I love native prairie. I enjoy the beauty of uncultivated, wild prairie wool and also feel that is has a sense of timelessness. Prairie landscapes are dynamic and always changing in subtle ways, yet remain unchanged in many other ways.
There is an estimated 15-20% of Saskatchewan’s native prairie remaining, a good portion of which is located in southwest Saskatchewan. Land that was deemed too rocky, too desolate, or not ‘productive enough’ was left unploughed, and even referred to as ‘wasteland,’ a rather desperate-sounding and unaffectionate term. The funny thing about this prairie wasteland, though, is that it is able to sequester carbon and other nutrients; it provides critical habitat for pollinators, wildlife, and species at risk; it can filter, buffer and improve water infiltration; it is a highly valuable source of biodiversity; it provides livestock with a varied and nutritious diet for livestock; it serves as a link to our natural history; plus a few dozen other ecological odds and ends. Not bad for a wasteland.
Some folks, like ranchers, respect and appreciate native prairie 365 days a year, because it is a fundamentally important resource for their business and family. These brittle working landscapes are beautiful, yes, but ranchers require a large amount of perseverance (and capital) in order for them to rear livestock and make a living off of native prairie.
Other prairie enthusiasts, such as biologists and technical specialists, show their appreciation for prairie in odd ways, like speaking Latin when referring to prairie plants and animals, or conversing in 3- and 4-letter acronyms, including EGS, RHA, and NPAW. Armed with quadrat frames, bug spray and sunscreen, they quantify plants and other species, looking for good, better or best indicators of trends and ecosystem dynamics.
One thing all on-the-ground prairie stakeholders have in common, regardless of whether they wear cowboy boots or hiking boots, is their ability to keep anyone apprised of the local tick situation, on a tick-by-tick basis, better than anyone else. Trust me.
Many, if not most people in Saskatchewan, have never set foot in a native prairie ecosystem and may not understand its importance. Demographics have shifted, and Saskatchewan’s once rural-based population is now skewed towards urban areas. Far removed from prairie, and agriculture in general, many perhaps don’t understand the intrinsic values that prairie provides for all of society, or the beneficial role that ranchers or other landowners and managers play in these sustainable agricultural ecosystems.
Every year, Saskatchewan proclaims the third week in June (this year June 15-21, 2014) as Native Prairie Appreciation Week to help generate awareness about this valuable natural resource. Fondly referred to as NPAW (here we go with the acronyms), it’s a time for ranchers, students, prairie stakeholders, and ANYONE to come together to learn and share ideas and experiences about prairie and its management. Ironically, I was so busy with the business side of organizing and promoting prairie appreciation events this year that I hadn’t made enough time to….appreciate my own native prairie. Fortunately, this was quickly remedied with a drive thorough the cows on one of the nicest evenings we’ve had this spring.
We can all enjoy prairie for one reason or another. Perhaps it reminds us of simpler times, or the home of our youth, or perhaps it’s a favorite hunting or hiking trip that we’ve enjoyed. Maybe it inspires
creativity within us, or resiliency. It’s worth taking time to appreciate native prairie and the species (including ranchers!) that make their homes there. Mother Nature isn’t exactly making any more of it.