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Grasslands are some of the most unique ecosystems in the world, but are also considered the most threatened, with the highest concentration of species at risk. CPAWS chapters in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan are working to protect these unique landscapes and their rich biodiversity.

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The grasslands are part of a huge continental ecosystem called the Great Plains, a mosaic of different grassland communities extending from south-western Canada to Texas. Grasslands are rich in varying landscapes ranging from the flat or gently rolling grasslands, to lush coulees (wooded valleys), wide river valleys, aspen bluffs, delicate and shifting sand hills, beautiful badlands and seasonal wetlands (sloughs) cradled in low spots everywhere and filled by spring runoffs. It is a land pulsating with life, including 36 species at risk.

In B.C., the South Okanagan-Similkameen region contains Canada’s only “pocket desert,” which is home to two of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada – the dry bunchgrass grasslands and open ponderosa pine forests. In this proposed national park, there are 56 federally-listed species at risk.

The threat

Over the past 150 years of homesteading and settling, grasslands have become Canada’s most impacted landscape. Grassland ecosystems have suffered major degradations that have led to the extirpation of the plains grizzly along with the near extirpation of over 60 million bison and the wolf. Other unique species such as the pronghorn antelope, swift fox, black footed ferret, black tailed prairie dog, ferruginous hawk, and sage grouse have seen their habitats shrink and become fragmented, and their populations threatened.

The days of homesteading are long over, yet grasslands face more threats than ever before. There is ongoing pressure on the agricultural community to plough native grassland for crops. And oil and gas development as well as other industrial activities continue to expand into untouched native grasslands.

What CPAWS is doing

CPAWS is working to help establish better protection for the grasslands both in terms of allowed uses and good management plans. We are undertaking direct action on high priority sites of known interest and importance that are currently under threat.

In British Columbia, CPAWS is focused on protecting Canada’s only “pocket desert” in the South Okanagan Similkameen, through the creation of a new national park. Read more...

In Alberta, CPAWS is engaged in the province’s South Saskatchewan Regional Plan and has identified three sites for protection, the Milk River Sage Creek Area, South Saskatchewan Canyon – Chappice Lake Area, and the Hays Resevoir-Bow River Area. Read more...

In Saskatchewan, CPAWS is participating in the South of the Divide Multi-Species at Risk Action Planning Process, aimed at developing a plan for 13 Species at Risk in Southwest Saskatchewan. Through our efforts with Protect the Prairie and Public Prairies Public Interest, CPAWS is also engaged in the efforts to maintain the strong grassland management practices that have been in place for decades as the Province moves to transition ownership and management of the former PFRA Community Pastures from the public sector to private ranchers. Read more...

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