Hope for Endangered Grasslands! The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act lives!
The new Liberal government should put an immediate stop to the transfer of endangered prairie grasslands to the Saskatchewan government.
The Community Pasture Program was created in the 1930s to reclaim land that was badly degraded by the Prairie drought and ensure sustainable use of these grasslands. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act (PFR Act) is the law that guides this effort. Unfortunately, in 2012 the former Conservative government decided to end the Community Pastures Program and transfer the PFRA pastures to the provinces for disposal without conditions and without undertaking the required assessment of impacts on species at risk and grassland ecological services. Curiously, the government did not repeal the PFR Act.
Canada’s Environment Commissioner, Julie Gelfand, recently chastised Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) for its failure to prepare so-called strategic environmental assessments (SEA) for the Agriculture Minister and Cabinet under a directive that the Harper government updated in 2010. AAFCs failure to conform to this Cabinet Directive may have significant implications for the continued transfer of community pastures from the federal government to the provinces and the species that depend on these important grasslands.
The last SEA to be conducted on the Community Pasture Program in 2007 determined that significant economic, social and environmental benefits arise from federal financing of the Community Pasture Program. If the Community Pasture Program was so beneficial in 2007, why was it terminated in 2012?
The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act creates a mandatory obligation for PFR Committees to advise the government on best methods of rehabilitating these lands and to develop and promote land management practices in the affected areas. While the government has discretion whether to establish these committees, the federal government is obliged under the PFR Act to ensure the sustainable use of these lands. The Minister of Agriculture is also still required to report on the implementation of the Act to Parliament every year and Parliament’s legislative intent that the federal government engage in the development and promotion of sustainable land use practices on Prairie Farm Rehabilitation pastures remains in force.
Important questions remain:
- Why did the former Conservative government not prepare an assessment of the environmental effects associated with terminating the Community Pasture Program and transferring 1 million hectares of grasslands to the provinces?
- Does the new Liberal government plan to undertake such an assessment before transferring the remaining grasslands?
- How is the new Liberal government planning to meet the requirements of the PFR Act to promote sustainable land use practices on PFRA lands? Will the Minister of Agriculture be releasing an annual report on these plans to Parliament as required by the PFR Act?
Until these questions can be answered, the continued transfer of endangered grasslands needs to stop.