June 12, 2018 11:23 am

Grazing program looks to restore habitat for greater sage grouse in Grasslands National Park

The SSGA and Parks Canada hope a unique project will help restore the habitat for three at-risk species, including the greater sage grouse.

Jeannie Stafford / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP

A unique partnership between the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association (SSGA) and Parks Canada could help restore the habitat for species at risk in Grasslands National Park (GNP).

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Under the partnership, local ranchers will manage grazing portions on the east block of GNP and adjacent private land in southern Saskatchewan. The goal is to restore habitat for three at-risk species: the greater sage grouse, spague’s pipit, and chestnut-collared longspur.

READ MORE: Endangered greater sage grouse found on native Saskatchewan grassland

“This project is noteworthy because Parks Canada is using cattle to help manage the park,” said SSGA president Shane Jahnke in a statement.

“This project demonstrates the important benefits of cattle grazing for the environment.”

The project encompasses 40,000 acres of public and private land, most of which is considered critical habitat for the three species.

Grazing management will be targeted to achieve habitat objectives for each species.

“By combining our conservation efforts in Grasslands National Park with those of local ranchers, we can influence and expand suitable habitat on a scale that would not be possible by any one party working in isolation,” stated Adriana Bacheschi, who is the acting field unit superintendent, south Saskatchewan field unit, for Parks Canada.

READ MORE: New conservation area aims to protect endangered grasslands in southern Sask.

Jahnke said the program will allow ranchers to bring their grazing knowledge and combine it with applied science to determine the best outcome to reach the targets.

“It provides an opportunity for collaboration between ranchers, parks, and scientists to help species recover and to actually measure conservation benefits,” Jahnke said.

The greater sage grouse is an endangered species, and has nearly disappeared in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Parks Canada said without increased protection and additional conservation measures, it is possible it could be extirpated from Canada within five years.

Some good news was received in 2017 when a few greater sage grouse were found in a conservation area next to Grasslands National Park.

More male greater sage grouse were also reported last year – nearly 80 male birds counted in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, up from 20 in 2014.

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