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Movie -‘Guardians Of The Grasslands’

Photo Dawn Riley

During an interview with a neighbour last week about the seeding and calving season (see page 12), a side discussion ensued regarding how it can be argued that the land we live and depend on is one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet.

Honestly, I am not even sure how our conversation switched to discussing the controversy of cattle farming’s harm on the environment, but I am grateful it did. I have never really paid attention to the ongoing arguments regarding the cattle industry and environmental impacts, (mostly because roast beef as far as I am concerned is a treasure, and I have no intention of removing it from my diet, EVER), but I am paying a little closer attention now, and have become aware of the other side of the equation. Specifically, how raising cattle factors in the preservation of the crucial grasslands of Canada. I didn’t realize the prairies were in trouble, heck, up until last Friday, I had actually forgotten most of my elementary science lessons and that the Great Plains (grasslands in North America) are actually an ecosystem.

Acting on my neighbours suggestion, I watched the short film ‘Guardians of the Grasslands’ released just this month by Story Brokers Media House in partnership with Canadian Beef, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Well worth the 12 minutes, and definitely needs to be watched more than once. This film highlights the diversity of the grasslands, which can include rivers, wetlands, valleys and lakes and the impact that industrial, rural, and urban growth has had on one the world’s most stable carbon sinks. Did you know that 74 percent of Canada’s grasslands are gone forever? In the film, Mickenzie Plemel-Stronks with Ducks Unlimited discusses how even if some of that land is recovered, it never fully regenerates to true temperate native grassland. There are over 60 species of wildlife that are dependent on grassland habitat, and are in danger of being severely impacted by its destruction.

Cattle grazing is crucial in the preservation of native grasslands. Their grazing habits replicate the traditional ways that bison fed, replenishing the ecosystem’s growing cycle. Encouraging natural grazing is key.

The concern over the lack of native grassland still around led to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature declaring temperate grasslands as one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems in 2008. Of course humans are the most influential cause for the demise of the grasslands. Over 50 per cent has been converted to cropland or other uses, and without knowing the long term effects, humans encouraged intensive grazing in early farming years.

There are movements to try to preserve and protect the temperate grasslands that remain, and the Guardians of the Grasslands website showcases several Alberta based projects, ranches and collaborations that are working diligently at those goals. For more insight into the preservation of the grasslands, visit their website at

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