The Greater Sage Grouse

I recently attended a meeting in Medicine Hat, Alta. The meeting was sponsored by The Western Stock Growers Assoc. & Sustainable Canada (a group of concerned ranchers). The meeting dealt with the fact that the Greater Sage Grouse has been declared an endangered species. This was followed by an Emergency Order for the Protection of Greater Sage Grouse in Canada. Full information can be found at

My understanding of the proposals is that there may be a large reduction in the stocking rate on these lands. This reduction could be 50% or more. There may be noise restrictions, fencing regulations & reduced or denied access. All these regulations are being set by the government. There is little or no involvement of local stakeholders.

These regulations may be well intended, however if they are meant to protect the sage grouse they will have no positive impact. In fact the regulations will have a negative impact on the sage grouse, the land & local stakeholders. Let me explain how I arrived at this conclusion. Allan Savory (the man who developed Holistic Management) had 4 key insights. These insights provided new knowledge about how our eco systems function. This new knowledge has made Allan’s work so successful & effective. While this knowledge has been available in Western Canada for the last 25 or 30 years it is still not as widely accepted as it might be. I do not mean to imply that the people who developed these regulations were wrong. What I do imply is that they are working with incomplete knowledge. This has occurred because they were not aware of the new knowledge or have chosen to overlook the new knowledge.

Allan’s Four Key Insights

1. Nature functions in wholes: This implies that in nature everything is inter-related. Each species has a function, a purpose & a value. Each species contributes to the health & well-being of other species. Managing for a single species will not be effective. We must manage for the health of the eco-system. The result will be balance between all species.

2. Overgrazing is a function of time: For many years it was accepted that overgrazing was the result of too many animals. Allan has proven that overgrazing is a function of time. When grazing, the animals can’t stay too long or return too quickly. To have a healthy eco-system it is essential to stop the overgrazing. If cattle numbers are reduced & continuous grazing occurs the land will deteriorate. A deteriorating ecosystem will be harmful to the sage grouse.

3. The prey predator connection: Most of the grasslands in the world were developed by the presence of large herds of grazing animals that were kept bunched & moving due to predators. This is nature’s way. Planned grazing focuses on mimicking natures plan. The result is a healthy ecosystem.

4. The brittleness scale: This is a 1 to 10 scale. Number 1 (non-brittle) represents a rain forest. Number 10 (brittle) a desert. All environments fall somewhere on this scale. In a rain forest resting the land (removing the animals) will improve the land. Resting the land in a brittle environment is detrimental to the land. The land involved in this discussion is in a brittle environment. Large grazing animals are essential to maintain the health of the land.

Using Allan’s insights we can see that the likely result of the emergency order will be:

1. A continued deterioration of the land.
2. A further reduction in the number of greater sage grouse.
3. The ranches will be unprofitable.
4. A loss of a way of life.
5. Economic loss for other stakeholders.
6. A devaluation of the deeded land in the area.

A Suggested Better Solution

1. Bring all the stakeholders together.
2. Develop a common vision for the land.
3. Apply all the knowledge available.
4. Develop a sustainable plan.

The likely result of the better solution will be:
1. An improvement in the health of the land.
2. An increase in sage grouse & other species.
3. Profitable, sustainable ranches.
4. A way of life maintained.
5. Economic benefits for other stakeholders.
6. An increase in the value of the deeded land.
This is a serious issue. It represents a great opportunity for all stakeholders to come together & develop a win / win plan for the future. Holistic Management can help this happen. Let’s hope that cooler heads prevail & wise decisions are made.

Re printed with permission form Cattlemen.

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