July 18, 2013 7:54 pm
Updated: July 19, 2013 9:25 am

Farmers say government not forthcoming about community pastures

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REGINA – Saskatchewan’ community pastures are public lands, which ranchers can pay a fee to access. For more than 70 years, community ranching pastures have brought communities together. When the federal government decided in the last budget to turn over those pastures to the province to be sold, those communities have come together again – so they won’t lose them.

For many producers, the community pastures mean one thing: community.

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“It’s a hidden treasure to be honest, to the province,” said Dean Palmer, chair of the McCraney Community Pastures Transition Committee.

Since the late 1930’s, the Prairie Farmers Rehabilitation Administration, now Agriculture Canada has managed 62 community pastures across Saskatchewan like the one in the R.M. of McCraney near Davidson that Palmer shares with 30 other cattle producers. The pastures are also home to native plants and wildlife.

“To me there’s no better native range land in the province,” Palmer said.

The federal government is transferring most of those pastures to the province to sell to patron groups – but not all of them.

“The government hasn’t told us whether all the land will be available.  Some of it is going to stay in federal hands,” said Ian McCreary, chair of the Community Pastures Patron Association, which represents 1100 of the 1600 producers who use community pastures across the province.

They also don’t know who is responsible to protect endangered species.

“When you go to a group of producers and say, ‘We think we got a plan, but you know what? There’s a whole bunch of numbers that are completely uncertain and by the way, would you guys write a cheque to put some money on the line to make this happen?’ That’s not reasonable,” McCreary explained.

While the transition of the lands is being sorted out, the patron groups are also concerned about holding onto their pasture managers, the ranchers who graze and rotate the cattle and take care of protected plant species. They’ll likely lose their jobs and many have already left, posing a safety risk for ranchers in the field by themselves. The patron groups of the first 10 pastures to be transferred worry they could end up losing access to the lands if they miss the October deadline, along with their livelihoods, and a community history.

The agriculture minister said he’s also frustrated with how the federal government is handling the transfer.

“The bureaucrats in Ottawa, they can certainly only be pushed so hard.  I’m sure that they must have other priorities besides the PFRA pastures because they don’t seem to be in much of a rush to deal with us,” said Minister Lyle Stewart.

He said the province tried to negotiate more time, but the federal government wouldn’t delay.

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