Thursday, 12 July 2018 08:58

Sustainable Canada meets in Manyberries to discuss ‘common sense’ farmland conservation

Written by  By Jamie Rieger
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Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA, pictured at back on left, attended the July 5 Sustainable Canada Assocition AGM and spoke about the important work the group is doing. Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA, pictured at back on left, attended the July 5 Sustainable Canada Assocition AGM and spoke about the important work the group is doing. Photo by Jamie Rieger

There are ways for cattle and the Greater Sage grouse to live and thrive on the same land, ways that do not include miles of red tape, bureaucracy, or time spent waiting for court decisions.

Miles Anderson, who ranches on the fringes of Grasslands National Park in southwest Saskatchewan, has practised environmental conservation on his operation for as long as he can remember and always finds ways to work with nature so his cattle and the wildlife can both benefit.
Anderson was the guest speaker at the Sustainable Canada Association annual general meeting, held in Manyberries on July 5 and described to those in attendance how he has altered his operation, from grazing management to fencing in ways that will help the Greater Sage grouse that have leks on the ranch, as well as in neighbouring Grasslands National Park.
One lek was near a fence that borders his ranch and the park. Rather than tag the fence to avoid the birds colliding with the fence, Anderson lays the fence down for a couple of months a year.
"Well, heck we only use the fence for two months of the year, why don't we just lay it down?" said Anderson, whose family has lived there since 1911.
As well, Anderson has formed a conservation agreement with the park to ensure sufficient stewardship practices are being utilized. Anderson has proven that responsible grazing can actually encourage wildlife, as is indicated by the Sage grouse numbers on his ranch.
Anderson also grazes his cattle in the park as a control measure in keeping the grass down, reducing wildfire risk.
In 2016, Anderson received the Environmental Stewardship Award at the Canadian Beef Industry conference in Calgary. Previous to that, he received an Environmental Stewardship Award from the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association.
Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes attended the meeting to hear Anderson's presentation and to gather information.
"I want to hear the ins and outs of and reality of what happens in the day to day activity," Barnes said. "I am very much here to listen and learn."
Barnes also talked about the federal protection plan for the woodland caribou and the potential impacts it could have on Alberta's economy. Alberta suspended portions of the provincial caribou protection plan in March, saying more research needed to be done.
Barnes commended Sustainable Canada for the work they have been doing over the past several years and encouraged them to continue.
"The work you're doing is so crucial. More than ever, we're in a situation where political change is possible," he said. "Albertans more than ever are concerned about a government that reaches into every part of our lives and our children’s lives. I know we need people like this group to have a loud voice."
Sustainable Canada chair, Randy Stokke, who ranches at Consul, provided an update on the work the organization has been doing over the past year, including issues of transparency with the Milk River Watershed, giving tours to federal representatives in southwest Saskatchewan and southern Alberta.
Work is also continuing for conservation agreements to be put in place for ranchers who have environmental conservation practices similar to that of Anderson. Stokke said changes need to be made to Section 11 of the Species at Risk Act, which addresses stewardship and conservation agreements.
"We are continuing to work on this and it has been going on for four years," said Stokke. "What we want is for the government to work with landowners and industry in protecting species at risk and to have a funding process in place to compensate people for their efforts. We have approval all within Environment Canada but not Justice because their scared of being sued by environmentalists."
Ultimately, Sustainable Canada wants to see a collaborative effort for not just the Greater Sage grouse, but all wildlife, from rancher and farmers, industry such as oil and gas, and scientists, as well as provincial and federal governments.
Bryne Lengyel, who farms in the Skiff area and retired as reeve of the County of Forty Mile at the last election sits as a director for Sustainable Canada and said, the work of the organization needs to expand geographically.
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While most of the membership is near the Sage grouse emergency protection order areas in southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan, the impacts of the Species at Risk Act are considerably more far-reaching.
"We need to expand beyond our borders. We need more than one area working on this. We're just one little stir stick down here," said Lengyel, who also talked about many urbanites not having a good understanding of the stewardship work that has been happening on farms and ranches for generations.
"Some people I know from larger centers are 'weekend conservationists', going camping on the weekends," said Lengyel. "Who took care of the land before? True conservationists are the ones to have always taken care of the land, the farmers and ranchers."
Sustainable Canada Association was formed in 2014 by people in southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan following the implementation of the Emergency Protection Order for the Greater Sage Grouse.
Initially, the association boasted members from the Triangle region, but their membership has grown across southern Alberta. Most recently, a conservation association from Porcupine Hills has joined Sustainable Canada.
They take a 'common sense conservation' approach as they advocate the federal government to work with land owners and land managers in developing realistic conservation plans.

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