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Turning up the Heat on Prairie Grasslands
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Turning up the Heat on Prairie Grasslands

[caption id="attachment_22697" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] As summer arrives, advocates for native prairie grasslands are turning up the heat on the federal government to conserve these endangered places. In late May, the community pastures of Saskatchewan were named as one of The National Trust for Canada’s Top 10 Endangered Places for 2016. The decision by the former government to stop managing the 1.8 million acres of these federal community pastures in Saskatchewan has left these important prairie ecosystems at risk. Last week, Wayne Stetski, NDP Member of Parliament for Kootenay-Columbia, asked Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay during Question Period in the House of Commons whether the government is going to put the transfer of federal community pastures on hold and restore the program that restored and protected millions of hectares of prairie grasslands for both ranching and conservation. Minister MacAulay didn’t respond directly, but did allow that he and his officials will be having further discussions with the provinces on the process regarding the divestiture of community pastures. This week, Nature Canada and Saskatchewan nature and ranching groups are jointly bringing forward a proposal to Minister MacAulay and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to establish an independent mechanism that would provide expertise and assistance to the ranchers who graze their cattle on these pastures to develop range plans, monitor range health, and build capacity of pasture managers to achieve sustainable grazing and biodiversity conservation. Ranchers and nature groups are working together to achieve these objectives of sustainable grazing and conservation of native grasslands. It is time for the new federal government to put on hold the transfers of these community pastures to Saskatchewan for private sale and begin serious discussions about to conserve these endangered grasslands.

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Grasslands Lobby Swaying Ottawa
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Grasslands Lobby Swaying Ottawa

[caption id="attachment_23643" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Stephen Hazell Stephen Hazell
Director of Conservation
and General Counsel[/caption] Nature Canada teamed up with Saskatchewan-based nature groups in Ottawa last week to lobby for a pause in the transfer of important grasslands to the Saskatchewan government. Nature Canada, Nature Saskatchewan, Public Pastures Public Interest, and CPAWS Saskatchewan are all arguing that the 27 remaining federal managed community pastures in Saskatchewan should not be transferred until a nature protection plan is in place (the Saskatchewan government has stated that, once transferred, these lands would be sold off subject only to a “no-break, no-drain” conservation easement). Federal management of these prairie grasslands has meant stronger protection for threatened and endangered species, conservation of soil and water, and continued sequestration of greenhouse gases. The previous federal government wrongly decided in 2012 to eliminate the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) and transfer one million hectares of grasslands without any plan to protect species at risk or ensure sustainable ranching. [caption id="attachment_27299" align="alignright" width="225"]From left to right: Stephen Hazell, Rick Ashton, Trevor Herriot, and Gord Vaadeland. From left to right: Stephen Hazell, Rick Ashton, Trevor Herriot, and Gord Vaadeland.[/caption] Based on our meetings with advisors to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and senior civil servants, it seems that the new Liberal government is at least listening. Any pause on transfers of these federally managed grasslands should be part of a strategy to conserve native grasslands across the prairies by supporting positive stewardship practices by ranchers and nature groups on private lands as well as establishing protected areas such as National Wildlife Areas. Grasslands are one of the most imperiled ecosystems in Canada. PFRA grasslands include almost all the best remnants of mixed-grass prairie in Canada, providing critical habitat for at least 31 species at risk such as: Greater Sage Grouse, Burrowing Owl, Swift Fox, and Ferruginous Hawk. These grasslands also provide an important carbon sink for greenhouse gas emissions. [button link="http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1909&ea.campaign.id=44681" size="medium" target="_self" color="orange" lightbox="false"]You can help protect these grasslands by signing our petition![/button] As well, you can also learn more about critical grasslands and other wilderness places to save here.

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Why are there sand dunes in the middle of Saskatchewan?
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Why are there sand dunes in the middle of Saskatchewan?

[caption id="attachment_25145" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of guest blogger Jay Brown Jay Brown Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog was written by guest blogger Jay Brown.  A fact not known to most, even a lot of Saskatchewanians I speak to, is that Saskatchewan can be a very sandy place. I am not talking about the beaches of the 100,000 lakes within its borders. I am instead referring to the unexpected active sand dunes one can find in a handful of places throughout the province. Our most famous sand dunes are the Athabasca Sand Dunes located in the far reaches of the northwest corner of the province on the shores of the mighty Lake Athabasca. A fun fact about these dunes is they are the world’s most northerly active sand dunes. They can only be accessed by plane or boat making it quite the adventure to set foot on them. If you are like me and can’t scrum up the money to book a flight to Saskatchewan’s beautiful and remote north, you can instead find two other places that are much easier to access. These locations are some of my favourite in the province and I highly recommend visiting them. [caption id="attachment_26801" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Image of The Great Sandhills The Great Sandhills. Photo by Jay Brown[/caption] There are two locations located in west central Saskatchewan where you can find sand dunes. The first is the Great Sandhills a protected 1900km2 area where massive dunes rise above the surrounding scenery. The second location is within the Douglas Provincial Park near the shores of the man made Lake Diefenbaker. Visitors who experience these dunes will be shocked at just how fine the sand is. It has the same consistently of flour. One can take their shoes off and run up and down the dunes without having to worry about stepping on any errant sharp rocks that you often find underfoot on freshwater beaches. [caption id="attachment_26802" align="aligncenter" width="601"]Image of feet in the sand The finest sand you’ll ever find! Photo by Jay Brown[/caption] I have visited both of these locations and they remain a favourite location of mine because of their distinct landscape and quiet beauty. However, as a curious person I decided to learn more about where all this sand came from. When you visit them you feel like you are standing in a child’s giant sandbox. They seem to appear out of nowhere and on first glances there is no explanation for why they should exist as they are surrounded by lush grasslands. Saskatchewan's recent natural history, like the rest of Canada, can be summed up in one word; glaciers. Our famous prairie flatness was forged during the last period of glaciers, known technically as the Wisconsin Glacial Episode. As the Laurentide Ice Sheet began to recede 12,000 years ago it left behind massive lakes that would cover large sections of what is now Saskatchewan. At its peaks, the Laurentide Ice Sheet was over 2km thick and covered the entirety of Canada. If the city of Regina were to exist during this time you would need a snorkel to visit as it would have been under the depths of Glacial Lake Regina. [caption id="attachment_26800" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Image of a map of the former lakes and rivers Map of the former lakes and rivers. Photo by Jay Brown[/caption] When the Laurtentide Ice Sheet melted away it deposited massive amounts of sand which would form to become the Elbow Sand Hills. These sand hills cover 13,500 hectares at the head of the Qu’Appelle River. Over time the South Saskatchewan Spillway, which would later become the South Saskatchewan River Valley, began to drain and lost its connection with Lake Bursary, a now extinct lake. As the sand deltas built up and the river changed its course and the waters dried up we are now left with these sand dunes! You can see evidence of all this activity throughout the South Saskatchewan and Qu’Appelle Valley’s. You only need to dig past the low lying vegetation or walk along the exposed riverbanks and you will discover the sand that makes up these ancient deposits. [caption id="attachment_26799" align="aligncenter" width="601"]Image of a sand bank The sandy remains of a once massive lake. Photo by Jay Brown[/caption] The flora that grows on the banks of the valley`s and the surrounding sandy hills are often stunted and short as they look for nutrients in the soil. The sand dunes have become very special ecosystems where they are home to numerous species of birds, plants and other animals that make a cozy home in the sand. There has also been signs of human activity in these areas for thousands of years. First Nations tribes would frequent these areas. Archeologists have discovered numerous signs of the cultures that used to revere these beautiful landscapes. I hope now that you are armed with this little bit of knowledge it will make your journey to visit these ancient sands a bit more awe inspiring. If you ever find yourself visiting the southern Saskatchewan sand dunes imagine how much different the landscape would have looked 15,000, 12,000 and 10,000 years ago. Think about how you are now standing at the bottom of a once massive lake! The sand dunes of Saskatchewan are a great reminder that nothing lasts forever and nothing stays the same when it comes to the forces of nature. [caption id="attachment_26797" align="aligncenter" width="602"]Image of ripples in the sand from the wind The ripples are caused by the wind pushing across the dunes. Photo by Jay Brown[/caption] If you want to learn how to visit either the Douglas Provincial Park Sand Dunes or the Great Sandhills you can learn more on my website www.saskhiker.com. Have you ever been to the Saskatchewan sand dunes? Tell us about your experience!

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Saskatchewan’s underappreciated trails
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Saskatchewan’s underappreciated trails

By Scott Davidson Over the past two summers, I have hiked and biked nearly 200 kilometres of trails in Saskatchewan’s national, provincial and regional parks. Through this time and apart from those in my adventuring groups, I can count the other humans I’ve encountered on my ten fingers. This begs the questions; are Saskatchewan’s trails underappreciated? Do people simply not know about them or are they simply ignoring them? For many Canadians, Saskatchewan is the equivalent of “the flyover states” in America. While often written off as a place where you can see your dog run away from a week, my time on Saskatchewan’s trails has shown me that my province contains so much more than the endless sea of flatland most picture when they think of it. With two national parks – including Canada’s only national prairie park –, 35 provincial parks and a wealth of smaller, regional parks, there are a wealth of trails to be tackled in Saskatchewan. But again, it seems like there is just nobody using them – apart from myself and the occasional group of friends I take with me. Take for example the Boreal Trail in Meadow Lake Provincial Park. At 120 kilometres long, the Boreal Trail is not only Saskatchewan’s longest trail, but also one of its few “real” destinations for backpacking. On the August long weekend of this year, which is typically a time when Saskatchewan residents take advantage of the provincial holiday to escape the city, we spent two nights on the trail and hiked 33 KM. Yet, the only people we saw – apart from each other – were two hikers less than an hour from the trailhead. So why people not exploring Saskatchewan via its wonderful trails? Saskatchewan’s residents know that the province contains much more than the open prairies its reputation is stereotyped upon. The Cypress Hills, located in the province’s southwestern corner contain the highest point in Canada between the Rocky Mountains and Quebec and a far cry from the grasslands that they tower over. Prince Albert National Park represents an accessible leap into Saskatchewan’s vast boreal forest, which covers approximately half of the province. Though it’s a shame that more people aren’t aware of Saskatchewan’s wonderful trails, there is a benefit to this dissonance as well; complete and utter solitude. Many hikers, myself included, venture into nature to get away from cell phones, work and the ever present connectivity of the modern day. So until more people discover the natural wonders that lay on Saskatchewan’s trails – and maybe they will because of this blog post – they will remain a place of solitude for the few who take the time to explore them in full.

Meet the recipient of Nature Canada’s 2014 Charles Labatiuk Scholarship Award
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Meet the recipient of Nature Canada’s 2014 Charles Labatiuk Scholarship Award

Kay Jollymore is the 2014 recipient of Nature Canada’s Charles Labatiuk Scholarship Award. Originally from the interior of British Columbia, she has recently relocated to Saskatoon to pursue a Master of Arts in Archeology at the University of Saskatchewan. “I’m very grateful to Nature Canada for supporting me as I further my studies in archeology,” said Jollymore. “I’m very excited to conduct research on a little-known area just outside Saskatoon.” [caption id="attachment_17677" align="alignright" width="300"]Eagle Bluffs - Kay Jollymore Jollymore and her husband stand atop Eagle Bluffs.[/caption] Having spent the last seven years working as a consultant archeologist, Jollymore has had the opportunity to visit many remote and beautiful places in Canada. She has fond memories of being flown by helicopter in northern British Columbia to do fieldwork in areas surrounded by stunning mountains and glacial lakes. Jollymore also counts herself lucky to have spent time doing fieldwork in the Prairie grasslands and the tundra of Nunavut. Her current research interests including investigating the region around Little Manitou Lake, an area east of Saskatoon. Jollymore’s graduate research will focus on understanding how the ecology and climate of Little Manitou Lake has changed over time and how that has impacted the people who live there. She will be working closely with Dr. Margaret Kennedy and Dr. Glenn Stuart of the university’s department of archeology and anthropology. “I really love doing field work and pursuing this Masters degree will allow me to work in more regions across the country,” said Jollymore. When she’s not collecting information in the field, Jollymore enjoys spending time in nature with her husband. They have recently picked up birding as a hobby. On their first outing with the Saskatoon Nature Society, Jollymore and her husband spotted birds that are unique to the area and the experience only further encouraged them to explore the wilderness surrounding Saskatoon. [four_fifth][separator headline="h2" title="About the award"] The Charles Scholarship Award was established through the legacy gift of Charles Labatiuk and the Charles Labatiuk Nature Endowment Fund. Charles Labatiuk was an avid nature conservationist, mountaineer and world traveler who enjoyed and excelled as a photographer, writer, gardener, and pianist. These awards were introduced to honour his life and his passion for nature.[/four_fifth][one_fifth_last]Nature Canada Labatiuk Scholarship Crest[/one_fifth_last]

Ever wonder what Nature Canada has in common with Batman, Lou Gehrig, Margaret Atwood and Frank Sinatra?
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Ever wonder what Nature Canada has in common with Batman, Lou Gehrig, Margaret Atwood and Frank Sinatra?

[separator headline="h2" title="18 neat facts you probably don't know about life in 1939"] [three_fourth]Nature Canada turns 75 this year. The first edition of the magazine Canadian Nature — the precursor to what would eventually become Nature Canada — was published on September 30th of 1939. Ever wonder what the world was like when Canadian Nature made its first debut?  Here are 18 interesting facts about what life was like 1939!

  1. Women did not yet have the right to vote in Quebec provincial elections. They wouldn't gain that right until 1940.
  2. King George VI was the newly crowned King of the United Kingdom and Canada, having just inherited the throne from his brother Edward three years earlier. In 1939, King George VI toured Canada along with his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth  II, who was just 13 years old at the time.
  3. Canada declares war against Germany on September 10th, marking the beginning of Canada’s involvement in World War II. The magazine Canadian Nature would make a conscious effort to try not to mention the war as much as possible in order to provide a respite for readers during this difficult period.
  4. The Boston Bruins, lead by coach Art Ross, defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the 1939 Stanley Cup Championship.
  5. Iconic singer and future movie star Frank Sinatra makes his recording debut in March, 1939.
  6. Newfoundland wasn't yet a part of Canada. It wouldn't join Canada until 1949.
  7. First Nations people did not yet have the right to vote in Canada unless they surrendered their treaty status.  They would not gain that right until 1960.
  8. Future Prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark were both born this year, as was prominent Nature Canada supporter Margaret Atwood.
  9. Famed Canadian singer and songwriter Gordon Lightfoot turned one year old.
  10. Most people living in Saskatchewan still relied on outhouses. It wasn't until a massive public infrastructure campaign in the 1940s and 50s that most people in Saskatchewan were able to use indoor toilets with plumbing for their… ahem, “business”
  11. Bobby Hull, the hockey legend known as the “Golden Jet” for his blonde hair, fast skating and a very powerful slapshot, was born on January 3rd.
  12. Batman makes his first appearance in the pages of Detective Comics #27 in May, 1939. If you'd bought a $0.10 copy of Detective Comics issue #27 in 1939 and kept it, it would be worth over $1,075,000 (USD) today. If you'd bought a copy of the first issue of Canadian Nature that same year, we wouldn't be able to offer you quite that much money, but we'd think you were pretty swell!
  13. It was a landmark year for cinema! Two all time classics were released in 1939: The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. Gone with the Wind would go on to win 10 Academy Awards and remains to this day the highest-grossing film in box office history (adjusted for inflation).
  14. Legendary Chicago gangster Al Capone is released from Alcatraz prison. American prosecutors had been unable to convict Capone on more serious offenses, so he had been serving time in Alcatraz for tax evasion.
  15. The first NCAA basketball championship was held.
  16. Canada's first transcontinental commercial flights were less than a year old. They were run by Trans-Canada Airlines — better known today as Air Canada.
  17. On May 2nd, 1939, New York Yankee's Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig ended his 2,130 consecutive games played streak on account of his battle with ALS, a disorder now commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease in North America. After the stadium announcer informed the audience that, for the first time in 14 years, Gehrig wouldn't be playing that day, Detroit Tigers fans gave Gehrig a standing ovation while he sat on the bench with tears in his eyes.
  18. In 1939, Robert L. May and Montgomery Ward introduce Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer as Santa's 9th reindeer.
Those are some pretty amazing facts! Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page and let us know your favourite fact about 1939![/three_fourth] [one_fourth_last] [caption id="attachment_14921" align="alignnone" width="175"]Cover of first issue of Canadian Nature, 1939 First edition of the magazine "Canadian Nature", published in 1939.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14923" align="alignnone" width="175"]Frank Sinatra in recording studio Frank Sinatra in a recording studio with his tie loosened.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14927" align="alignnone" width="175"]image of an outhouse Outhouses were commonly used in Saskatchewan at the time the first edition of "Canadian Nature" was published.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14924" align="alignnone" width="175"]First appearance of Batman cover of Detective Comics #27 Batman first appeared in "Detective Comics #27" within months of the first publication of the magazine "Canadian Nature".[/caption] [caption id="attachment_14922" align="alignnone" width="175"]Lou Gehrig playing baseball for the Yankees Lou Gehrig played his last major league game of baseball in 1939 a few months before "Canadian Nature" was first published[/caption] [/one_fourth_last]  
This blog post was made possible by the research of guest blogger Jacob Longpre.

Nature Canada Linking Communities Together
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Nature Canada Linking Communities Together

Twenty two dedicated educators from three countries met in Swift Current Saskatchewan for the love of birds, shorebirds to be specific.  They met to share stories and refine their efforts to educate and inspire children and the public to protect the several species of shorebirds that they share, and the habitats on which they depend in their three communities along the central and western flyways.  The species include American Avocet, Piping Plover, Snowy Plover, Marbled Godwit and Wilson ’s Phalarope among others. [one_half] [caption id="attachment_12670" align="alignleft" width="300"]American Avocet American Avocet, Ted Cheskey[/caption] [caption id="attachment_12720" align="alignleft" width="300"]Red Knots Reed Lake Saskatchewan Red Knots on Reed Lake Saskatathewan, Ted Cheskey[/caption] [caption id="attachment_12713" align="alignleft" width="300"] Principal dressed up as bird Principal of Central School in Swift Current dresses up as a bird[/caption] [caption id="attachment_12725" align="alignleft" width="300"]Aurora boreallis, Chaplin Lake Aurora boreallis, Chaplin Lake, Ted Cheskey[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_12749" align="alignnone" width="300"]Ted Cheskey and Mexican Linking Communities Partners Nayarit educators and Ted observing lots of birds[/caption] [/one_half] [one_half_last]The alkaline (salty) wetland habitats in Chaplin, Reed and Old Wives Lakes in Saskatchewan, the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA, and the Marismas nacionales in Nayarit State of Mexico support very large numbers of these species at different points in their life cycles, in addition to other shorebird species such as the Sanderling and the endangered Red Knot.  Each site carries a badge of honour as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site.  Canada has only seven of these special areas, and the Chaplin area lakes are one of the most important. Bird conservation in Canada requires international partnerships.  Four of every five of “our” bird species migrate outside of our borders each fall, most passing through or over-wintering in the USA, Latin America or the Caribbean.  A full life cycle approach to conservation that addresses species’ needs and threats in each phase of their annual cycles is essential for effective conservation.  Canada’s shorebirds, including sandpipers, plovers and phalaropes, have declined 42% in the last 40 years.  Arctic nesting shorebirds have declined over 60%.  Evidence is pointing to stop-over sites as perhaps holding the key to the fate of many species. “Linking Communities Wetlands and Migratory birds” is a project inspired by a recognition of this ‘full life cycle approach,’ initiated nearly 15 years ago by visionary conservations from each country.  The program has evolved organically, with different partners and supporters coming in over the years.  Rio Tinto Kennecott, who operates a large mine on the end of the Great Salt Lake, has provided project partners with significant support over the past five years. One element of this project that has recurred several times is  an educational exchange during which small groups of educators from the three countries get together to share experiences and collaborate towards educating their communities and protecting their species and habitats.   Often a common project is developed during these gatherings such as producing post cards that incorporate art from children from each country. In addition to education, this project encourages the exchange of knowledge and methods for monitoring bird populations, researching species ecologies, addressing threats, encouraging stewardship and promoting ecotourism through festivals.  Each partner holds a festival to celebrate shorebirds.   Our meeting coincided with Chaplin’s Shorebird festival which is always held at the beginning of June. Nature Canada is honoured to be one of the Canadian partners of Linking Communities, along with Nature Saskatchewan and Chaplin Tourism who run the Chaplin Nature Centre, a must visit for anyone travelling along the TransCanada highway between Moose Jaw and Swift Current, Saskatchewan.  We all tip our hats to the volunteers in Chaplin Tourism who did a tremendous job of welcoming our partners from the south, and making a meaningful and rich meeting over the past few days. One of the highlights for me was being able to share with our Mexican friends one of Canada's most beautiful and mysterious natural phenomena:  the Aurora borealis. [/one_half_last]

New Hope for the "Walking Dead"
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New Hope for the "Walking Dead"

Sage Grouse
Screen shot of Greater Sage-Grouse from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Youtube video
New information last week revealed that Greater Sage-Grouse populations continue to plummet in Saskatchewan, whilst in Alberta, small pockets of grouse are barely holding their own. The Greater Sage-Grouse, an endangered prairie bird locals call the 'walking dead' in reference to the wildly popular AMC drama, number just 100 individuals in Canada – down from an estimate of 125 individuals last year. However, there is still hope. Two landmark events in the past two weeks have set the stage for a change of course, unveiling opportunities for governments of all levels to work together to save one of Canada’s most iconic prairie birds. On November 28, scientists, conservationists, ranchers, provincial government and industry representatives gathered again in Manyberries, Alberta to discuss immediate actions that could be taken in a last ditch attempt to prevent the species from becoming extinct from Canada. Under the banner of the “Sage Grouse Partnership” this consortium of interests lead by our partner, Alberta Wilderness Association, is proposing a multipronged strategy to tackle the most immediate threats including the deconstruction of derelict human-made structures that harbor predators like owls, coyotes, raccoons and ravens. Specialists will work with ranchers to develop and implement “ranch plans” that include provisions for managing silver sagebrush habitat to provide optimal conditions for Greater Sage-grouse. The establishment of grouse-friendly management areas for the future re-introduction at the Onefour Research Farm in Alberta and the Govenlock PFRA Pasture in Saskatchewan is also being advocated for to both provincial and federal governments. Perhaps one of the more contentious proposals is to establish some sort of remuneration for ranchers who agree to manage portions of their land for Greater Sage-grouse conservation. This may involve adjusting the timing or intensity of grazing and marking or moving fences. Studies are underway to quantify the costs to ranchers of additional management efforts and possible reductions in cattle productivity on individual ranches in areas supporting critical habitat for the grouse. Just yesterday, in response to Nature Canada's calls for immediate action to save the Sage-Grouse, the federal government issued an emergency order to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse. A first of its kind, the emergency order may stop harmful new oil and gas developments in sensitive areas of Sage-Grouse habitat. All told, the order applies to approximately 1,700 square kilometers of land in Alberta and Saskatchewan, protecting the affected areas from many kinds of harmful construction.  However, conservation experts agree that more is needed from all levels of government if the Sage-Grouse is to survive. It’s something the Alberta government has acknowledged and acted upon with its recent release of a provincial Sage Grouse Recovery Plan which aims to recover populations to a level that provides for sustainable recreational viewing and hunting. Unfortunately the solutions to halt the species’ demise are neither simple nor immediate. Habitat destruction along with other pressures such as disease and hunting has brought the species to its knees. And now predators including ravens, coyotes, and owls have increased significantly over the last couple of decades, putting pressure on adults especially around key lekking areas where male grouse strut their stuff to court females in the spring. Infrastructure projects including oil and gas wells and associated roads and fences continue to be built in some areas, further pushing the sensitive grouse out of the few remaining suitable habitats. All the while, the quality of silver sagebrush habitat is declining and the once large sagebrush plants have been replaced by shorter plants that provide less protection from the elements and predators. If these issues were not significant enough, the multi-jurisdictional challenges of working locally, provincially, and across borders nationally and internationally have slowed down the work that is essential to recover Greater Sage-grouse. Time is now running out and neither plans nor emergency orders may save this species unless we move swiftly. The Sage Grouse Partnership presents a very real and viable opportunity to leverage the knowledge, expertise and resources of the individuals and organizations committed to resurrect Greater Sage-grouse from the “walking dead”.

Acclaimed Authors and Conservationists Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson to Investigate Concerns Regarding Endangered Birds on Saskatchewan’s Community Pastures
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Acclaimed Authors and Conservationists Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson to Investigate Concerns Regarding Endangered Birds on Saskatchewan’s Community Pastures

From June 24 to June 27, Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson will tour Saskatchewan’s southern grasslands in the company of other international conservation advocates. The group, all prominent figures in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of conservation organizations, is hoping to draw attention to the global significance of conservation programming and bird habitat at risk on federal community pastures now being transferred to Saskatchewan.
The event is called “Prairie Passages.” Ms. Atwood, who will be communicating with the media and her 392,000 Twitter followers during and after the tour, has a great love for Canada’s birds and wild places, a bond she developed early in life on long canoe expeditions with her entomologist father, Dr. Carl Atwood.
“The ecological value of these large tracts of unbroken prairie is internationally recognized,” Ms. Atwood said. “We have heard that 16 at-risk bird species on Saskatchewan’s most critical grasslands may be losing their legislative protection and conservation management. That concerns us, as it should concern all Canadians.”
Ms. Atwood added that Saskatchewan’s prairie landscapes and rich bird life is a secret too well kept. “This is a chance to help celebrate Saskatchewan’s grasslands as a destination, so we will be using social and conventional media to highlight the beauty of Canada’s publicly owned and managed grasslands.”
Ms. Atwood and Mr. Gibson decided recently to make time in their summer schedule to come and see for themselves and find out what might be done to bring attention to the plight of these birds and their habitat now hanging in the balance.
A film crew will be filming the tour and interviewing participants as they visit the community pastures to see the birds, while speaking with grazing patrons, pasture managers, conservationists and biologists.
Ms. Atwood and Mr. Gibson have extended invitations to Premier Brad Wall, Saskatchewan Environment Minister, Ken Cheveldayoff and Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart to discuss protecting the species at risk on these public grasslands.
After their three days in the field on a privately led tour, Ms. Atwood and Mr. Gibson will speak at a banquet to be held in their honour at the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina. ($100 a plate dinner, cocktails 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 27; dinner served at 7:30 p.m.)
The tour is hosted and co-sponsored by Public Pastures—Public Interest (PPPI) and Nature Canada. For more information and tickets to the dinner, see PPPI website.
________________________________________________________________________
[separator headline="h2" title="Background on Prairie Passages Tour:"]
Margaret Atwood is a novelist, poet, literary critic and one of the world's best known – and best-selling – authors. A Companion of the Order of Canada, and Fellow of the Canadian Geographic Society, she has written more than 40 books, including The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, Cat’s Eye and the Booker-Prize winning novel The Blind Assassin. Her most recent novels are Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009).  Ms. Atwood is the recipient of multiple awards, medals and prizes for her writing. Among others, Oryx and Crake was short listed in 2003 for seven awards including the Man Booker Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Orange Prize, while Alias Grace: A Novel won the Giller Prize.
Graeme Gibson is one of Canada’s foremost contemporary writers and editors and is the acclaimed author of Five Legs, Perpetual Motion and Gentleman Death. His most recent work is The Bedside Book of Birds: an Avian Miscellany (2005), "a wonderful collection of poetry and prose, folk tales and myths, which pay tribute to our feathered friends. . . ." (Mail on Sunday (UK)). It was hailed by Globe and Mail as "the most spectacular bird book of the year".  Gibson is a past president of PEN Canada and the recipient of both the Harbourfront Festival Prize and the Toronto Arts Award, and is a member of the Order of Canada. He has been a council member of World Wildlife Fund Canada, and is chairman of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory in Ontario, Canada.
Nature Canada is a member-based non-profit conservation organization. Its network includes 40,000 supporters and more than 350 naturalist organizations across Canada. Their mission is to protect and conserve wildlife and habitats in Canada by engaging people and advocating on behalf of nature.
Public Pastures—Public Interest draws together rural and urban Canadians who share an interest in conserving the great public grasslands of Saskatchewan. The province’s community pastures are ecological and cultural treasures that belong to all of us. They protect endangered species as well as soil and water quality, and provide cultural, economic and ecological goods and services that reach far beyond the pasture land itself.
________________________________________________________________________
[separator headline="h2" title="Media Opportunities:"]
  1. Ms. Atwood will be available for select pre-tour interviews. Contact PPPI media contacts below to inquire about an interview in the week preceding the tour.
  2. A brief welcome event will be held June 24 at noon in Regina. Details TBA in a subsequent media advisory.
  3. Media access during the tour will be limited to one or two individuals at a time. Anyone interested in travelling with the tour for a half day should inquire by contacting the PPPI media contacts below.
  4. Ms. Atwood and Mr. Gibson will appear at a come and go reception in the town of Val Marie at the “Prairie Wind and Silver Sage” gallery and museum on Main Street, at 7:30 on the evening of June 26.
  5. For all other media inquiries, use the PPPI media contacts below.

Feds’ Decision to Divest Control of Prairie Pastures Puts 31 Endangered Species at Risk
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Feds’ Decision to Divest Control of Prairie Pastures Puts 31 Endangered Species at Risk

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="320"]Image of a Long-billed Curlew Long-billed Curlew: Shutterstock.com[/caption] This summer, we told you that hidden within the federal government’s 2012 Budget was a decision to divest itself of millions of acres of some of the rarest habitat on the continent – native grasslands known in the prairie provinces as "community pastures” or PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) pastures. These are some of the last large chunks of grassland bird habitat in North America. More so than any other landscape -- in national or provincial parks or on private land -- the old PFRA pastures are vital to at least 31 species at risk, including some of Canada's most endangered birds.

One of those species at risk is the Long-billedCurlew, which is listed as a species of Special Concern under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. A public consultation on a draft Management Plan recently wrapped up, and we used the occasion to issue a public letter to Environment Canada and Agriculture & Agri-food Canada, calling on the Government to reverse its decision to divest these lands, and to keep this rare habitat under federal management, where the level of protection is strongest.  
According to The State of Canada’s Birds 2012 report, grassland birds including Longspurs, Meadowlarks, Sprague’s Pipit, Greater Sage-grouse and others, have declined by 50% due largely to a loss of habitat.
There’s still a high degree of uncertainty over the Long-billed Curlew’s numbers, but it is clear that the historical range has been dramatically reduced. Habitat loss and degradation are the greatest threats facing the species throughout its range, with conversion of grassland to agricultural uses strongly implicated. In Manitoba Long-billed Curlew is considered extirpated and in Saskatchewan the species has declined significantly in the past century. The remainder of the Canadian population extends into Alberta and British Columbia.
One reason – perhaps the biggest reason -- that these community pastures contain almost all of the best remnants of mixed-grass prairie in Canada is that they have been well-managed and grazed sustainably under federal funding for the last 65 years.
Handing these pastures over to the provinces -- Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta --  with their smaller budgets, limited staff, and weaker protections, will severely imperil grassland wildlife. In many cases, the provinces will likely sell the lands off to private interests for intensive farming or other development.
The Management Plan for the Curlew recommends, rightly, that to save this species key breeding and migration sites within the Canadian range must be identified, managed and conserved – that includes native grasslands and other important habitats within the species’ range.
The Long-billed Curlew has been confirmed in 14 community pastures in the Prairie provinces. Those remnant prairie habitats within the PFRA areas should be conserved until a better understanding of this species’ needs is obtained and the species recovery can be better addressed. For a species whose habitat requirements and current population numbers are as poorly understood as the Curlew’s, it is impossible to estimate the long-term impact of eliminating these vital grassland remnants.
If the Government of Canada divests itself of these lands, how long before the pastures fall into the hands of private owners with purely commercial interests? Even ranchers, who have been long-time good stewards of many of these pastures, don’t think it’s a good idea.
Groups like Nature Canada, Nature Saskatchewan and Alberta Wilderness Association, who issued this public letter, are working with cattle ranchers and other stakeholders to come up with a better alternative. To paraphrase Trevor Herriot, instead of “selling Canada’s best remaining native grassland to the highest bidder”,  a different path should be struck “that will continue to allow for sustainable levels of grazing, healthy range management, and rural employment for pasture managers, while protecting vital mixed grass prairie ecosystems for Burrowing Owls, Sprague’s Pipits, swift foxes, and countless other creatures.” Including the Long-billed Curlew.

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