PFRA Community Pasture
The decommissioning of PFRA Community Pastures in Saskatchewan will endanger natural grasslands as oil and gas interests move in.
Until two years ago, Laura Stewart spent her days surveying plants as an environmental consultant to oil and gas companies. She worked across the province on native prairies where oil and gas companies were preparing to drill. In a recent interview, she spoke of a particular project she worked on in Tecumseh pasture in southeast Saskatchewan, right in the heart of oil country. She was contracted to do initial surveys on half of the pasture that was, as yet, untouched by oil development. She surveyed straight lines across the western half of the pasture. A few years later she returned to find that the survey lines had been developed into roads, pipelines and oil wells, fragmenting the pasture into four pieces. “I found it devastating to see that basically the work I had done had allowed that to proceed,” she said. She has since given up consulting for oil and gas companies.
Much of the work that Laura did took place on the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration’s (PFRA) community pastures, a program established by the federal government in the “Dirty Thirties.” During the 1930s, a long drought and Great Depression induced farmers to cultivate lands previously reserved for grazing with devastating effects.The fragile native prairie was broken by plows, and much of the soil, parched by drought, blew away in the winds. Thousands of people fled the Prairies, unable to eke out their subsistence. The federal government responded in 1935, by establishing the PFRA to address soil erosion and lack of water resources. The PFRA re-seeded abandoned lands and added other Crown lands to create community pastures.
Today, the PFRA pastures contain some of the largest remnants of native prairie in Canada and stretch over 1.5 million acres of land. Through the Community Pasture Program, native prairie has been sustainably managed, and over 358,000 acres of poor-quality cultivated lands have been returned to grass. Integral to the sustainable management of these lands is the grazing of cattle. Ranchers pay professional PFRA staff a fee for their cattle to graze in the fields. In the spring of 2012, ranchers and PFRA staff were surprised by the federal government’s announcement that it would divest the pastures to the provincial governments. That process is now underway in Saskatchewan.
The full length article on Dr. Emily Eaton's research on the PFRA community pastures can be found in the Spring 2014 issue of Prairies North Magazine.
Canadian Cowboy Country Magazine has a great map showing the locations of the PFRA pasture lands in western Canada.
Information from Agriculture Canada on the planned decommissioning of the PFRA is found here.
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