The Current

How pooling government rebates let this group buy 600 hectares of grasslands

A group in Saskatchewan pooled together their government rebates to kickstart a fund to buy more than 600 hectares of grasslands — and preserve them for future generations.

Field of Dreams group decided to save grasslands for future generations

A patch of wide open grasslands, with a lake on the left
The grassland at Lonetree Lake, which will be conserved with the help of funds raised by people in Saskatchewan who pooled their government rebates together. (Submitted by Marc Spooner)

When Saskatchewan man Marc Spooner got a $285 government insurance rebate in the mail, he wondered if he could convince a few dozen people to pool their small windfalls and funnel the cash into a bigger group project.

He ended up raising more than $100,000 through more than 400 donations to his group Field of Dreams, which used the money to help purchase 600 hectares, or 6 square kilometres, of grasslands at Lonetree Lake, southwest of Regina.

"I think I just hit a nerve where people were like, 'Yes, let's do it. We can … collectively do something that would leave a lasting legacy,'" said Spooner, a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina.

Canada's grasslands are an important habitat for wildlife and perform an important role in sequestering carbon, but much of the ecosystem has been lost to agriculture and development over the last century.

Field of Dreams partnered with Nature Conservancy of Canada, which leveraged the group's private fundraising in order to access provincial and federal funds, boosting the total amount available to close to $1 million.

Spooner spoke to The Current's guest host Anthony Germain about the project, here is part of their conversation.

Field of Dreams — catchy name. How did this initiative start?

Well, the Saskatchewan Government Insurance out here — our car insurance Crown corporation — had decided to give us back [$285]. This was really unexpected, so my initial thoughts were, "Wow, you know, that money's going to help people make ends meet. But for some of us, wouldn't it be neat if we pooled that money together and did a collective project?"

And at that time … I didn't really think I'd get anybody. But I started a Facebook group — I simply called it Let's Do Something Together With Our SGI Rebates — and I thought I'd be lucky and get about 75 people. But in the end, I got close to 1,000 people [who joined the Facebook group].

Why do you think people were willing to donate their rebate cheques to you?

I think a lot of people were feeling isolated. This was a year ago during the, sort of, height of isolation and COVID. I think people were really longing to do something as a community, to feel, like, community spirit. I think I just hit a nerve where people were like, "Yes, let's do it. We can organize safely all over Facebook and then collectively do something that would leave a lasting legacy." 

I originally wanted to save the boreal forest. I thought that was an endangered ecosystem. But in speaking with the great people at Nature Conservancy of Canada, they explained to me that actually right there in your backyard in southern Saskatchewan, the grasslands are one of the most endangered ecosystems, even more so than the rainforest. 

People stand around a patch of grasslands, listening to someone speak.
Members of the Field of Dreams group visit the land they helped preserve in June. (Submitted by Marc Spooner)

So what did they bring to the table, the [Nature Conservancy of Canada]? 

Well, they made it happen … I approached several groups because now I had a large group of people willing to give their money away, and we had to find an organization that could really do that. Someone that could acquire the land, conserve the land and maintain it into the future. And Nature Conservancy of Canada were wonderful in every regard.

They're such a neat organization. They're able to get [the] local Indigenous community involved and they're guided by them. They have ranchers involved, and environmentalists. They can bring those three groups together.

Explain the significance of these grasslands and why it's important to protect them.

There's only about roughly 12 to 17 per cent left of untouched natural grasslands. And they're home to many different species, many endangered species … the land that we were able to conserve will now be a safe haven for those different plants and animals.

But for our project, we just wanted a legacy, something that we could bring our children to. 

I walked that very land with my kids and I was thinking that their kids, if they had them, could walk this land as well and know that, you know, in 2021, 2022, a group of people with a crazy dream decided to leave a lasting legacy. And we did it.

Take me to that moment when you were there and you realize, "Okay, we got this." What was that like?

That was an incredible feeling that I would hope that everyone can feel — that sense of community and accomplishment, that we're leaving this lasting, fragile ecosystem to all the, you know, future plants and animals and children and Saskatchewanians and all of Canada, really. We're leaving that legacy.

It was so neat to walk the land to be able to hear the songs of the birds, to see the cacti beneath our feet and the different other flora and fauna. It was a real neat sense of accomplishment and the kind of good feeling you get when you've done something collectively together that will last for generations.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Shyloe Fagan. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated Lonetree Lake was north of Regina. It is in fact southwest of Regina.
    Aug 03, 2022 5:02 PM ET

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