Biodiversity Can Protect Species At Risk
Canadian Environment Week - May 30 to June 5, 2010
Agriculture and biodiversity can co-exist in harmony. Just ask Heather Wiebe, who is constantly amazed by the connections she sees between natural ecosystems and agricultural management in her work as a biodiversity extension specialist in the Range and Biodiversity Unit in Regina.
Or ask Biodiversity Analyst Erl Svendsen of Saskatoon, who is well aware of the challenge of conducting research and protecting species at risk (SAR) that exist on Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research sites.
It's a question the Community Pasture Program (CPP), created in the 1930s to reclaim badly degraded Prairie lands, aims to answer. This AAFC-led program manages 929,000 hectares of land, comprising 85 vast community pastures in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta. It is one of several AAFC programs dedicated to ensuring biodiversity is protected and enhanced through effective management practices.
CPP encompasses - and here's where the harmonious co-existence part comes in - the grazing of 210,000 cows, calves, bulls and horses on lands containing fragile grassland ecosystems and many SAR. The grazing of cattle is symbiotically tied to the survival of many SAR. For example, the Burrowing Owl chooses habitat that is grazed low enough to spot predators and depends on the dung of large herbivores such as cattle to line its nest.
Tools developed by AAFC for the CPP include a calendar that lists the periods of the year when SAR are most sensitive to disturbance, factsheets on various species, interactive maps, and recommendations for setbacks for infrastructure. The unit (part of Agri-Environment Services Branch) also works with provincial conservation data centres and other specialists to ensure they are using the best information available.
SAR can also influence the research that the department conducts in a very real and direct way. To date, 33 SAR have been documented on seven AAFC research properties in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. These discoveries have generated a need for greater awareness among staff working on these sites, and have implications for research, habitat management and maintenance on a larger level, says Svendsen.
These AAFC research sites are part of a larger landscape and it is the wild and uncultivated areas of the sites that contain sometime quite rare SAR. For example, a research site in Alberta is the only place in Canada containing self-sustaining populations of four SAR which are interdependent with one another for either parasitical or reproductive purposes.
A four-step evaluation process has been implemented on AAFC research farms to provide land-use decision makers with the information they need to protect SAR. These steps include screening for wildlife habitat, developing habitat maps with multiple Geographic Information System (GIS) layers, ground surveying, and management planning.
Yet another part of extension work is tied more closely to research that will help the producer improve his profitability while preserving biodiversity.
For example, Ecologist Mark Wonneck of Calgary is looking at ways that biodiversity can provide benefits to production systems. He is conducting research into the value of wild pollinators in canola production systems in central Alberta that builds on prior studies that suggest that providing habitat for bees (i.e. flowering plants and nesting sites and materials) can boost pollination services to both crops and yields. Mark is also involved in research investigating the role of wild pollinators in native grassland systems in the foothills of the Rockies. In the future, he hopes to investigate the role of biodiversity in pest and disease control, as well as soil fertility, to see if there are ways that producers can take even better advantage of the effect pollinators can have on the ecosystem.
So far, he has shared his findings with producers in Alberta, British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces.
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