic 70 Mile Butte in West Block of Grasslands NP. Explanation we received from Parks Canada staff is that the new trails had to be built because of erosion and impact on vegetation due to increasing foot traffic. Thanks to the unfortunate combination of badly designed trails, use of heavy machinery on soils that a prone to erosion and a very wet spring,  the trail is in extremely bad shape. You can read more about the mess Parks Canada caused in the Grasslands park in a blog post by the Saskatchewan writer Trevor Herriot. By marking a deep scar on the landscape, the new trails are visible from almost every corner of the 70 Mile and Eagle Buttes. This part of the park will never regain its charm and rugged beauty.     Following the meeting, I had an opportunity to spend a few hours in the park and dust off my camera. After a weekend of heavy rains, the  skies cleared out just in time for us to get an afternoon and evening of blue skies filled with beautiful puffy clouds. The best possible therapy I could have received to lift my spirits.     On the return trip to Saskatoon, I stopped by the Auvergne – Wise Creek PFRA community pasture south of Cadillac, and managed to capture a few prairie landscapes. Hope you will enjoy browsing through.         The last image is a composite of two exposures: the original that you see here and a second exposure with added fill-in flash. The flash head was set to 105 mm setting to narrow down the light beam (I was holding the flash connected to camera with an extension cord and pointed it towards the large rock). I set up the flash exposure to manual setting at 1/4 power, just enough to bring in a touch of extra light on the rock. I wanted to have the artificial light source to be slightly warmer than the ambient, but forgot the colour correction gels in my car. The nice light on the clouds you see in the background was fading rapidly and I figured that I could miss the photo opportunity if I ran to the car to fetch the gels. Later on in post-processing I increased the global temperature of the exposure with flash (“warmed” up the exposure), and opened the two exposures as layers in Photoshop (chose the option in Lightroom under Photo > Edit In > Open As Layers in Photoshop). The images were perfectly aligned so I just ordered them in a way that the exposure with fill-in flash was “below” the straight-on shot. Then I used the eraser tool and carefully deleted part of the image with the rock so the layer below became visible. This allowed me to have a precise control of brightness and light tone on the granite rock....

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Recently in print

Posted by on 22. April 2014 in Blog / Journal | Comments Off on Recently in print

Recently in print

Last month was quite busy and productive. Several magazine articles with my images appeared in print. I was also interviewed for the Regina Leader Post and a few of my images were published in the paper. One image was used on a front page as a lead to the article. How cool is that? The first article appeared in the Fine Lifestyles Magazine, Southwest edition (Spring 2014). Written by Rebecca Schneidereit, the article titled “The Magnificent Grasslands, Inspiring Art and Conservation” talks about the beauty of prairie landscapes that draws artists to the Grasslands National Park. It also addressed current grassland conservation issues and mentioned the “Prairie Passage Tour” – a visit by the iconic Canadian authors Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson who helped raise awareness about the need to protect the last remaining tracts of native prairie in Canada. I was part of the tour and helped with documenting the event. The opening spread featured a sunset shot from the 70 Mile Butte in West Block, just south of Val Marie. A few smaller spreads were used throughout the article. You can access the digital edition from here (the article starts on page 24). If you are interested in exploring and photographing in one of the most spectacular landscapes of Western Canada, I will be leading a photography tour to Grasslands National Park from June 20 – June 22, 2014. The second recent article with my images appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Prairies North magazine. Dr. Emily Eaton wrote about the uncertain future of Saskatchewan`s PFRA community pastures in “Who Will Steward This Land Now?” You can get a preview of the article by following the link. I have prepared a gallery of images from the PFRA community pastures. You can see it in the Photo Library section. This is a work in progress, and I am continuously adding new images to the photo archives. At the end of March I gave a public presentation at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina on “Saskatchewan Grasslands – a Vanishing Landscape?”. The talk was very well attended; over 180 people showed up.  Natascia Lypny, a journalist with the Leader Post did an interview with me and Trevor Herriot. Trevor is a well known Saskatchewan author and co-director of Public Pastures – Public Interest, a prairie conservation group. The article was well written, and I would  highly recommend it. You can read the initial article published in Leader Post titled “Prairie grasslands – photographs capture disappearing landscape“. A slightly modified version was subsequently published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix,  “Grasslands – photos capture and endangered landscape“. Here is a quote from the interview that links my photography and conservation work: “My goal is, as a photographer, as a visual artist, to show people what we have. And (then in my talk) show what are the threats and what could happen to those lands if we do not tread smartly.”...

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