Thursday, April 28, 2016

SkipTheChewing, circa 2019

in the future meal time will be much simpler
Government of Saskatchewan Media release, December 10, 2019

Today the Government of Saskatchewan announced it has committed $4 Million in funding to support an innovative start-up that will take the province to the next step in food delivery systems.

“Skip the Dishes was a great success back in 2016,” said Premier Wall at today’s news conference, “but, as you know, we are all about legacy and we wanted to head into the next election with something Saskatchewan will remember.”

“With busy families and the increasing complexity of our lives today, every minute counts. Many people are just finding it hard to sneak in a meal—even if someone else does the cooking and delivers it to your home, you still have all that cutting and chewing. SkipTheChewing will address that shortfall.” Wall said. 

“So when this opportunity presented itself, we looked at the dollars and cents and we could see that it was a natural extension of the food distribution efficiencies that Saskatchewan is so famous for. Skilled people grow the food for us, process and package it, and then prepare it as a meal and deliver it to your door—that is all good, but this is a chance for us to invest in the next value-add to the whole system from farm to mouth.”

SkipTheChewing’s CEO, Jade Soylent described the health benefits of their outsourcing services. “The data is showing that people are developing gastrointestinal diseases ranging from ulcers to colitis simply because they are rushing and not properly chewing their food. We say let the experts do the work for you. We have a full suite of nutritious and tasty options for our customers—from our mastication artisans who will pre-chew your food to your specifications on site, to shakes made of 'Just Like Angus' beef and locally-sourced potatoes, to our daybreak intravenous package, with your daily nutrition delivered at bedside while you wake to the gentle sounds of Zen gongs and ocean waves.”

Premier Wall concluded saying “this new investment from the province will help us to create good jobs while making it easier for our people to get the nourishment they need and then get on with their day. Think of the good things you can do with all that time you’ll save.”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Montana helps Alberta bolster its Sage-Grouse population

Alberta Lek
Greater Sage-Grouse on Lek this spring
Alberta may be struggling economically but the Province is following through on commitments to help get the Greater Sage-Grouse onto the road to recovery. The following comes directly from an Alberta government news release that came out today (be sure to check out the video below showing scenes from the capture and release): 
Alberta welcomes the addition of 38 sage-grouse hens from Montana, which is part of an effort to strengthen the province’s population.
The transfer involved a team of biologists from Alberta Environment and Parks and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The birds were captured in Montana and have been released at three mating sites in southeastern Alberta.
“Alberta is grateful to Montana for this international co-operation and the opportunity to share knowledge and resources that will give the sage-grouse an opportunity to thrive in our province. This initiative is vital to Alberta’s continued species-at-risk recovery efforts.” Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks
“We are pleased to assist Alberta with their sage-grouse conservation work, especially given the trans-boundary nature of the species. We all benefit from rebuilding sage-grouse habitat and populations across their range.” Jeff Hagener, Director, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
The sage-grouse will continue to be monitored with GPS transmitters to make sure they are adapting to their new surroundings and provide data on their movements, including breeding, nesting, and brood rearing.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

What kind of government would the prairie want?

What has the Saskatchewan Government done lately to protect the grassland
habitat of our Provincial Bird, the Sharp-tailed Grouse, and the many other
animals and plants that depend on  natural prairie landscapes?

A media release from Public Pastures--Public Interest

[don't miss the satellite image at the bottom of the release. It shows a piece of Crown land the Province sold after removing it from the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act.]


Thursday March 31, 2016

REGINA, SK: A lot has been said in this provincial election about human needs – but what about our endangered prairie grassland and its inhabitants?

The prairie ecosystem is one of the most altered and threatened in North America – only 20% of Saskatchewan’s native prairie remains, and in some areas, such as the Regina Plains, less than 1% remains.

“Saskatchewan has the largest proportion of Canada’s Prairie Ecozone, and therefore the greatest responsibility to conserve it,” said Trevor Herriot, PPPI spokesperson. “Yet in our election campaigns the subject is seldom mentioned. This is a vital topic – we should be talking about what the prairie and its rare creatures might want to see from our elected representatives.”

As well as providing a home for more than thirty Species at Risk, including mammals, birds, butterflies, snakes, frogs and toads, grasses and wildflowers, the province’s grasslands store carbon, protect water quality and prevent soil loss.

“Our native grasslands, particularly on Crown land, are part of Canada’s natural heritage, as precious as our northern lakes and forests” Herriot said. “Do we want to rob our children and grandchildren of the chance to know the prairie and its gifts or do we want to take measures today to ensure that those gifts will be there a generation from now?”

There are a great number of things that can be done.

A government that cared for and supported our grasslands heritage would:

1. Commit to retain and not sell any Crown land with native grassland, including Community Pastures.

2. Work with ranchers, First Nations, and conservation groups to devise a plan to protect all remaining native prairie from cultivation and other forms of development.

3. Monitor and enforce Conservation Easements to prevent the breaking of native grassland and protect other grassland areas that buffer native remnants. Once native prairie is broken it cannot be restored.

4. Conduct a complete inventory of our remaining native grasslands to determine how much remains of each grassland ecotype.

5. Create Saskatchewan legislation that recognizes the value of our grasslands, as has been done in other provinces.

6. Retain all grassland and Aspen parkland Crown lands originally listed under the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act – do not sell them.

7. Make public the criteria of the Crown Land Ecological Assessment Tool and the reasons for each proposed land parcel re-classification and provide opportunities for public input on the decision.

8. Rather than lowering the standards for all grasslands to the lowest common denominator, make an effort to raise the overall quality of the Provincial Pastures and Co-op Pastures to the high standard of the PFRA-managed Community Pastures.

9. Ask the federal government to halt the transfer of any more PFRA Community Pastures to the province, administer a Strategic Environmental Assessment and review the decision to end the Community Pasture Program.

10.Work with the federal government concerning additional resources needed to manage public values on Community Pastures such as: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, ecosystem conservation, and public access.

11.Support and work with ranchers to conserve and protect grassland ecosystems, but do not off-load all public responsibilities for maintaining public benefits onto their shoulders.

12.Involve Saskatchewan’s range experts to allow ranchers to do the best job possible in maintaining functioning prairie. Saskatchewan has over 200 grass species and varieties and most of these are in the prairie zone.  These species are valuable for providing seeds now and will be more so in the future.

An example
This quarter-section was recently declared of low ecological value and sold. Yet it is an island of habitat in a sea of cropland and would definitely be habitat for many wildlife species.
this quarter section of native grassland and aspen was removed from WHPA and sold

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Election primer--ten reasons Saskatchewan's grasslands matter

Prickly Pear Cactus at Caledonia--Elmsthorpe PFRA Pasture
Less than ten days to go before Saskatchewan people head to the polls to elect their provincial government for the next four years. So far in the public campaign, at least as it appears in the media, we have heard almost nothing about Saskatchewan's environmental issues.

In particular, we are hearing little discussion of how prospective MLAs would work to protect our most endangered landscapes and their biodiversity from the market forces that threaten them--land and commodity prices driving more cultivation of native grass remnants, inadequate regulation and oversight of resource development, and public policy and market realities that do not foster good stewardship among private landowners and leaseholders on native grassland.

It must be said that the provincial NDP platform does make a clear statement about the former PFRA pastures under its agricultural section: "We will insist that the new federal government halt the process of ending the community pasture program, and collaborate with pasture patrons to more cost-effectively manage pastures that have already transitioned."

Their environmental platform also says they "will develop a Nature Index of Saskatchewan, to measure, track and publicly report on the state of Saskatchewan’s environment, modeled on the Norwegian Nature Index." They also promise to implement a comprehensive biodiversity action plan.
and "reverse the Sask. Party’s cuts to environmental protection."
sunflowers on native grassland

Meanwhile, groups like Public Pastures--Public Interest, the Community Pastures Patrons Association, and the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan have been working to get grasslands in general and the PFRA pasture issues in particular onto the agenda of political candidates. This week APAS joined with The Western Producer to host a dialogue with the incumbent minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Lyle Stewart, and representatives of the other political parties. They called it "Why Agriculture Matters." The forum went well and the Community Pastures Patrons Association of Saskatchewan asked whether the candidates' parties would be willing to consider putting $1 to 2 million into the management of the public benefits of the community pastures being transferred to Saskatchewan.

All of the candidates other than Mr. Stewart responded to the question by indicating that they would support such an investment in the wellbeing of these lands. Rick Swenson of the Progressive Conservative Party and Cathy Sproule of the NDP gave particularly strong answers in favour of some funding for the transitioned pastures.

This week Joanne Havelock, of Public Pastures--Public Interest, sent out to prospective candidates and to PPPI supporters some terrific material to use in talking to other voters or to candidates about the conservation issues around publicly-owned grasslands. You can find it all here at the PPPI website, but my favourite part is a list of Ten Reaseons Why Public Grasslands Matter. Here it is:

1. Because they are rare and threatened by cultivation and other kinds of development
Canada has its own threatened Amazonian forest - our native prairie. It is widely considered one of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada. Less than 20% of our native prairie remains in Saskatchewan. The rest has been turned into agricultural fields, cities and roads. Some types of native grassland, such as northern fescue, are even more diminished, to less than 10% of their original.

2. Because they support endangered species. 
Many of the federally-listed Species at Risk in Saskatchewan are found in our native grasslands. This is a direct result of the habitat loss. In Southern Saskatchewan, many of the native birds and animals require native prairie to survive - it is their only home. Over 30 Species at Risk are known to live on the Community Pastures.

3. Because they are diverse. 
While a quarter section of agricultural land may contain a few agricultural crop species, a quarter section of native prairie will support over a hundred species of grasses and wildflowers and hundreds of animal species including birds, insects and myriad bacteria and fungi. Sadly our croplands are biological deserts bereft of almost all of their original native diversity.

4. Because they protect soil and water. 
Grasslands help mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration by the grasses and other plants. They prevent soil erosion. They also contribute to water security as healthy plants and their root systems filter and purify our water.

5. Because they sequester carbon.
Most of the carbon held in the ecosphere is found in soils. Unbroken native prairie sequesters a vast deposit of soil carbon - one of Canada’s largest carbon sinks. Most of this carbon is lost when prairie is broken. This happens because soil bacteria quickly convert the stores of soil carbon into CO2, a greenhouse gas that directly contributes to global warming. Acre for acre, prairie soils hold more carbon than boreal forest soils.

6. Because they support ranching economy and culture.
Grasslands are important to cattle ranchers and their communities as they provide land for grazing - for both domestic and wild species of animals. As publicly-owned lands, they can support smaller producers, and can demonstrate how economic, cultural and environmental objectives can be integrated.

7. Because they contain the cultural heritage of the prairie.
Many archaeological sites are still to be found on these relatively undisturbed prairie grasslands. These sites have significant cultural and heritage values for all Saskatchewan people: indigenous, settler and other newcomers.

8. Because people need native prairie places they can visit.
Saskatchewan people use these publicly-owned lands for recreational and cultural purposes. They are important to the nearby rural communities and are very important elements of Indigenous traditional culture.

9. Because all natural land has value that goes beyond economics.
Public lands are more than a commodity. While they have financial value for agriculture, they also provide important environmental, heritage, cultural, indigenous and recreational values.

10. Because we have a responsibility to the future.
These grasslands - as threatened as the Amazon rainforest - are our children’s heritage and our responsibility. Our children’s prairie heritage is under threat: the beauty of a fresh prairie morning; birds singing; wildflowers dancing in the breeze. We must ensure that our children inherit a province rich in the possibilities of our grasslands.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hopeful news: Ottawa is listening!

Progress Community Pasture, which contains one of the last wetlands where
Whooping Cranes nested on the prairie
Tremendous good news today coming out of Ottawa. For the first time in four years, the fate of the PFRA pastures is an issue receiving serious attention in Parliament.

The Federal Standing Committee on Finance, chaired by the Hon. Wayne Easter, has released its recommendations ahead of the budget, which will be announced on March 22nd. The report, available online, contains the following recommendation:
"Recommendation 49 The federal government consider re-establishing the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Program. In this regard, the government should begin by reinstating funding for two initiatives: the publicly owned Community Pasture Program; and the Prairie Shelterbelt Program and Indian Head Tree Nursery." 
There is no indication if that recommendation will bear fruit so we will have to watch the budget next Tuesday to find out. Either way, this is an affirmation of the efforts made by private people and NGOs across Canada in recent months. Groups like Public Pastures--Public Interest, the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, the National Farmers' Union, Nature Canada, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Nature Saskatchewan, the Alberta Wilderness Association and so many others have been raising the issue at every opportunity.

Since mid-February, hundreds of people have sent letters to the Federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, to the Minister of Climate Change and Environment, and to the Prime Minister himself. If you were one of them, thank you for helping. Today's news is proof that your letter struck a chord.

Not quite a moment to celebrate, but perhaps time to say a prayer to the better angels of democracy and good government. Our public grasslands, the rare creatures who depend upon them, and the men and women who manage the grazing, deserve Canada's support. To do otherwise would be to leave some of the nation's most endangered landscapes and ecosystems without any programming to protect them from the vagaries of the marketplace and conserve their rich legacy for generations to come.

Western Meadowlark, by Hamilton Greenwood

Monday, February 15, 2016

Letters: ask Ottawa to review the decision to dump the PFRA

image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood

If you care about our native grasslands, send a letter to the Hon. Lawrence MacAulay, the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada . . .

Greater Sage-grouse image courtesy of Dennis Evans

We believe there is a possibility that the new federal government may consider reviewing the Harper decision to dump the PFRA pastures system. However, for that to happen, our elected MPs, and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada in particular, must hear about it from concerned citizens.

So we are asking everyone to send letters to the Minister of Agriculture, and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, as well as the Hon. Ralph Goodale and the Prime Minister as soon as possible (see addresses below).

We have a brief window of opportunity to convey our deep concerns over the demise of the PFRA Pastures in Saskatchewan and to ask for the federal government to halt the transfer of the pasture lands and conduct a full review of the Harper government’s decision.

Your letters need not be long and detailed. A simple approach is to ask the federal government to halt the transfer of these pastures to the province of Saskatchewan which is not recognizing, managing or investing in the value of public goods on these vanishing grasslands.

We believe that it important to emphasize the climate change benefits of native grassland but you should use your own words and choose any of the points listed below stating why these grasslands are important to you (e.g. climate change mitigation, conservation, Species at Risk, hunting, etc.) Tell them you want to live in a Canada that protects endangered landscapes and sustainable agriculture initiatives like the PFRA system always did.

We would also like people to request a full Strategic Environmental Assessment of the risks to the natural and human heritage in the PFRA Pastures, in accordance with The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals.

It is very important that you include your full name and address, even if you are sending an email. Politicians always note the location where correspondence comes from. Be sure to request a reply to your letter.

Below are some points you may wish to reference in your letter. Select two or three. Use your own words.

- The Community Pasture lands are not “just agricultural lands.”

- These pastures contain the largest and best managed grasslands in Saskatchewan.

- Some 80% of our natural landscape in southern Saskatchewan has been lost to development.

- These pastures are part of Canada's commitment to its 2020 Biodiversity Goals, in accordance with the Global Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

- Prairie grasslands are vital elements of the public trust every bit as precious as our northern forests and lakes.

- The prairies have more Species at Risk than any other region of Canada.

- Over 30 Species At Risk are found on the pastures.

- Carbon sequestration is an important benefit of native grasslands.

- Soil and water conservation is provided by the pastures.

- Pastures contain many heritage sites from indigenous people and homesteaders.

- Pastures provide important hunting opportunities, generating $70 million annually.

- Keeping the pastures publicly owned is the best way to protect the many benefits they provide.

- Indigenous rights to access the land based on international declarations would be harmed by privatization of the land.

- Producers should not be expected to pay for managing the land for public benefits.

- The many public benefits should be maintained and enhanced with public dollars.

- The Canadian people’s 75 year investment in the Community Pastures could be lost by eliminating the federal support for Community Pastures.

Address your letters to:

The Hon. Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Send copies to the PM and Ministers listed:

The Hon. Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

The Hon. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and, MP for Regina-Wascana

The Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

The Right Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

If you send your letter by regular mail, all mailing addresses are: House of Commons, Ottawa, Ont. K1A 0A6
No postage is required on any mail addressed to the House of Commons.

Many thanks, for your support. We believe we have a chance to make a difference with this letter campaign. Your letters are very important and could help turn the tide.

For more information:
Public Pastures – Public Interest
E-mail:, Phone: 306-515-0460 Website:


Monday, February 8, 2016

Crown lands and the spirit of the treaties

this piece of Crown land has been sold and is slated for development
Christmas Bird Count, late December.

We stop the car beside a piece of Crown land southeast of Regina Beach, a 160 acre parcel that the Saskatchewan government has recently sold. It is pasture land so I step out of the car and over the fence to have a look and see if it is native grass. The withered stalks and seed heads poking through the thin cover of snow look native to me but in winter it can be tough to identify grassland plants so I snip a few samples and carry them home to figure them out. Later, and with the help of a botanist friend, I name them, all natives: Slender wheatgrass, June Grass, Gumweed, Long-fruited anenome, and prairie coneflower.

The pasture is not in perfect condition. There are some non-natives too, but even the best grasslands have a few weeds these days. As we drive on we watch a sharp-tailed grouse perched on the fence. A herd of 14 mule deer move from one aspen bluff to the next through thickets of snowberry and wild rose.

Mule Deer on the property, image courtesy of Ed Rodger

A friend who lives in the area told me a few weeks ago that the quarter section—once leased Crown land and now in private hands—is going to be developed, subdivided, and sold as acreage or resort property. There is another quarter section of Crown land south of it—mostly native grass and bush as well—that was once protected by the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act (WHPA). It has not been sold yet, but may well go private soon because it appears to no longer be protected by WHPA designation.

When the numbered treaties were signed in this part of the world, back in the 1870s, there were roughly sixty million acres of native grassland south of the forest in what we now call Saskatchewan. Those who signed the treaties, agreeing to share the wealth of the prairie with newcomers, were assured that they and their descendents would always be able to hunt and gather medicines and move through the prairie. No one mentioned that the land would soon be plowed, turned upside down and cut up into parcels for the exclusive use of settlers.
Today we estimate we have somewhere near ten million acres[1] of native grassland left in mostly small pieces in various states of health. That means we are down to less than 20% of our natural cover south of the forest. A report soon to be released by the World Wildlife Fund shows that Saskatchewan continues to lose native grasslands and wetlands at an alarming rate—in some areas as much as 13% a year, the worst of any state or province on the northern Great Plains.

A little less than half of our remaining natural prairie land is owned privately. Approximately 5.9 million acres are leased to private ranchers. Land owners and leaseholders of “Crown agricultural lands” have the legal right to deny access to anyone, including indigenous people.
image of warrant courtesy of APN News

Last month, in response to charges that his government is bullying indigenous hunters (news story here; Doug Cuthand’s excellent column on the topic here), our premier made this point in the Globe and Mail and on CBC, saying "Whether you have a treaty card or not, you still need the permission of the landowner to hunt on private property."  

What Premier Wall did not say was that indigenous people south of the forest have very few places off-reserve where they can go to hunt and engage in cultural practices.

In fact, his government is actively making sure that there will be less Crown land when they are done with Saskatchewan. The Sask Party has a stated policy of privatizing Crown lands. Lyle Stewart, the Minister of Agriculture has repeatedly said that the government does not need to own land, which for his ministry is Crown lands south of the forest.

From November 2008 to December 2014, the Sask Party sold a half million acres of land that used to belong to all of us, indigenous and non-indigenous alike.

In 2012, when Stephen Harper cut the federal PFRA pasture system and transferred 1.7 million acres back to Saskatchewan, the Sask Party said they would either sell or lease the Crown land to the cattle producers who graze it. That process shifting these endangered landscapes to private leaseholding management is about half way through the transition, but in effect it removes many of the last and best places for indigenous people to access Crown land.

Then, in spring of 2014 the Saskatchewan government proudly announced that they were ranking the WHPA lands for ecological value and may eventually be selling as much as 1.8 million acres of former WHPA lands.

After that, last fall, Lyle Stewart announced that Saskatchewan Agriculture would begin selling another 600,000 acres of Crown land—this time at a 15% discount. Leaseholders who do not purchase will find their rental rates climb by 15 and then 30% within two years. 

With Crown land now up for discount sale and the community pastures being leased to private grazing businesses, there are fewer and fewer places where indigenous people are free to hunt or gather medicines. As for asking permission, many farmers and ranchers restrict hunting on the land they manage or own and some may be particularly unwilling to grant permission to Metis or First Nations hunters.

There may be enough latitude under the treaties and in our court system’s interpretation of their language for provincial governments to get away with this kind of erosion of indigenous rights to access the land, but Canada has signed international agreements that refer specifically to the rights of indigenous people in this regard.

For example, we signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states clearly in Article 26:

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired. 3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

In addition, Target 12 in Canada’s 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets state that “customary use by Aboriginal peoples of biological resources is maintained, compatible with their conservation and sustainable use.”

Are these documents and the treaties themselves merely words or do they actually mean we have a responsibility to ensure that indigenous people have access to more than the small scraps of land they own on reserves and gain through treaty land entitlement?  

The spirit under which the treaties were signed would suggest otherwise; that we share, as indigenous and settler peoples, a sacred obligation to conserve public lands so that our descendents will have wild prairie places where we can walk and know the old ways of grass and meadowlark song.

The Saskatchewan Party is not just selling land; it is violating the very spirit of the treaties that make us who we are and form the foundation of our social contract as prairie people.

[1] These estimates and calculations are based on data that appear in the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan’s report, “Saskatchewan’s Native Prairie:  Taking Stock of a Vanishing Ecosystem and Dwindling Resource” available at

another shot of the Crown land near Regina Beach that was sold

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