Saturday, November 28, 2015

Sask Environmental Society takes a strong position on Chaplin Wind Project

this video by "Saskbirder" on Youtube shows the endangered Piping Plover where it nests on the shores of Chaplin Lake. The Chaplin area is one of its last protected nesting areas on the Northern Great Plains

Many people and organizations sent in their submissions to Saskatchewan's Environmental Assessment Branch expressing their serious concerns with the proposed siting for the Chaplin Lake Wind Energy Project, and their submissions are now being considered by the Ministry of Environment.

One of the most thorough and cogent submissions was prepared by the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. While many emphasized important points about the threat to native grassland habitat, the SES proposal is the most clearly stated argument highlighting the risk to birds and bats presented by the turbines. With the society's permission, I am presenting their submission in its entirety below. 

Premier Wall's recently announced plan for Saskatchewan to convert to 50% alternative energy is a worthy goal. Let us hope that it begins with a project that will provide truly clean energy, rather than one that will see the Province tied up in court rooms for having ignored warnings and violated the Migratory Bird Convention Act and other international agreements.

Brianne England
Environmental Assessment Branch
Ministry of Environment
Room 486 – 3211 Albert St  
ReginaSK S4S 5W6
Topic: Response to Windlectric EIS on Proposed Chaplin Wind Energy Project
Dear Ms. England,
     As you know, the Saskatchewan Environmental Society has been a long- time advocate of expanded wind power in Saskatchewan.  For the past several years we have been urging SaskPower to move forward with a plan that would see 20% of Saskatchewan’s electricity come from wind.  
     However, the siting of wind power turbines must be done with care – both to ensure wind farms are not located too close to population centres, and also to ensure that wind farms are not located adjacent to biodiversity hotspots.
      In the case of Windlectric’s proposal to site a large wind energy project near Chaplin LakeSaskatchewan, our concern is that the proposed facility is too close to a major biodiversity hotspot.  Windlectric is proposing to locate their wind turbines between several Important Bird Areas that are nationally and globally recognized.  These areas provide nesting habitat and staging grounds for hundreds of thousands of birds, including many birds listed under the Species at Risk Act. 
     The importance of Chaplin Lake is recognized by both Birdlife International and the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network.  The Saskatchewan Environmental Society is concerned that the proposed wind farm could have significant negative impacts on wildlife in the region, and particularly on bird life.  We are thus surprised that SaskPower and Windlectric considered this to be a preferred location for siting turbines – given that there were many other site options to choose from.
     The Saskatchewan Environmental Society does not want to see wind power in Saskatchewan get a bad reputation by virtue of a poor siting decision on a major wind power project. 
     We acknowledge the proactive mitigation measures Windlectric proposes to take at the Chaplin Lake site, but are of the view there is still a significant risk that unacceptable environmental impacts will be experienced if this site is approved.
     Our biggest concern focuses around the environmental impact of the wind generation turbines during the 25 years in which they will operate.  We focus here on the potential for bird and bat mortality, particularly due to collisions with wind generation turbines.
Specific Concerns Related To High Risk Of Bird and Bat Mortality During Project Operations
1.          We share the proponent’s view that “relatively long lines of turbines or large wind farms can be a barrier to local or seasonal movements of birds between feeding, roosting, moulting and breeding areas”.
2.          We are particularly concerned about the risk of significant bird and bat mortality due to collisions with the proponent’s proposed 79 large rotating turbines that would extend up to 165 metres above the ground and that would each have a blade sweep range of 80 to 125 metres. (Refer to Figure 2.3 in the main EIS)  Collisions will also occur with nacelles and towers.
3.          It is our view that the EIS – while appropriately paying special attention to species of conservation concern – does not pay enough attention to all bird species in the area. It would be unfortunate if a large number of birds and bats were killed each year by the proposed Windlectric installation.  This could also become a serious problem, not only for SaskPower and Windlectric, but for the reputation of the Saskatchewan wind industry. 
4.          There are 12 wetlands within 500 metres of potential wind project infrastructure.  Many bat species and many breeding birds (that constitute species of concern) reside in the geographical boundaries of what the EIS calls the ‘Local Assessment Area’.
5.          There are many species of conservation concern identified in the EIS Local Assessment Area, particularly grassland-associated species.  These grassland species have already suffered major declines in Saskatchewan over the past four decades.  Avoiding further declines of grassland species through careful planning is therefore important.
6.          According to the EIS, avian use surveys indicated that “at baseline 60-74% of the flight paths occurred above the height of the rotor swept area”.  (Refer to EIS section 6.2) However, this implies that at least 26% of avian flights paths occurred at or below the height of the rotor swept area.  If that is the case, it has the potential to be problematic.
7.          The EIS cites a review of effects of wind energy developments on birds and bats. Rydell et al. (2012) summarized results from a study that “noted 62% of observations from 91 bird species changed either direction or altitude of flight when birds encountered Wind Turbine Generators”.  However, this implies that in a significant minority of cases, bird species did not change direction or altitude. 
8.          To date, Saskatchewan wind farms have averaged 10.1 bird mortalities ‘per turbine’ annually. (Refer to EIS Operation and Maintenance Direct Mortality Risk) Given that Chaplin Lake is only 4.5 kilometres away from the nearest wind turbine generator in the Windlectric Chaplin Wind-Energy Project, we believe it is likely the number of ‘per turbine’ bird mortality incidents would increase significantly over this average figure.   
9.          We share the view of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment technical EIS reviewers that migrating passerines, nocturnal migrants, and grassland birds with aerial courtship displays will be at increased risk of collision.  Moreover, as Windlectric acknowledges in the EA, diurnal raptors and migratory bats will also face elevated risks.
10.     We note that the statement by technical reviewers for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment that they “have remaining concerns about the siting of the project on native grasslands near Chaplin Lake in the vicinity of the Chaplin-Old Wives – Reed Lake (C-OW-RL) WHSRN sites because of the importance of the area for shore birds, waterfowl, multiple migratory and prairie species at risk.”  As indicated earlier in this submission, the Saskatchewan Environmental Society shares these same concerns.
11.     We note with concern the conclusion of Ministry of Environment technical reviewers “that the assessment for this project  (i.e. the Environmental Impact Statement and supplementary material prepared by Windlectric) may not provide an accurate estimation of the collision risk posed by the project”.  The reviewers go on to suggest that the potential for mortality events could be significantly larger than predicted.
Conclusions and Recommendations
1.     As it pertains to wildlife impacts, we do not share the proponent’s expressed view in the EIS that “with mitigation”, the potential adverse residual effects of the project “are not expected to be significant.”
2.     We recommend that Windlectric be asked to come forward with a more suitable site for its proposed wind energy project installation.  In our view, the proponent has not demonstrated that the Chaplin site is acceptable.  We hope the Ministry will reject wind farm development at this specific site.
3.     The Windlectric EIS makes reference to the “absence of wind project development-specific protocols and guidelines in Saskatchewan”. We recommend that in the near future the Saskatchewan government establish clear siting guidelines to better guide future wind power projects, and do so in consultation with the wind industry, urban and rural municipalities, and provincial environmental and conservation groups. 
4.     Using the above-mentioned consultative process, we recommend that a number of areas in Saskatchewan where wind power generating facilities can be acceptably sited be identified. The Saskatchewan Environmental Society would be pleased to participate in such a process.
5.     Saskatchewan does not currently have guidelines for bird and bat mortality thresholds for wind energy projects.  We urge the provincial government to establish such guidelines.
Thank you for considering our recommendations.
Yours sincerely,
Peter Prebble
Peter Prebble
Director of Environmental Policy | Saskatchewan Environmental Society
t. 306.665.1915 |m. Box 1372 Saskatoon SK S7K 3N9 | o. 220 20TH W. Saskatoon

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

One week left to protect the birds at Chaplin

click on the image above to go to a page where you will hear the sounds of Chaplin grasslands

There are only six days remaining to express opposition to the site chosen for a wind farm in native grassland adjacent to the Western Hemisphere Shore Bird Reserve at Chaplin. (See previous posts here for more details.)

Email your comments before the end of day on November 17 to

I have heard that there have only been fifteen emails sent to environmental assessment on this issue so far. That may not be enough. 

We are told that 34 of the 79 turbines in this proposal will be placed right in the native grassland. As the province's Technical Review itself points out, this will destroy an estimated 62 hectares of native prairie, which supports many species at risk. In a province that has lost more than 80 % of its native grassland, it is unacceptable for the government to give its blessing to a project that will eliminate that many hectares of a rare habitat and create a disturbance that will in effect degrade the quality of many more hectares of habitat radiating outward from the footprint at each of the 34 sites.

Wind energy is going to be a vital part of our future in this province, but we must get this right by working together to identify areas where we can place wind farms without destroying and degrading native grassland and displacing species at risk.

If you need inspiration, I urge you to listen to this chorus of grassland bird song recorded at Chaplin by a well-known birdsong recordist just three months ago. Bob McGuire traveled from his home in New England to Saskatchewan this summer specifically to record the sounds of our endangered grassland birds. This is an incredible recording and gives you a sense of the value of our remaining native grasslands at Chaplin and elsewhere. The birds you will hear in the recording, including Sprague's Pipit and Baird's Sparrow, need large pieces of native grass to thrive.

Many of these birds will be silenced if the province approves the current site for the Chaplin wind farm. 

Finally, I urge you to add your signature to this Avaaz petition on the project as well.

A Baird's Sparrow in full song--one of many species that needs the grassland at Chaplin to remain intact

Friday, November 6, 2015

Sask Gov't distorts its own research to give away the farm

A few days ago, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Agriculture, Lyle Stewart announced that his government will begin selling off thousands of acres of Crown farm land at a 15% discount.

There are many reasons Saskatchewan people should be alarmed by this latest decision to sell provincially-owned lands at below market prices, while threatening current lessees with higher lease rate in future years if they don’t buy the land. Here are a few:

1. Minister Stewart has said repeatedly that this land is of low ecological value and therefore can be sold. His messaging implies that government science staff have given their blessing by declaring that the land has little ecological value.

Well, here is what actually happened: yes, biologists and ecologists from various provincial government agencies were told to devise a scoring system to determine the relative ecological value of Crown land south of the forest. That is a scientific process in itself and has some objectivity, though one could perhaps argue over the weighting process they developed. But—and this is an important but—the decision of where to draw the line and say 'below this mark everything can be sold' was not scientific or objective. It was entirely political and arbitrary, and it is simply wrong for the Saskatchewan Party to draw that line behind closed doors without a fully transparent public process. 

this whooping crane landed on farm land just south of Regina that
is cultivated and therefore would not score high in any ranking of ecological value

Minister Stewart will argue that they consulted with conservation NGOs to have them approve the ranking system, but again, these groups, like the government scientists, were not involved in determining what score in the system would trigger the decision to sell land. The ecological value ranking system, as applied by Saskatchewan Agriculture, is much like marking students on a curve. A certain percentage is required to fail.

2. By selling off Saskatchewan’s Crown farmland at bargain prices, the Provincial Government is literally “giving away the farm”—taking reliable assets taxpayers have invested in and benefited from for decades and trading them for a one-time gain. If we "sell the goose" we give up future revenue that would support good environmental programming, agricultural support and other public goods.

3. In the media coverage, Minister Stewart uses their public review of farmland ownership rules to justify the sale of Crown land. "During our recent review of farmland ownership rules, a large majority of producers told us they opposed large institutions owning farmland,” said Stewart. “The provincial government is probably the largest institutional owner of farmland." 

Hold on a moment--the government is not just another institution. The government is us, represents us and our interests. Stewart is claiming that the survey indicated that most producers do not want the government to own farm land. This is a baldfaced distortion of the survey and its results. The survey was not about land owned by the Crown. It did not ask respondents if they are for or against government ownership of land (see the results for yourself here). Its questions focused on pension plans and investment funds and of course most farmers surveyed were opposed to that kind of institutional land ownership. And in fact, the survey does show that more than 75% of respondents believe it is important for lease land to remain affordable, flying in the face of the Minister's plan to jack up lease rates for those who choose not to purchase. 

For Minister Stewart to slide Crown land and government ownership under the heading of institutional investment in his speaking points is simply a load of spin to justify a plan to bring short-term revenue into a budget hampered by falling resource prices.

4. With climate change looming, all governments will need ways to use land to maximize carbon sequestration and ensure that we have enough natural cover on the landscape to withstand extreme weather events. If we privatize more Crown land—whether it has native grassland and high ecological value or not—we lose more capacity to manage for climate change.

5. Affordable lease land plays a role in helping young producers get started. Even at a 15% discount, if you are a rancher who is suddenly being told you have to purchase thousands of acres or else face a big jump in your lease rates, you either take on a big debt load to purchase or you swallow the higher lease rates and just push the land harder to make more income. The sale of Crown land may be good for a few producers who are already doing well financially, but it will hurt many others.

 government is placing our children's prairie heritage at risk while trying to divest itself of responsibility for caring for the soils and land of Saskatchewan. 

It is a strategy that sells well in the board rooms of industry and land developers because it removes government oversight and environmental regulations from a lot of land. 

It might even please the farmers who have the money to buy the land at reduced prices, but it does nothing for the majority of farmers faced with escalating costs amid increasing pressure for them to steward ecological services that the rest of us benefit from.

Finally, the one-time gain from selling our shared heritage puts money in the coffers of the government just before a provincial election planned for April 2016. 

You have to wonder what else this government will sell at fire sale prices so that, come spring, they can say that they balanced the budget.

land with non-native grass may not rank high in ecological value but if managed
well it can provide habitat and help fight climate change

Monday, October 26, 2015

Send in your comments on the proposed wind energy project at Chaplin

The endangered Piping Plover cannot submit comments to the Government but you can. (,
via Wikimedia Commons)

The Province of Saskatchewan is still trying to decide whether to put 79 wind turbines by Chaplin Lake, right next to a globally significant shorebird reserve and across a stretch of native grassland with many Species at Risk. The area it will affect is almost 20,000 hectares of habitat. (See previous Grass Notes posts from July.)

Our Minister of Environment, the Hon. Herb Cox, will be soon deciding whether to approve the multi-million dollar project. If he hears that many Saskatchewan people who support wind energy also want to ensure that we site the projects in places that will not endanger so many birds, I think there is a good chance that Chaplin will be spared.

Please take a few minutes to submit your comments on or before November 17th by email to Or by mail to:

Brianne England
Senior EA Administrator
Environmental Assessment Branch
Room 486 - 3211 Albert Street
Regina, SK S4S 5W6
Phone: (306)787-6190
Fax: (306)787-0930

this is the add published in newspapers to solicit public comments

To look at the technical review prepared by the Environmental Assessment Branch (and yes there are some good people there who are working hard to see that this gets a real review), go here. The document has a lot of useful information you can reference in your comments.

Here are some quotes from the review:

"The proposed location of the project supports numerous species at risk (listed under Schedule 1, Schedule 2, or Schedule 3 of the Species at Risk Act as endangered, threatened, or special concern) including: Sprague’s pipit, chestnut-collared longspur, loggerhead shrike, common nighthawk, ferruginous hawk and yellow rail which are migratory species as well as northern leopard frog, short eared owl and little brown myotis (bat) which are resident species."

The review says that the construction process will destroy 62 hectares of native grassland, which is bad enough, but each site where a road goes through or a turbine is erected in native grassland will degrade the ecological viability of many more hectares of habitat. From the report again:

"Effect on wildlife species is variable and could include increased stress, loss of productivity, habitat or nest abandonment; potentially resulting in changes in distribution and local abundance. Amphibians, sharp-tailed grouse and ferruginous hawks have shown sensitivity to increased human activity. Noise and light emitted during operation may result in reduced use of adjacent areas by wildlife and vehicle traffic may cause temporary disturbance to wildlife. Habitat fragmentation and a loss of connectivity would also occur during construction and operation of the project. Construction activities would have an effect on wildlife movement including small mammals, snakes and amphibians. Operation of the turbines would also result in fragmentation as the presence of infrastructure can be perceived by some wildlife as a barrier. Windlectric concluded that wind energy projects have been shown to cause displacement and avoidance in birds."

But what about the risk of collision for the thousands of passerine and water birds who migrate through and breed at Chaplin? Well, here is a statement on the collision risk that should give the Minister enough reason to turn down this project. Toward the end of the Technical Review Comments, the Province's Environmental Assessment staff make it clear that they are dubious about the way that Windelectric did its collision risk assessment, a key issue in considering any wind project:

"Due to inherent uncertainty with all risk assessments and modelling activities, reviewers raised concerns that the assessment for this project may not provide an accurate estimation of the collision risk posed by the project. Reviewers felt bird strikes of stationary objects may not have been adequately accounted for in the assessment. Uncertainty regarding nocturnal migrating behavior and migration height of many passerine species has resulted in remaining uncertainty surrounding the risk posed to these species by this project. Passerines have been found to make up a majority of all bird fatalities at wind energy projects. The risk associated with direct impacts may be higher considering the proposed project site supports numerous passerine species some of which are considered sensitive or are listed under SARA. [the Species at Risk Act]."

Baird's Sandpipers--long distance migrant shorebirds that depend on a safe staging area at Chalpin Lake

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cast your ballot for the prairie

Eared grebes won't be voting on Monday
It would be foolish to claim that any of the federal political parties who have a chance of forming the government after we vote on Monday are strong on environmental issues; even more foolish to say that any of them will be great defenders of our prairie farms, ranches and ecosystems.

Just the same, your choice as a voter may contribute to the election of a government that will be making decisions regarding funding priorities, regulations, and programs relating to agriculture and other industries that will for the coming years affect the landscapes and creatures who do not have any way to influence policy--unless we keep them in mind when we vote.

As we consider the options, thinking strategically or not, it is worth pondering what each party might do if they form government. If the way I vote helps this or that party form government, will their decisions and policies protect and restore our grassland, farmland and wetlands? Or will their decisions and policies erode natural habitat and foster unsustainable agricultural practices?

local ranchers' cattle graze on the pastures at Stalwart National Wildlife Area, managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service 
Here are ten questions to think about as you go to the polls on Monday:

1. How can I help elect a government that will renew funding to conservation programming in Environment Canada, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, and Parks Canada rather than a government that saves on taxes by cutting staff and programs in these ministries?

2. How can I help elect a government that will actually enforce the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and provide the science and policy resources necessary to complete and implement the embarrassing backlog of recovery plans for species at risk, rather than a government that clears the way for development by circumventing the legislation and looking for ways to weaken it?

3. How can I help elect a government that will expand and improve Environment Canada's Habitat Stewardship Program to fund more local non-government organizations who are trying to conserve endangered species and their habitats, rather than a government that withdraws funding from any organization that questions its direction?

4. How can I help elect a government that will restore funding to our National Parks and Historic Sites, and add more science and conservation staff to follow the Parks Canada mandate to protect the ecological and historic treasures of our nation, rather than a government that is bent on turning our parks into roadside attractions where all that matters it visitation figures and cost-recovery?

5. How can I help elect a government that will enforce strong regulations to ensure that oil and gas development and pipelines will not destroy sensitive habitats such as native prairie, rather than a government that colludes with the resource industry to remove and weaken public oversight?
Assessing range condition on native grassland

6. How can I help elect a government that will create programming that supports environmentally sustainable and carbon-sequestering practices on farms and ranches, providing incentives to producers who choose to follow these practices, rather than a government that cuts existing programs aimed at fostering healthy landscapes for growing food and habitat?

7. How can I help elect a government that will restore protection for our creeks and rivers, rather than a government that sees regulations on waterways as an impediment to development?

8. How can I help elect a government that will improve sustainable public access to natural landscapes by establishing new parks and conservation areas, rather than a government that divests itself of responsibility for millions of acres of grassland and makes new parks only in marine areas where there is no chance of any conflict with commercial interests?

9. How can I help elect a government that will restore Canada's international reputation as a leader in conservation science and environmental sustainability, rather than a government that muzzles scientists, closes libraries and archives, and refuses to sign international agreements on the import of endangered species, on desertification, and on climate change?

10. How can I help elect a government that will include the environmental ethics and knowledge of aboriginal people in its environmental policy development, rather than a government that looks for ways to outflank or buy favour with cash-strapped First Nations who have resource-rich territory?
Sun setting on Spy Hill-Ellice PFRA Pasture straddling the Sask-Man. border

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Saskatoon's Northeast Swale at risk

from the cover of a Meewasin Valley Authority pamphlet on Saskatoon's Northeast Swale

“Remember: the disappearance of native prairie and wetland means the disappearance of thousands of years of natural and cultural history. This resource can never be replaced. Saskatoon’s Northeast Swale can be conserved with the support and stewardship of the surrounding community. Please take care of your Northeast Swale and educate others to its value.” From a pamphlet on Saskatoon's Northeast Swale natural area, written by the Meewasin Valley Authority

What do we do when an ecologically important natural area and green space on the edge of a growing city is scheduled to have a major roadway slice through its belly? Simple--just call it a "parkway," build some wildlife culverts, post some speed limits, and everything will be ok.

That seems to be the approach that the City of Saskatoon and the Meewasin Valley Authority is taking with the Northeast Swale, a rich natural area of more than 700 acres of native grass and wetlands just inside the city limits. And if that was not bad enough, the province is planning to build a second major artery--a city bypass--through the swale one kilometre away.

Here is a map showing the two roadways planned for the swale, in the upper right hand corner.

And here is a recent story in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix giving a bit of background.

Last week Saskatoon writer and naturalist Candace Savage (A Geography of Blood and Prairie: A Natural History) published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix a strong plea for saving the swale.

Dave Carpenter, writer, defender of natural areas and winner of this year's Kloppenburg Award for Literary Excellence, then followed up with this letter to the paper.

At the City Hall Council meeting this past Monday, Candace spoke and called the parkway and perimeter highway proposed within a kilometre of one another "a double whammy". In the Star-Phoenix report on the meeting, she said, "I'm afraid that despite all the intelligence and good will that has gone into the planning for the swale, it's going to fail because we aren't going far enough," Savage said. "We know with these major roadways coming through the swale there will be consequences."

As Candace wrote in a recent email, "the two major arteries will cut the Swale off from the natural east-west flow of the landscape, thereby fragmenting, isolating and undermining it."

As a large piece of rare intact grassland and wetland, the swale is a representative sample of the Aspen Parkland prairie that once stretched all across the middle of Saskatchewan. The Nature Conservancy of Canada says that less than 10 percent of the natural habitat in this ecoregion remains intact. The rest is growing canola and grain and urban subdivisions.

Really Meewasin? This is disappointing. Those of us suffering with the Wascana Park Authority in Regina have for years been pointing to you as a model of ecologically-minded planning. From your pamphlet on the swale there is no mistaking your pride and understanding of the ecological value of this "ancient river channel." You are better than this and you have a chance to prove it by protecting the swale from any development--roads included.

I am sure that you and the City of Saskatoon and the Province can put your heads together and find a better way.
Some last words from the Meewasin Valley Authority pamphlet again:

"Saskatchewan has lost more than 80% of its native prairie. Native grasslands are now one of the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet. The swale contains considerable areas of native prairie grasslands and offers high quality biodiversity, proximity to urban areas, economic benefits for recreation and education, and a natural filter for our air and water. The swale contains wetlands that provide a means of flood control for the surrounding community."

The badger is one of the rare creatures that depend on the swale as an intact corridor with no roadways intersecting (image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Photos and a video--from this summer's research

sunset on the northern range at Old Man on His Back
This summer photographer Branimir Gjetvaj and I began working on a book that will use photos and stories to draw attention to the human and natural heritage at stake on our remaining wild prairie in Saskatchewan.

While Branimir was crouching over things with his camera or running to catch the last rays of magic hour, I would often take out my point and shoot and snap a few shots. This post shows a few of those moments, as well as a short video I made using clips during a tour of grassland places with ranchers and conservationists and Canadian Wildlife Services staff.

Just across the border into Manitoba there is a PFRA community pasture that contains a historic site and active cemetery where the Metis settlement of Ste. Madeleine lasted from 1880s to 1939. The local Metis still come to celebrate their culture and ties to Ste. Madeleine, as well as to bury their loved ones.

Three-flowered avens, chickweed and native grasses surround the headstones at Ste. Madeleine

In early August we went to Caledonia-Elmsthorpe PFRA pasture--one of the prettiest pastures and only an hour south of Regina. The Saskatchewan Trails Association and Public Pastures – Public Interest sponsored a weekend of exploring the pasture on horseback and on foot. Here is a shot of Branimir with two horses and their riders (on left is Sharon Elder, the dynamo who did all the work organizing the event).
Branimir at work on Caledonia-Elmsthorpe Community Pasture

A creek at Caledonia.

This is Nick Schmidt, the new manager at Lone Tree Community Pasture south of Val Marie right on the Montana border. Lone Tree is now managed and leased by a grazing corporation made up of former patrons. Nick lives on the property and is working with the leaseholders to manage the pasture.
Nick Schmidt, pasture manager at Lone Tree Community Pasture

Nick was one of the many people kind enough to host those of us who were on tour sponsored by the South of the Divide Conservation Action Program (Sodcap).

SODCAP seems to have some good energy and good people on its side--I think we can expect to hear some good pilot projects coming from them in the next year.

I learned a great deal on the two days of that tour sitting between ranchers and conservationists and Canadian Wildlife Service representatives--all equally motivated to find ways to ensure our grassland species will survive in healthy populations.

This photo shows our tour surrounded by the hills of Lone Tree pasture.
Sodcap on tour at Lone Tree Community Pasture

The day before we visited a ranch managed by Orin Balas, chair of the Prairie Conservation Action Plan. Here he is talking to Bob McLean, Executive Director at the Canadian Wildlife Service.
Rancher Orin Balas (left) and CWS Executive Director, Bob McLean
Orin's rangeland was possibly the healthiest looking piece of native prairie I saw all summer--almost no weeds, and grazed enough to keep the grass in good condition. It looked like excellent Sprague's Pipit habitat, and Orin is doing what he can to help provide the pipit with the right habitat.

Here is a close-up shot of speargrass and dotted blazingstar on the uplands on Orin's pastures looking south toward the Frenchman River north of Val Marie.

And here is a shot of rancher Tara Mulhern Davidson, who works for SODCAP, helping us identify grasses at Orin's place.

And here is a video showing footage from Orin's pastures and a broad valley at Lone Tree where we spent the afternoon.

And, finally, a gratuitous bluebird shot, just because.

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