On World Environment Day, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) unveiled a bold and unprecedented plan to rally people and communities to conserve and care for one of the world’s most endangered and least protected ecosystems: Canada’s iconic Prairie grasslands. The Prairie Grasslands Action Plan will conserve more than 500,000 hectares by 2030 — an area six times the size of Calgary.
Grasslands are nature’s unsung heroes. Think of them as upside down forests, with 90 per cent of their biomass hidden underground in vast and deep root systems. But therein lies their secret powers:
· Grasslands absorb carbon dioxide and store billions of tonnes of carbon, keeping it fixed in the soil and helping to counter the effects of climate change.
· They trap and filter precious water resources on the Prairies, mitigating both floods and droughts, and providing drinking water for thousands of communities.
· Grasslands are an economic driver of local economies and essential to food security.
· They host an astonishing variety of plants and wildlife, which are increasingly threatened by habitat loss. In fact, bird populations that rely on native grasslands have declined by 90 per cent since 1970.
· Western grasslands are the ancestral homes of many Indigenous communities, whose culture and history are entwined with the natural cycles of the Great Plains.
Too often grasslands are overlooked and undervalued. Without them, we lose our resilience in the face of natural disasters. But they are being lost at an alarming rate — more than 80 per cent of our Prairie grasslands are already gone.
In the time it takes to watch your favourite television show, the equivalent of 12 CFL football fields will be lost to grassland conversion and human activity. By the end of the day, another 260 football fields will be gone. Every year 60,000 hectares, or 100,000 football fields, disappear. NCC’s Prairie Grasslands Action Plan will work to conserve 500,000 hectares by the end of the decade; equivalent to what we will lose if we don’t act now to protect the grasslands that remain.
Partnership is at the heart of the plan. Only with a whole-of-society approach can we hope to slow the loss. NCC is working with local communities and in collaboration with Indigenous Nations on a multitude of projects. We are partnering with industry, government and other conservation organizations to complete conservation projects on the ground. And we are advancing stewardship with ranchers, livestock producers and
grazing groups to deliver solutions that ensure that grasslands remain a foundation for thriving communities.
Momentum is building, and we expect several high-profile announcements of conservation impact in coming months.
Work is already underway in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Thanks to the dedication of its supporters and partners, NCC has already accomplished many large and significant grassland conservation projects. One of the most recent of these successes is The Yarrow, a stunning 1,650-hectare project located near Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. Just recently, the $6.9-million fundraising campaign to conserve this expansive and ecologically diverse property was completed. This achievement demonstrates that NCC possesses the necessary capabilities to undertake large-scale grasslands conservation efforts, especially when driven by the collective support of government, industry and private citizens. This project was initiated in part by funding from the Government of Canada, through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of Canada’s Nature Fund.
NCC is seeking support to conserve grasslands in the Cypress Uplands Natural Area in southwestern Saskatchewan. These uplands rise more than 600 metres above the surrounding plains, which make the area unique, being the highest elevation east of the Canadian Rockies. Wildlife commonly found in the area include pronghorn, mule and white-tailed deer, elk and cougar. This area holds the highest diversity of birds in Saskatchewan and includes at-risk species such as burrowing owl, chestnut-collared longspur, common nighthawk and ferruginous hawk. NCC is working to expand on our most recent initiative, the Parker conservation project, in the remarkable Cypress Uplands. Your support will make a difference for wildlife and nature.
NCC has secured its largest ever conservation agreement in Manitoba. Close to 455 hectares, this project boasts native mixed-grass prairie and bur oak savannah, along with sandhill prairie and sandhill forest. The project also supports elk, coyote, American badger, Sprague’s pipit and a large sharped-tail grouse lek. The 21 Farms project is currently grazed, and the intent is that it will remain as pastureland, consistent with NCC’s vision for healthy and resilient prairie that is part of a sustainable and vibrant livestock grazing industry. This project was made possible thanks to our wonderful donors Eric and Carol Moore, who gifted a significant portion of the agreement value. Funds raised through the Prairie Grasslands Action Plan will go toward programming to support further conservation and the long-term management and care of grasslands across the Prairies.
(NCC News Release)