The Natural Areas Conservation Program
South side of the Big Valley Property looking northeast. Photo: Jordan Ignatiuk, © Nature Conservancy of Canada, 2007. - Click to enlarge
In an area where it seems like there's nothing but sky for as far as the eye can see, below the horizon lies an abundance of life and beauty emblematic of Canada's rich natural history.
Nestled in the prairies of southern Saskatchewan, the Big Valley Property in theQu'Appelle Valley region envelops several grassland, woodland and wetland ecosystems that are teeming with some of the province's most diverse plant and animal communities. This area is also home to several nationally and provincially listed species at risk, including the Northern Leopard frog, Bigmouth Buffalo fish, Burrowing Owl and Sprague's Pipit.
The Big Valley Property, a tiny fraction of Canada's prairies and parklands, are part of North America's great plains, which represent collectively as much as 10 per cent of the Earth's grasslands. This ecological region covers about 5 per cent of Canada and, of its historic extent of native prairies and parklands, less than 34 per cent now remains intact.1. This is a landscape that is being totally re-shaped by modern human activities, including climate change and land development.
Recognized as an important habitat, the 136 hectares (336 acres) of Big Valley Property is one of the recently acquired areas for protection under the Natural Areas Conservation Program.
The Big Valley Property is home to several species at risk, including the Northern Leopard Frog seen here. Photo: © Doug Adama. - Click to enlarge
As part of its commitment to take action to conserve and protect our natural environment, the Government of Canada has invested $225 million in the Natural Areas Conservation Program. Introduced in March 2007, the Program supports the work of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and its partners, such as Ducks Unlimited Canada, in securing ecologically significant lands for the long-term conservation of Canada's biological diversity. As a matching-funds initiative, theNCCand its partners secure matching funds for each federal dollar received. The Program is expected to result in the protection of more than 200,000 hectares, or half a million acres, of ecologically sensitive land across southern Canada.
Determining and Acquiring Lands for Protection
Under the Program, priority is given to lands that are nationally or provincially significant, that protect habitat for species at risk and migratory birds, or that enhance connectivity or corridors between existing protected areas such as National Wildlife Areas, National Parks and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries.
Further determinations of which lands are protected are made through scientific ecological assessments that are led by theNCCand carried out by a network of local ecologists and scientific volunteer advisors.
North side of the Big Valley Property overlooking marsh. Photo: Jordan Ignatiuk, © Nature Conservancy of Canada, 2007. - Click to enlarge
Part of the NCC's science-based approach includes the creation of conservation blueprints for Canada's natural geographic regions (such as the Prairies and Parklands, Canadian Rocky Mountains, the Okanagan, and so on). The conservation blueprints serve as a vision for Canadian biodiversity, mapping out, figuratively and literally, the history and characteristics of a specific eco-region. They include assessments, for example, of land and soil type, types of vegetation structures, types of ecosystems being supported, and types of species present on the land.
Once lands have been deemed as priorities for conservation action, the NCC works with private landowners to conserve properties through:
- land purchase - NCC acquires the land from the owner (private or corporate)
- land donations - the landowner donates the land for conservation
- conservation easements - the landowner retains ownership of the land but agrees to legally restricting activities that would otherwise threaten the ecological value of the land
- relinquishment of rights - NCCnegotiates the relinquishment of land use rights (such as mineral rights, timber rights, etc) through donation or purchase in order to enable publicly-held land or water to be designated as a protected area
Concrete Action towards Conservation
Securing properties for conservation is only part of the battle to protect Canada's natural treasures. Concrete action towards conservation includes developing and implementing a conservation plan, monitoring the land through regular ecological assessments and engaging the community.
In the case of the Big Valley Property, next steps towards conservation will include:
- conducting an inventory of the plant and animal species on the property
- using natural processes that balance the prairie ecosystem, such as cattle grazing, as a management strategy to maximize the biodiversity and sustainability of the area
- ongoing monitoring through measures like routine bird inventories and range condition reports
Protecting Canada's Natural Legacy
From the coastal forests and mountains of B.C. to the prairie grasslands to the St. Lawrence lowlands to the East coast's expansive forests, Canada's natural heritage is certainly diverse. The diversity of our many eco-regions is such that they are home to a rich array of plant and animal species that are facing unparalleled threats to their existence. By protecting lands like the Big Valley Property, the Natural Areas Conservation Program is also safe-guarding Canada's natural legacy for future generations.
1A Conservation Blueprint for Canada's Prairies and Parklands (Nature Conservancy of Canada, 2007).
- Date Modified:
- The Government of Canada has invested $225 million in the Natural Areas Conservation Program.
- The National Areas Conservation Program is expected to result in the long-term protection of up to half a million acres, or more than 200,000 hectares, of ecologically sensitive land.
- The Qu'Appelle Valley area is home to several nationally and provincially listed species at risk, including the Northern Leopard frog, Bigmouth Buffalo fish, Burrowing Owl and Sprague's Pipit.
- Canada's prairies and parklands are part of North America's great plains, which represent collectively as much as 10 per cent of the Earth's grasslands. This biome covers about 5 per cent of Canada and, of its historic extent of native prairies and parklands, less than 34 per cent now remains intact.
- Since 1962, the NCC has helped to conserve more than 809,000 hectares (almost 2 million acres) of ecologically significant land.