Even though they don’t walk like a duck or quack like one, the country’s leading duck organization is pretty fond of cows.
“For years, the backbone of conservation in Western Canada has been our cattle-producing partners because of the need for them to have good grass and good water,” said Ducks Unlimited Canada’s Mickenzie Plemel-Stronks, the organization’s first-ever cattle industry liaison.
Her job “is a new role created for Alberta,” said Plemel-Stronks, who is based near Lethbridge and took up her duties in April.
“It was created in order to broaden our support and bring more awareness to the beef industry and the role it plays in conservation.”
That includes supporting habitat protection initiatives with the cattle sector and educating producers on the ecological goods and services that their grasslands provide.
“I’m just trying to get information out to the producers, so when they do sometimes meet people who have different opinions of the beef sector and its impact on the environment, then they have some good scientific comebacks for the misinformation that is out there,” said Plemel-Stronks, who previously worked as a certified crop adviser.
But she also wants cattle producers and conservationists to know they’re on the same side.
“Sometimes producers and conservationists are talking about the exact same thing, with very different words, and not understanding each other,” she said. “Where it kind of helps is understanding the goal and intents of agriculture as well as the conservation.”
When talking with producers, she often notes they find the “language” of conservation groups confusing. Producers may think a particular practice may not fit on their farm, but in reality, they are already doing that practice.
Part of her job is also to talk to the public about the role that cattle and grasslands play in protecting habitat.
“There’s a direct correlation between having cattle on the grasslands and the increasing conservation of grasslands,” said Plemel-Stronks. “If we want to maintain these grasslands, because of the ecological goods and services they provide, we really have to be supporting the beef industry and ensuring that the cattle herd is at least stable, if not on the incline.”
Having conservation groups telling the story of the beef industry is a statement in itself, one intended to counter the increasingly popular notion that ‘beef is bad.’
That’s also the impetus behind a new short documentary called “Guardians of the Grasslands” that came out earlier this month.
The documentary, filmed at the Waldron Ranch, was a joint effort by her organization, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. It talks about how grasslands are one of the planet’s most stable carbon sinks and makes a case for grazing, saying, “Sometimes what you thought was the problem is really the solution.”
In the film, Plemel-Stronks makes an emotional plea to save grasslands through grazing, calling it one of the most endangered ecosystems.
“And it is still being lost — acre by acre — every day in our own backyard,” she says in the documentary.
Her position is part of a three-year pilot by Ducks Unlimited Canada called the Cattle and Conservation Initiative.
“The success is being monitored in outreach, with the feedback we are getting from industry and individual landowners and other industry partners, like conservation groups,” she said. “I would be surprised if this doesn’t continue. It’s been quite successful so far.”
If that continues, cattle industry liaisons could be set up in Manitoba and Saskatchewan as well.