Grazing deal makes grass greener for Sask. ranchers and threatened birds

Some Saskatchewan cattle ranchers are joining Parks Canada in a deal aimed at helping threatened species such as the greater sage grouse.

Without increased protection the greater sage grouse could be wiped out in some areas

Greater Sage-Grouse like this one, photographed by May Haga, are among the grassland and aridland birds on the watch list. A third of all grassland species, espeically those that breed in Canada and the U.S., are in decline.

Some Saskatchewan cattle ranchers are joining Parks Canada in a deal aimed at helping threatened species such as the greater sage grouse.

Parks Canada says under the deal ranchers can graze their cattle in parts of Grasslands National Park with an eye on conservation.

In exchange, members of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association agree to use the same patchy style of grazing on their own land.

Association president Shane Jahnke says the agreement shows that cattle grazing can benefit the environment.

Parks Canada says the greater sage grouse population has been reduced to remnant populations in Alberta and Saskatchewan over the last several decades.

Without increased protection the birds could be wiped out in some areas.

"This is not your average grazing," Jahnke said in a release.

"It provides an opportunity for collaboration between ranchers, Parks (Canada), and scientists to help species recover and to actually measure conservation benefits."

Parks Canada says the grazing agreement will also benefit other threatened birds such as Sprague's pipit and the chestnut-collared longspur.

"By combining our conservation efforts in Grasslands National Park with those of local ranchers, we can influence and expand suitable habitat on a scale that would not be possible by any one party working in isolation," said Adriana Bacheschi, acting field unit superintendent.

The project covers about 160 square kilometres of grassland in southwest Saskatchewan.