Stewards of Saskatchewan
The prairie region, as well as its biological diversity, is one of the most endangered landscapes. Active stewardship by landowners is essential to the conservation of the remaining prairie landscape since most of southern Saskatchewan’s grasslands (native and tame) are privately owned.
Nature Saskatchewan offers a suite of five voluntary stewardship programs that engage rural landowners and land managers in conserving habitat in southern Saskatchewan to benefit: species at risk from disappearing prairie landscapes, ecosystem health, and people.
The programs use flagship (rare) species to promote awareness of our disappearing prairie and parkland landscapes and their biological diversity. These include:
- the endangered Burrowing Owl (Operation Burrowing Owl), Owls of the Prairies Brochure
- threatened Prairie Loggerhead Shrike (Shrubs for Shrikes),
- endangered Piping Plover (Plovers on Shore),
- threatened Sprague’s Pipit, Ferruginous Hawk, and many other rare birds, reptiles and amphibians in Saskatchewan (Stewards of Saskatchewan banner or umbrella program),
- and 16 endangered or threatened plant species (Rare Plant Rescue).
In total, the programs currently have 728 participants conserving 1,750 sites with 298,945 acres (120,979 hectares) of grassland habitat and 74 miles (118 km) of shoreline habitat for wildlife and plants across southern Saskatchewan.
The goals of the programs are to conserve habitat, raise awareness and provide support to agricultural producers, enhance prairie habitat for species at risk, and search for and monitor target species at risk populations. While the focus is on species targeted by each program, these programs ultimately benefit many other prairie species and their habitats.
How Do I Benefit From Being a Steward?
Benefits to participating landowners include:
- Gaining recognition through a free personalized gate sign (if requested), or a certificate;
- Receiving a tool-kit of educational information and conservation options;
- Receiving the annual SOS newsletter and species-at-risk calendar;
- Receiving graduated rewards for continued participation;
- Receiving a personal invitation to our Conservation Awareness Day events (local, free-of-charge meal provided; opportunity to share knowledge and experiences related to biodiversity, species at risk, range management practices, and management practices beneficial to species at risk);
- Accessing funding opportunities to enhance species at risk habitat, for example, to convert cropland to pasture using native grasses, develop an alternate water source, or put up fencing;
- Signing a non-binding "handshake" agreement;
- Belonging to a community of like-minded producers with opportunities for networking, support, and information exchange; and
- Helping to maintain a healthy ecosystem with a diversity of species for future generations.
What Do I Do if I Spot a Species at Risk?
Call the Hoot Line: 1-800-667-HOOT (4668) or contact the:
- Species at Risk Manager, Melissa Ranalli by phone (306-780-9270) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Operation Burrowing Owl Habitat Stewardship Coordinator, Kaytlyn Burrows, by phone (306-780-9833) or email OBO if you spot a Burrowing Owl or Sprague’s Pipit;
- Shrubs for Shrikes Habitat Stewardship Coordinator, Rebecca Magnus, by phone (306-780-9832) or email SFS if you spot a Loggerhead Shrike;
- Plovers on Shore Habitat Stewardship Coordinator, Rebecca Magnus, by phone (306-780-9832) or email POS if you spot a Piping Plover; and
- Rare Plant Rescue Habitat Stewardship Coordinator by phone (306-780-9417) or email RPR if you spot a rare plant.
- Species at Risk Banner program for all other species at risk by phone at (306-780-9832) or email Banner Program
Reported sightings are used to help determine the abundance and distribution of species at risk throughout Saskatchewan. Be sure to also report leg band sightings, as this provides information about species movements.
If species at risk are on your land, you can become a steward!
Working With Others to Help You
Education and Awareness
SOS works with the Prairie Conservation Action Plan and the Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretative Centre to provide information and educational opportunities to the public about the importance of prairie conservation. We participate in PCAP's Pitch for Pipits and Plovers program, and other educational events that visit rural and urban children, teaching them about species at risk, riparian health and grassland conservation through fun games and presentations.
Conservation Awareness Days
Conservation Awareness Day events are held in appreciation of rural landowners who voluntarily conserve habitat for species at risk on their land. Every year, SOS visits different areas of the province to reach these stewards, and to invite and encourage other interested individuals in the community to attend. Conservation Awareness Day events are hosted by communities together with Nature Saskatchewan’s SOS staff. These events are often co-hosted with partner agencies including the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Old Wives Watershed and the Moose Jaw River Watershed Stewards to reach more landowners and to make the most of attendees’ time.
These events provide landowners the opportunity to learn about and discuss issues related to their land and operations, species at risk, and conservation. Events include presentations on Nature Saskatchewan and our SOS programs, beneficial management practices for species at risk, common conservation myths, and funding opportunities for habitat enhancement projects. There is often a field excursion to a local site as well. A highlight of the event is a visit with a live Burrowing Owl from the Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre where attendees meet a live owl and learn more about this endangered species.
Habitat Enhancement - Expand Your Pasture
Nature Saskatchewan offers a pasture enhancement program to improve habitat for Burrowing Owls, Piping Plovers, and Sprague's Pipits. Habitat enhancement can take place through reseeding cultivated land to pasture, fencing seeded pasture, and alternate water developments. The landowner provides 50% of the project cost, and Nature Saskatchewan shares 50% of the cost. Only native plants can be used in sowing mixes for seeding projects.
To be eligible for funds to improve habitat for Burrowing Owls, an area must be:
- Adjacent to existing pasture and preferably within 1 km of Burrowing Owl nests active in the past 3 years, confirmed by Nature Saskatchewan staff, a Conservation Officer/agency, or a research biologist.
To be eligible for funds to improve habitat for Piping Plovers or Sprague's Pipits through fencing and/or alternate water developments, an area must have:
- A verified breeding pair in the current year, or be designated as Piping Plover critical habitat;
- Native prairie and be adjacent to existing pasture.
Projects will not be approved if the land was broken from native prairie within the past three years. The maximum level of assistance per applicant is $159/acre for seed, custom seeding, herbicide, and herbicide application. The maximum level of assistance for enhancement work is $18,000 per applicant, which could include fencing and water developments. Assistance is subject to available funds and landowner participation/contribution.
For more information on the Habitat Enhancement program you can contact the OBO coordinator at 1-800-667-4668, (306) 780-9833, or by email at email@example.com. The SOS Habitat Enhancement Application form is available here: Habitat Enhancement Application Form
Other Ways You Can Get Involved in the SOS Programs?
Volunteers are crucial to the success of the Stewards of Saskatchewan programs. SOS volunteers may help with field surveys, contact landowners, report sightings, share photographs, complete literature searches, and perform office duties. All of these tasks help us achieve the SOS program goals.
For more information on species at risk biology, the value of biodiversity to agricultural operations, beneficial management practices for species at risk, conservation easements, SOS program activity reports, fact sheets and posters, and many other informative materials and links, please visit Nature Saskatchewan’s Resource Page.
Rare Plants and Ranchers
Native grassland plants and ranching go hand in hand. The prairie ecosystem, including its native plant species, evolved under grazing pressure by bison and native ungulates. With the disappearance of bison from the landscape, domestic livestock are now the dominant grazers in our prairie ecosystem, and grazing continues to be essential to maintain healthy native grasslands. And, as any rancher will tell you, healthy grasslands are required for a healthy livestock operation.
The Rare Plants and Ranchers program, a joint initiative between the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan (NPSS) and Nature Saskatchewan, offers a practical stewardship solution for ranchers with rare native plants on their lands. This program complements Nature Saskatchewan’s Rare Plant Rescue (RPR) program, by working with RPR participants to develop site-specific beneficial management plans for plant species at risk using an ecosystem-based, multi-species approach.
How does the program work?
Step 1: A Professional Agrologist with the NPSS will visit the participating landowner or land manager, to conduct an interview with them to obtain some context about the plant species at risk situation on the land, as well as details about the ranching operation history and current management strategies.
Step 2: The Professional Agrologist will conduct range and riparian (i.e. wetland) health assessments on the quarter sections enrolled in the program, and collect data on the rare plant populations present and any invasive species or other threats that may be present.
Step 3: The data collected in Steps 1 and 2 will be used to prepare a site-specific management plan for the landowner. In addition to the data collected, the management plan also includes specific management recommendations to benefit the plant species at risk on the land. These recommendations use the best available knowledge, follow specific recommendations included in the plant species at risk Recovery Strategies, and are developed in consultation with the landowners and plant species at risk experts to ensure the recommendations are mutually beneficial and practical for both the ranching operation and the rare plant populations. An example of a recommendation might be controlling the spread of Leafy Spurge (Euphorbia esula). While this would greatly benefit the plant species at risk by reducing competition from a noxious weed, it also directly benefits the producer by improving range quality for cattle. No recommendations that would be detrimental to the ranching operation are ever suggested, and there is no obligation by the landowners to implement any or all of the recommendations.
Step 4: The NPSS provides the landowner/land manager with dollar-for-dollar cost sharing to assist them in implementing the recommendations outlined in the beneficial management plan.
Step 5: After the recommendations have been implemented, the NPSS and Nature Saskatchewan provide ongoing monitoring of the plant species at risk, in order to assess the effects of the recommendations on the plant populations and habitat, and landowners are given the opportunity to adjust management practices accordingly (adaptive management).
What are the benefits?
There are many benefits associated with the Rare Plants and Ranchers program, including:
- Species at risk and their habitat will benefit from the reduction or elimination of threats, increased beneficial influences, and more informed land stewards.
- Landowners benefit by receiving a comprehensive management plan for the species at risk on their land. This management plan is customized to suit their specific ranching operation needs, goals, and management strategies.
- Landowners also benefit by gaining access to match funding and ongoing logistical support to help improve their operations to benefit species at risk.
- Participating stewards receive a free membership to the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, which includes a quarterly newsletter.
- Data collected will update known plant species at risk occurrence data, could contribute new occurrences, and may address knowledge gaps such as identifying trends or factors that help explain the presence or absence of plant species at risk in particular areas.
- In the long run, this project may help secure additional species at risk habitat. Participants receive information on conservation easements along with their management plans, and will be given logistical support from either NPSS or Rare Plant Rescue to help them establish an easement if they choose to do so.
How can I participate?
If you are currently a participant in the Rare Plant Rescue program, all you have to do is call the Nature Saskatchewan office at (306) 780-9417 or Chet Neufeld at the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan Office at (306) 668-3940. The program is FREE and we do all the work! If you are not involved in the Rare Plant Rescue program, you can still participate in Rare Plants and Ranchers if you have one (or more!) of the following plant species at risk on your land:
- Buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides)
- Dwarf Woollyheads (Psilocarphus brevissimus var. brevissimus)
- Hairy Prairie-clover (Dalea villosa var. villosa)
- Slender Mouse-ear-cress (Halimolobos virgata)
- Small-flowered Sand-verbena (Tripterocalyx micranthus)
- Smooth Goosefoot (Chenopodium subglabrum)
- Tiny Cryptanthe (Cryptantha minima)
- Western Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis)
Photos and information about each of these plant species can be found in the Pocket Guide to the Rare Plants of Southern Saskatchewan on our Resources for Stewards page. If you are unsure if you have any of the above species or not, please contact us and we can help you out!
If you would like to participate, or if you have questions about the program or plant species at risk, please call Kristen Martin at the Nature Saskatchewan office at (306) 780-9417 or Chet Neufeld at the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan Office at (306) 668-3940.