Why is phasing out Sask. Pastures Program a 'sucker-punch' to our natural prairie?

Writer, naturalist and activist Trevor Herriot condemned move by province in last week's budget.

Writer, naturalist and activist Trevor Herriot condemned move by province in last week's budget

The provincial government will be ending its Saskatchewan Pastures Program with 2017-2018 being the last year the program operates in full. (Branimir Gjetvaj Photography)

Last week's provincial budget included the phasing out of the long-standing Saskatchewan Pastures Program.

The program includes 51 pastures across the province, covering 780,000 acres of land. It also provides ranchers with access to Crown land and has been in place since the 1930s.

While it isn't clear how the pastures will be managed in the future, it appears most of the land will be put up for sale.

Writer, naturalist and activist Trevor Herriot condemned the move earlier this week on his blog, Grass Notes. He spoke with CBC Radio's Morning Edition to talk about why.

You're calling the government's decision a "sucker punch" to our natural prairie. Why?

When you privatize public conservation land, you're severely weakening your ability to create and enforce laws, policies, regulations, if you want to meet prairie for sustainable grassland management. There's a lot of public interest in these lands.

Why should people be concerned about the future of this land?

Prairie ecozone in Saskatchewan is our least-protected ecozone in Canada. And in general, temperate grasslands across the planet are the most endangered and the least protected. And we're removing protection.

But when you privatize land and its management, even if you think the current land manager you're selling it to is a great manager, you're ultimately privitizing management of it and you're putting it at risk.

You really don't know what the future managers down the road, the future generations, are going to be like.

The government says that any areas classified as having high ecological value will be kept as Crown land, and that land classified as moderately high value may be sold, but with a Crown conservation easement in place. Does it help ease your concerns?

I don't have any faith in their system. They have this conservation land tool … that they've been applying.

If you look at a pasture like the Matador Pasture, 95 years old … it's an incredible landscape. No way you could say it has moderate or medium econological value. It has the highest ecological value.

It's a beautiful place. I've hiked through it and other places like it. Everybody should have the right to do that. But if that's privatized, even if it's just leased out and private management or if it's sold, that access for people to see what prairie's like will be gone.

With files from CBC Radio's Morning Edition.