• Saskatchewan's burrowing owls are endangered, and could be among the species to benefit from the new government funding. (Photo: Dwane Morvik/CanGeo Photo Club)

Saskatchewan’s agriculture and cattle industry is about to boost its conservation efforts, thanks to an influx of funding from the federal government.

Environment and Climate Change Canada has given $2.58 million to the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association to lead a conservation project designed to help species at risk while also benefitting the people who use the land for ranching and agriculture.

The project is voluntary and includes a host of initiatives designed to fit landowners’ unique circumstances through a variety of strategies new to Saskatchewan. Possible pilot projects include grass banking, habitat restoration and ecologically-friendly product branding.

“Most of Saskatchewan’s remaining native grass prairie is on privately-managed ranchland,” says SSGA president Doug Gillespie. “Stewardship is a core value of the SSGA and our members are in the best position to protect habitat for species at risk.”

The work will take place over the next five years in areas covered by the South of the Divide Conservation Action Program (SODCAP Inc.), which will also handle the on-the-ground delivery of the pilots.

“Ranchers, livestock and species at risk can co-exist, and they have been for generations,” says Tom Harrison, Executive Director of SODCAP Inc.

There are 13 endangered species in the southwest region of the province, including sage grouse, burrowing owls, piping plovers and swift foxes. The funding will help ranchers and other agricultural producers to continue fostering biodiversity, says Chad MacPherson, general manager of the SSGA.

“We want to demonstrate that the species are there because of good management and not in spite of it.”