NCC trying to protect wetlands

The partnership between the Nature Conservancy of Canada and a landowner will protect sensitive wetland areas in southwest Saskatchewan.

The owner of two pieces of land in southwest Saskatchewan is partnering with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) to protect sensitive grassland and wetland areas.

The landowner, who prefers to remain anonymous, has entered into an agreement with NCC to have conservation easements on these properties.

Cameron Wood, the NCC’s director of conservation in Saskatchewan, said it is a significant step to protect these properties.

“It’s really an exciting opportunity for us to be able to conserve those two properties in the southwest part of the province,” he told the Prairie Post. “They’re located in an area of the province that’s surrounded by natural habitat and native grasslands that’s important to maintain the connectivity of the landscape. The properties that we were able to conserve through a conservation easement are really an important part of being able to maintain that for the future.”

The two properties cover a total area of 1,092 hectares (2,698 hectares) and are located in the Milk River basin natural area in the southwest corner of the province. The land includes native grassland and wetland areas, and it is located in a designated Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA).

This natural area provides habitat for many species, including 20 species that are listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), for example the endangered greater sage-grouse.

“We don’t have any documents or instances of them on those exact properties, but the surrounding area is part of greater sage-grouse habitat, and being able to conserve those big blocks of grasslands are important to maintain the extent of their habitat, because they are very sensitive to disturbances,” he said.

The ferruginous hawk, which is listed as threatened under SARA, also occurs in this area. There are 50 known ferruginous hawk sites in this IBA, and one is located on one of the properties that will now be protected through this conservation easement.

“The purpose of the conservation easement agreement is really to keep the land as it is right now,” he said. “So it can continue providing that important habitat in the future as it has in the past. The land continues to be owned and managed by a private landowner, but we have an easement agreement that is registered to the land title forever that limits certain activities that wouldn’t be in favour of conservation. The whole purpose of the agreement is to keep it as it is into the future.”

The NCC, which is a not-for-profit, charitable land trust, negotiates with each landowner to determine the terms of an easement agreement. It ensures that the property will not be developed, subdivided, drained or harvested, but the landowner can continue to use the land for cattle grazing.

“So through that agreement we agreed on restriction of different types of activities that would have a negative impact on conservation,” Wood explained. “The way we make sure that’s effective in the future is we monitor that property regularly to make sure those commitments are being upheld by the landowner, and in the future if there’s some reason where they aren’t then we have recourses in place to be able to correct that.”

This announcement by the NCC about the conservation of land in the province included a third property of 578 hectares (1,429 acres) along a river valley northwest of Regina, which will protect a large block of native grassland and other habitats. A similar conservation easement was negotiated with this landowner, who also wants to remain anonymous.

The NCC uses different conservation approaches to protect habitat, including the creation of landscape plans to identify areas that are important for biodiversity, and they will also identify individual pieces of land with a high conservation value.

“We have a few different ways where we achieve conservation, and whichever method we use, we use the best available science and do some really specific planning on a landscape basis to be able to direct our efforts,” Wood said. “We achieve conservation in a couple of ways mainly. One is through the purchase of land and then we continue to own and manage that land to have direct control over things like grazing the property. The other is through partnerships like this conservation easement agreement.”

The protection of the two properties in southwest Saskatchewan will expand the protected land in that immediate area to 14,807 hectares (36,590 acres). NCC and its partners have already protected more than 60,700 hectares (150,000 acres) of ecologically sensitive lands and waters in Saskatchewan.

The protection of large and connected blocks of land are important to provide sufficient habitat for various species that occur there.

“A lot of the species at risk in the south part of the province really require large areas of connected habitat,” he said. “So if we start parcelling those off and fragmenting it and if the block of habitat are further apart, even if potential habitat is there, those species are still going to dwindle, because they need that habitat in large blocks, not disconnected islands. That’s part of what makes southwestern Saskatchewan so unique is that there still are examples of those very large blocks of native grassland.”

Wood noted that southwest Saskatchewan is certainly a high priority for NCC’s work in the province.

“It really is a mecca for species at risk and the value of that habitat really fits our model,” he said. “The protection of habitat is much more efficient than trying to recreate that habitat. So that area of the province is really an important focus of our effort.”

Saskatchewan residents can support the NCC’s work in the province in various ways. It is a registered charity and tax receipts will be issued for financial donations. The NCC has a volunteer program and people can volunteer to participate in various conservation projects. They will also be happy to hear from landowners.

“If landowners have land that they feel is important for conservation and are interested in working with Nature Conservancy on that land, either through a donation or sale, then they can feel free to get in touch with our staff and we can talk to them about some options,” he said.

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