The third week in June is jointly proclaimed as Native Prairie Appreciation Week (NPAW) by the provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Environment. Saskatchewan was once a sea of uncultivated wild grasslands, with needle grasses, wheatgrasses and hundreds of other plant species covering the landscape as far as the eye could see. For a variety of reasons far too numerous to mention here, there isn’t a lot of native prairie left in Saskatchewan. In fact, less than 20% of Saskatchewan’s native prairie remains, and that figure decreases slightly each year. NPAW is a nice way to bring attention to an important and dwindling provincial natural resource.
Over the past seventeen years, the Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan (SK PCAP) has organized NPAW activities to engage with people about the prairie. You can learn more about their initiatives at www.pcap-sk.org . This year, SK PCAP is asking people to think about what they value about native prairie.
Naturalists might value native prairie because it provides a place of abundant wildlife and biodiversity in which they can study and gain understanding. Recreationists might appreciate prairie for its beauty and uniqueness, and the ever-changing wide open views.
Researchers and scientists may value grassland ecosystems because they can provide answers to questions they may be asking about interrelationships of organisms, populations of particular species, or how systems adapt and perform under various pressures.
Teachers and educators perhaps value prairie rangeland because it provides local real-life examples of how natural ecosystems function in a variety of settings. I hear teachers often commenting that they enjoy being able to open their students’ eyes to fact that Saskatchewan prairie is diverse, beautiful and alive.
Ranchers and farmers may value native prairie because it provides a sustainable source of grazing for livestock. This grazing resource is nutritious, renewable and requires few external inputs other than some barbed wire, posts, and a water hole. (Okay, I simplified it a bit here, managing range is not quite that easy, but that’s another story for another time!).
Plains First Nations people may value native prairie because it represents a critical link to their past. Their entire culture is rooted in prairie plants, geology, animals and topography. Archaeologists perhaps value prairie grasslands because they may be a sort of “final frontier” for northern plains artifacts. Out on the prairie, it may be easier to discover effigies and learn about the past compared with more disturbed sites like cities or crop fields.
Hunters and outdoorspeople may value native prairie because it provides essential upland and wetland habitat for birds, fish, and other wild game. Without habitats and corridors for wildlife to live, their populations would not thrive.
Prairie and its connected habitats, such as wetlands and rivers, are an integral part of the Saskatchewan landscape. They symbolize our resilience and our strength and are an important link to our history.
What do I value about native prairie? All of the above, and then some. Prairie grassland is important to our ranch for grazing, certainly. But native prairie also represents a way for my family to learn about the natural world, connect with our past, and understand the importance of conserving these precious ecosystems for the future.
How do you value native prairie?