Picture of the grasslands on Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation. Photo credits Christina Gervais

The grasslands located on the Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation. Photo by Christina Gervais.

What will we do when there are no grasslands left?

"Sometimes it’s just about doing nothing but leaving that landscape alone." - Chet Neufeld, Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan

by Christina Gervais

Grasslands are considered one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet. At the same time, they are among our best hopes for countering climate change.

“Sometimes it’s just about doing nothing but leaving that landscape alone and it will do a fine job on its own of fighting climate change,” says Chet Neufeld, executive director of the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan.

Native prairie grasses take carbon from the air, pull it down through their roots, and mix it with the soil. The carbon then remains safely underground unless it is disturbed by farming or other activities.

For Neufeld, saving the grasslands has become a lifelong passion. He has even tried to stop a gravel road from being established in this natural area by saskatoon, when he failed, he tried to get people to slow down on the gravel road to reduce the effects on the land and protect the grasslands wildlife.

But he says he failed to get the speed limit reduced and only succeeded in creating an uproar on social media. He fears that if people can’t even give a minute of their time by slowing down then how will he be able to fight these bigger projects?

 The grassland coverage in Saskatchewan has significantly dropped over the years; we have lost almost 90 per cent of our native prairie, with only about 8 to 13 per cent  remaining. There are 11 ecoregions in Saskatchewan alone that are endangered. They are a habitat for much  Canadian wildlife and if we continue to lose the grasslands then we will start to lose the animals that need that type of ecoregion to survive.

Grasslands store and sequester carbon, the main substance responsible for global warming. When the soil is worked by cultivating the land, most of that carbon is released into the atmosphere.

It’s estimated  less than 1 per cent of the native prairie in Saskatchewan and Alberta are protected, and that is why grasslands are considered one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet.

Neufeld worries that despite the efforts of the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, people seem to be completely unaware of the importance of restoring the land or they just don’t care.


“We thought, ‘Let’s give it a try!'” – Kristen Martin


But there is one farm couple that has taken Neufeld’s message to heart. Kristen Martin and her husband Jared Clarke decided to act in this fight against climate change and bought 161 acres of land about 45 minutes northwest of Regina to restore it to grassland.

“We thought, ‘Let’s give it a try!’ Being young, just starting our careers and not having a lot of disposable income was a struggle for us so we couldn’t afford native grass seed, so we ended up going with a native and tame mix,” says Martin.

Since planting they have noticed a change in the wildlife, bird population increasing as well as many other species that are dependant on the grasslands for habitat. Bobolinks have started nesting on Kristen and Jared’s land since seeding it back to grasslands. They see adults carrying food to their nestlings concealed in the grass most years.

They are happy to see the birds raising new chicks on the land. “Bobolinks are a threatened species in Canada,” says Clarke.

They wanted to see bison running around but with only a quarter section they have they decided on farming goats instead.

Martin explains that the goats recycle plant matter and distribute it back into the soil, their manure acts as an organic matter which helps the soil absorb water, add much needed nutrients to the soil and builds back the species that depend on grasslands for habitat.

When people think about natural solutions to climate change, they most often think about planting trees. However, forests store carbon in their above-ground growth – rather than at the roots — and are usually on a fire cycle that unlocks the carbon when the trees burn. For this reason, grasslands do a more effective job.

Wetlands are also a vital and threatened part of the grasslands ecosystem.  “The government needs to put their foot and enforce the wetland policy,” says Neufeld. He advocates for an end to allowing people to rip up the land for whatever reason so that the land can keep the carbon that is stored in that land.  He argues there should be a policy made just like the wetland drainage policy to protect native prairie and give mother nature the chance it needs to naturally do her part. 


Author’s thoughts

Being a mother of three I often think about the world we are leaving behind for our children, the footprint we will leave behind for them to clean up after. If we lost our grasslands we would lose the animals that provide meat, plants, honeybees, birds and much more. The native prairies can naturally reduce the carbon in the atmosphere and if we don’t stop and look at that footprint we are leaving behind, the next generation will suffer.

In my research for this story, I learned that when the land is farmed or built on, we make more work for us to restore it. Instead of ranchers farming the small patches of land that barely make them money and fluctuate in price, the difference they alone could make by restoring that land to grasslands would be significant in storing carbon.

I think its our job as a society to do our part even if it means planting just one wildflower. Many of the seeds you can purchase in store doesn’t have the capabilities of releasing pollen, so the importance of native seeds is extremely high. Pollen is needed to keep a honeybee colony alive; they can’t live on honey alone they need the protein from the pollen to stay healthy and continue to grow. Bees not only produce honey which can be used in human consumption, but they also help with food crops and wild plants according to the world atlas.

 Everywhere there are buildings, houses, roads, and railway used to be native prairie. The loss has been so significant that we now have a hard time fighting climate change and fighting climate change has become a global issue. If we continue to lose the grasslands then our wildlife population will decrease, birds, bees, foxes, deer, and many other wildlife depend on that ecosystem to be their habitat and loosing our wildlife would make a big impact on the ecosystems.

Is that the life you want to leave for our children, the people of tomorrow?

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