Elevated hawk nest

The partnership between the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) and organizations such as the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) goes back a few years and these partnerships such as these make sense. They all have the same goal - bringing a top-quality product to the table while doing what it takes to not only minimize any environmental damage, but to enhance the environment for the flora, fauna, and community.

A major component for producers in becoming certified under CRSB stipulations is to meet a number of environmental criteria and that’s where organizations like the ACA come in. The ACA and MultiSAR had already been working with producers on sustainability projects for years, so joining forces with CRSB a few years ago was a no-brainer.

"In 2002, there was a desire from producers and from government to have a partnership in place. Producers were tired of groups coming to their door wanting to do one thing for one species. So, that was why MultiSAR (Multiple Species at Risk) came about,"  explained Brad Downey, senior biologist for the Alberta Conservation Association and project coordinator for MultiSAR. "It started in the Milk River area and was very grassroots."

In fact, it was one rancher, John Ross, who was the first to become involved with MultiSAR and it has since grown as positive working relationships were developed.

"We conducted surveys, talked about the range and about different enhancements, but the landholders always remain in the driver’s seat," said Downey. "Our goal is to have long-term relationships with open, honest communication and that has enabled us to work with close to 600,000 acres. When it started, there was one producer."

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Over the years, ACA and MultiSAR have completed  enhancement projects that include hawk poles, wildlife fence tags, putting smooth lines on the bottom of fencing, drilling water wells, and portable electric fencing, among many others.

Downey recalled in one incident where a ferruginous hawk nest kept falling and the eggs in it lost, but the hawk kept coming back to the same place to nest, always with the same result. A hawk pole was put up at the site as ferruginous hawks return to the same place every year to nest. The strategy has been successful with three to four young being produced each year as a result.

A number of years ago, the ACA planted sage brush plugs in the Manyberries area in an effort to improve the habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse, but learned they had more success by planting sage brush seeds rather than plugs.

Initially, their work was primarily within the Milk River watershed, but that has since expanded and so has the requests for their services.

In another particular project, 1,760 acres planted back to native grass for grazing and wildlife.

"In 2015, CCA (Canadian Cattlemen’s Association) and CRSB got funding from the Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL)," said Downey. "That allowed us to expand into the South Saskatchewan watershed and it runs from Longview to the Saskatchewan border and south to the U.S. border."

With that funding from the Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL) program, CRSB has partnered with Alberta Beef Producers, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, MultiSAR, and Cows and Fish to ?increase, maintain, and improve habitat for species at risk within the Grassland natural region of Alberta. And, the ACA is also a member of the CRSB.

"What they are all about are the same things we are about and everybody wants the same thing," said Downey. "Compared to where we were in 2002, there has been a big change in the openness, the awareness, and in the willingness. We now have a waiting list of people who want to work with us and it has everything to do with our partnership with CRSB."

In 2016-17, initial environmental inventories were completed on 10 ranches, with collaboration to implement 15 habitat enhancements as part of their conservation strategies.

In 2017 alone, habitat conservation strategies were developed on seven ranches totaling 62,973 acres.

By comparison, for 2017-18, 42 habitat conservation strategies involving 395,296 acres in the Milk River and South Saskatchewan watersheds were completed by MultiSAR.

Downey also recognizes that each project and property will be different and the organization is open to ideas from the rancher.

"We are open to initiative ideas. One size doesn’t fit all. The producers know the land and knows the species? on their land," said Downey. "Looking forward, we will continue working with producers. That trust and respect is important. We still work with that same producer from all those years ago."

As the ground level work continues and more producers sign onto the CRSB program, the global beef community is watching.

Canada is the first country to develop a sustainable beef program with its Canadian Roundtable on Sustainable Beef program and has one of the lowest greenhouse gas footprints of beef production in the world.

The CCA attended the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change recently and sustainable beef was part of the discussion there.

"Our industry continually strives to be a global leader in sustainable beef production and a partner in dually achieving Canada’s economic and environmental targets," CCA said in a written document. "Canadian beef producers have achieved this through investment and application of research and continue to drive towards further improvement and sharing of best practices through engaging in forums such as the COP 24."

CCA Senior Manager, Government and International Relations  Fawn Jackson also attended the European Beef Forum 2018 that was held just prior to COP 24 in Warsaw. One highlight of the forum was the indication that Poland will be moving forward with their own sustainable beef initiative. Canada has been a leading force in the sustainable beef conversation through the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. She also attended a COP 24 side event on sustainable landscapes. The workshop confirmed what Canada’s sustainable beef industry already knows  "that high biodiversity is highly correlated to climate resilience. This is yet another reason it’s so important to keep native grasslands and the agriculture system that keeps grasslands healthy," she said.

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