Vast tracts of Saskatchewan land used primarily for cattle grazing have been added to a national heritage group's list of endangered places.

The National Trust for Canada, an organization that highlights the value of historic places and hopes to save them, added community pastures in Saskatchewan to its list, according to an announcement Thursday.

'If we want any natural land, we need public programs to support it.' - Trevor Herriot

A provincial group that has been raising concerns about the future of pasture land welcomed the move.

"These are worth conserving and we need to take steps ... to provide conservation," Trevor Herriot, from the advocacy group Public Pastures - Public Interest, said.

Herriot explained how a 2012 move by the federal government to end its stewardship of pasture land, through the PFRA, put thousands of acres of Crown land into the hands of the provincial government which has invited users of the land (primarily cattle ranchers) to purchase the land.

According to Herriot, the ecological value of the largely undisturbed land has been overlooked or ignored.

"If we want any natural land, we need public programs to support it," Herriot said, expressing concern about a purely market-driven approach to the sale of the land.

In its announcement, the National Trust for Canada noted that 62 PFRA pastures in Saskatchewan comprise some of the largest intact blocks of original grasslands in the northern Great Plains.

Ecological value noted

In addition to their historic value, the group said the lands are important to the environment.

"They provide critical habitat for over 30 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants at risk on the Saskatchewan prairies," the announcement said. "In addition to cattle ranchers, the pastures are used and enjoyed by hunters, photographers, First Nations, researchers and the general public on educational tours."

The national group has also noted that wooden grain elevators are vanishing from the prairie landscape and remaining examples need heritage protection.

"They're an awareness group," Herriot said, of the National Trust for Canada, noting that the addition of pasture land to the group's endangered places list provides an opportunity to share information about "Saskatchewan's grasslands and the importance of these heritage grasslands to this province and its people".