When most Canadians think of the prairies, they think of roads stretching for kilometre after kilometre with barely a curve, or symmetrical lines of corn, canola and wheat reaching for the horizon. But, hidden just beyond our country’s croplands, there lies an unknown wilderness where a rich web of life relies on the specific conditions available only in the heartland of the continent.
Today, however, the wild prairie is a shadow of its former self. And temperate grasslands, as a whole, are now considered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to be the most endangered — and least protected — habitat type in the world.
Prior to European settlement, North America’s Great Plains were home to enormous, thundering herds of bison. Wolves and grizzly bears thrived at the top of the diverse food chain in this vast, unobstructed landscape. It truly was, as the region is often called, the Serengeti of North America.
Though much has been lost, there is still enough wildness that exists in these flatlands to inspire some optimism. And there are people across the Canadian prairies working to help keep them wild.
Volunteers meet in Alberta to replace barbed wire with wildlife-friendly fencing, which allows for safe passage of the ancient pronghorn that never evolved to jump over them. Miles Anderson, a fourth-generation cattle rancher in Saskatchewan, carefully manages his cattle’s grazing to improve habitat for all creatures living on his land, including the critically endangered greater sage-grouse. And thanks to conservationists who reintroduced swift foxes to the grasslands, the once-extinct species now ekes out a living amid the scrubby sagebrush.
Ferrets, foxes and the fringed orchid: Species that suffer when grasslands are threatened
Canada's beautiful prairie grasslands are among the most endangered ecosystems in the world
How to be good neighbours with grizzly bears
While some animals are holding on to their place on the prairies because of the hard work of people, it seems others just need a bit of time and space. Grizzly bears are back in the grasslands for the first time in over a century. And as seen in Grasslands, life on the prairie is pretty good for bears!
From producer Jeff Turner (The Wild Canadian Year, Nature’s Great Events, Frozen Planet), this film is an evocative exploration of a surprising landscape. Featuring never-before-filmed animal behaviour, the documentary takes audiences beyond the corn, canola and wheat fields, and into a hidden wilderness.
Written and Directed by
Alex Burr and Jeff Turner
Dr Nicola Koper
Dr Nancy Mahony
Wildlife Research Division
Science and Technology Branch
Environment and Climate Change Canada
Dr Marion Harris
Post Production Supervisor
Stock footage provided by
National Film Board of Canada
Front Row Insurance Brokers
Royal Bank of Canada
Lindsay Rousseau, Royal Bank of Canada
Roberto Monteleone, Royal Bank of Canada
American Prairie Reserve
Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife
Alberta Conservation Association
Alberta Fish and Wildlife
Gilbertson Guest House
Don and Donna Hernberg
Frontier Fire Department
Nature Conservancy of Canada
John and Kathleen Ross
University of Saskatchewan
Filmed on location and with permission of
Grasslands National Park
American Prairie Reserve
Sheyenne National Grassland
For the CBC
General manager, Programming
Executive Director, Unscripted Content
Senior Director, Documentary
Senior Director of Production, Unscripted Content
Executive in Charge of Production
The Nature of Things
with David Suzuki
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Visit our website to watch the series online, discover extra behind-the-scenes stories and view Canada's nature scenes in 360. Visit Wild Canadian Year