Identifying Grassland Fragmentation to improve Habitat for Species at Risk

This project will identify cultivated land that could be seeded to native grass to improve habitat for species at risk. At the end of this project a Conservation Plan will be drafted with actions to increase native grassland acres to create more habitat for species at risk. Swift Current Creek Watershed Stewards (SCCWS) applied for funding to the Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) for Species at Risk (SAR) of Environment and Climate Change Canada. SSRWSI is partnering with SCCWS on this project.

Watershed residents may not be aware that the Swift Current Creek Watershed is home to many species at risk. For a number of reasons these species have seen numbers decrease to the point that their populations are at risk of disappearing. Improving the habitat for these species enhances the environment around the creek and its tributaries which improves the water quality and stream health of the Swift Current Creek.

This project will create maps of twenty-three Rural Municipalities in southwest Saskatchewan located north of the divide and south of the South Saskatchewan River and two north of the river and east of the #4 Highway. These maps will show the land-use in each municipality (for example cropland, tame forage, native grasslands, water). Overlaying the land use layer is the habitat for species at risk in that municipality. Some of the species whose habitat will be mapped include the Burrowing Owl, Loggerhead Shrike, Ferruginous Hawk, Sprague’s Pipit, Little Brown Myotis (Bat), Northern Leopard Frog and many others. Once the maps are complete, the information they contain will be verified and updated as needed. Once the map information has been verified, surveys to determine the extent of the SAR will be completed. These surveys include breeding bird surveys, migration surveys and population counts. Once the maps and surveys are complete a Conservation Plan will be completed. This plan will prioritize the targeted areas for native grassland re-establishment for optimum SAR habitat and the steps to achieve the re-establishment. This includes educating landowners about the environmental, agronomic, and economic benefits of seeding native forages.

Re-establishing native grassland prairie not only benefits habitat and biodiversity in the watershed, but there are also many benefits to water quality and watershed health. Re-establishing native grassland near riparian areas improves the function of these areas by increasing its ability to filter run-off, reducing the nutrients, sediments and other pollutants entering the creek. Wetlands play an important role in our area by retaining water, which minimizes flood damage, stores water for future use and recharges aquifers. Re-establishing native grasslands would return wetlands to the landscape that have disappeared over time. The grasslands also are a source of high-quality forage for domestic animals and wildlife that has been in short supply over the past number of years. Increasing biodiversity increases the opportunity to view nature and the plants, animals, and birds that thrive in the native grasslands, enhancing life in our watershed.

This project will improve biodiversity on the watershed, increase native grassland acres and improve water quality and watershed health. Watch for the Conservation Plan which will be available in early 2023. The SCCWS thanks Environment and Climate Change Canada for their funding of this project through the Habitat Stewardship Program, and the Nature Conservancy of Canada for their assistance with the creation of the Conservation Plan. If you have any questions about this project please contact  kevin.sccws@gmail.com, call at 306-770-4607 or visit their website www.sccws.com or Facebook page.