New $25M grant for prairie grassland conservation goes to 5 organizations

·2 min read
According to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, more than 70 per cent of the country’s prairie grasslands have been lost, mainly due to the conversion of grasslands to croplands.  (B.Gjetvaj / branimirphoto.ca - image credit)
According to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, more than 70 per cent of the country’s prairie grasslands have been lost, mainly due to the conversion of grasslands to croplands. (B.Gjetvaj / branimirphoto.ca - image credit)

The Weston Family Foundation has awarded $25 million to five organizations working on grassland conservation efforts across the three prairie provinces.

Grasslands provide a habitat for hundreds of species, and also provide food for Canadians and livestock. But they're also among the most at-risk habitats.

More than 70 per cent of the country's prairie grasslands have been lost — mainly due to the conversion of grasslands to croplands, according to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which received the foundation's funds to support biodiversity in the prairie grasslands.

The organization will be working with ranchers and farmers to develop and implement a stewardship incentive program, said Jennifer McKillop in an interview with CBC's Afternoon Edition.

"We know that ranchers are our primary grassland stewards but they also have big economic pressures and they need to make choices. So we think by supporting them we know we can also support biodiversity," McKillop, vice president of the Saskatchewan region of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, said.

Agriculture, oil and gas development and other industrial development have claimed much of our original prairie ecosystems.
Agriculture, oil and gas development and other industrial development have claimed much of our original prairie ecosystems. (CBC)

Protecting grasslands is essential to saving wildlife, McKillop says. In her own lifetime, McKillop has seen species of grassland birds decline, which she considers a "significant loss."

According to McKillop, grasslands are also important for carbon storage, to mitigate drought and to improve the quality of drinking water.

"The northern extent of North America's great plains and prairie grasslands represent the most endangered ecosystem on the planet, and I think a lot of people who live in Saskatchewan don't realize that that's in their very own backyard."

The $25-million grant will be shared by five conservation and agricultural organizations that will work with local communities over a five-year span to develop and implement ecologically and economically sustainable solutions for grasslands.

"It's exciting to see what can be accomplished by bringing Canadians together to find innovative and sustainable approaches to restoring and protecting biodiversity," Weston Family Foundation chair member Tamara Rebanks said in a press release.

The four other organizations receiving funding through the grant are Ducks Unlimited Canada, Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation, Grasslands National Park (Parks Canada) and Meewasin Valley Authority.