From dustbowl to riches

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Best-selling author talks to Regina community about the move to privatizing the grasslands

Kristen McEwen
News Writer

Best-selling author, Candace Savage, spoke at the Univeristy of Regina last week, not to promote her books, but to raise awareness about the fate of the grasslands, where so many of her stories are set.

In April, the Canadian government announced that the Community Pasture Program under the former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) would no longer be continued. The Community Pasture Program was initiated in the 1930s to restore land that was eroded due to the drought during the Great Depression. There are 85 pastures in the Prairie provinces. Sixty-two of these pastures are located in Saskatchewan – approximately 1.8 million acres in total. The management of these lands were transferred to the care of provincial governments.

The Saskatchewan government will manage 1.6 million acres. On Aug. 17, the provincial government released a statement that “pasture patron groups will have the opportunity to own and operate each pasture” meaning the grasslands will be sold and owned privately.

In October, the federal government announced that ten community pastures in Saskatchewan, for the purpose of grazing cattle, would be under the care of the Saskatchewan government by the end of 2013.

Savage started off the public lecture Thursday evening explaining why prairie grasslands are important on a personal level, sharing the stories Savage had heard from her mother about how so many people survived the “dustbowl” the prairies once were in the Dirty Thirties.

“When we talk about people on the prairies, we are talking about the land,” Savage said. “That isn’t as obvious to us now as it used to be, when everyone lived on the land and ate what the prairies provided. But it remains true, nonetheless. Today, as always, the land feeds us. It supports plants that not only nourish our bodies, but also snatches carbon out of the atmosphere and produce oxygen for us to breathe. The land filters impurities out of the water. Even today we can’t get by on an iFood, or iAir or iWater. It’s just not the same.”

Not only do many people hold personal connections with the prairie pastures, Savage pointed out that privatizing the grasslands threaten the safety of at-risk species including the burrowing owl, swift fox and sage grouse.

Naomi Beingessner, executive director of Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG) said the group invited Savage to speak at the U of R because as a “successful writer, [she] would be able to communicate the importance of the prairies, and her interest in them, in a very compelling way.”


“When we talk about people on the prairies we are talking about the land. That isn’t as obvious to us now as it used to be, when everyone lived on the land and ate what the prairies provided … Even today we can’t get by on an iFood, or iAir or iWater. It’s just not the same.” – Candace Savage


Beingessner added that selling the pasture lands affects the public in a number of ways.

“If you’re concerned about endangered species or species at risk, there’s a lot of habitat in these pastures,” she said. “If you’re concerned about carbon sequestration keeping pastures and grassland is a really effective way of sequestering carbon. If you are concerned about the viability of small towns and small ranchers or interested in grass-fed beef as a local foodie, I mean, these are all things the pastures are important for.”

Beingessner said another major problem with the Saskatchewan government selling the grasslands was that many stakeholders in the land were not consulted in the decision making.

“So, First Nations were not consulted, pasture patrons to a larger extent were not consulted … and, of course, the general public was not consulted,” she said. “We’re not only educating people…but we’re bringing together these people who haven’t been consulted and giving them some space to address their concerns.”

A forum was held on Friday at the Orr Centre to provide the opportunity for the public to learn about the history of the pastures and to allow stakeholders to speak up, including First Nations people, pasture employees who will lose their jobs due to privatization, and other patrons.

The afternoon was dedicated to finding resolutions as to what is in the public interest. One campaign was suggested during the open mic session on Thursday evening, which gives people the chance to express their concerns to Premier Brad Wall through a message at www.ProtectthePrairie.ca.

“As soon as you get one thing figured out, some new challenge is soon to pop up,” Savage said. “It might be oil and gas development, which we know is in the grasslands, [and] which is sure to bring with it service roads, fragmentation, invasive plants; there are problems posed by a rapidly changing climate. And yet our federal Minister of Agriculture, Gerry Ritz, in his wisdom, has decided that the job is done.”

Photo by Kristen McEwen

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