Grassland preservation group takes message of rural stewardship to urbanites

Five southern Alberta ranches featured in stewardship and sustainability video

Volkswagen van in a prairie field.
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Anew initiative is trying to show urbanities that grasslands are pretty cool, and running cattle on them is a good thing.

“The Conservation Caravan” is a short film featuring producers from five southern Alberta ranches who talk about sustainability, land use and the importance of good stewardship.

Operation Grassland Community is behind the film and is hosting screenings and dialogue in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge.

“We see a lot of negative perceptions about the beef industry and the cultivation of land to raise grain for feed, and how these link to climate change,” Mara Erickson, the organization’s communications director, said at the recent Edmonton screening, which attracted about 40 people.

“Those are certainly issues, but what is glazed over is the current stewardship that is in place, and the potential stewardship that can happen through our producers on the grassland ecosystem.”

Native grasslands make up only 14 per cent of the province’s landscape, but are home to 70 per cent of Alberta’s species at risk.

An endangered species such as the burrowing owl benefits from living in grazed grasslands, said Erickson.

“The burrowing owl can use cattle on the landscape to form its own habitat because it likes shorter grass near its burrows so it can (spot and) hide from predators,” she said.

“But it also likes longer grass near where it hunts because that helps increase mice and vole and its prey population.”

There should be a reward for providing those kinds of ecological goods and services provided by ranching, she said.

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“As consumers, we want sustainably produced food,” she said. “But across the board and across the system, most ranchers and producers are only getting paid for the steak that is on your plate and they’re not getting paid for those ecosystem services that they’re providing.”

Operation Grassland Community is a program funded by the Alberta Fish and Game Association. The 25-year-old program works with 300 farmers and ranchers in southeast Alberta to preserve native grassland and four bird species at risk: the loggerhead shrike, ferruginous hawk, burrowing owl, and Sprague’s pipit.

The 12-minute video was shot last summer and features TK Ranch, Integrity Ranching, Three Triangle Ranch, Holtman Farms, and Top Grass Cattle Company. It can be found at www.youtube.com (type ‘conservation caravan’ in the search box).

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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