Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference
Calgary, Alberta
February 21-23, 2023

Presentations and Posters

Img 4834

Poster Abstracts

Asselin, Sean, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada – Breeding native plants for forage and reclamation: challenges and prospects

The availability of adapted native plant seed stock is a major limitation for land managers looking to preserve, enhance and diversify landscapes. Working with native plants poses a number of additional challenges from seed production and quality, establishment and persistence of stands to regional adaptation within a shifting climate. Plant breeding can play a role in the preservation of native plant genetic resources and the maintenance of biodiversity in agro-ecosystems. Not all seed sources are created equal and genetic diversity can be leveraged to improve populations and improve outcomes. Classical plant breeding and emerging techniques in the areas of high-throughput omics are being applied to the diverse challenges of working with native plant seed. The purpose of this presentation is to discuss current research into the breeding of native plants (grasses, forbs and shrubs) for forage and reclamation end- uses coming out of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Swift Current Research and Development Centre based in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Technical, genetic and ecological considerations for the development of native plant seed stock are discussed.


Burrows, Kaytlyn, Nature Saskatchewan – Stewards of Saskatchewan: Three decades of engagement, partnerships, and conservation of species at risk habitat in Saskatchewan

Nature Saskatchewan’s Stewards of Saskatchewan (SOS) programs have been engaging and partnering with land stewards in voluntary stewardship since 1987, benefitting species at risk (SAR) and rare plants, as well as other flora and fauna that share those habitats, across southern and central Saskatchewan. Through voluntary stewardship agreements, stewards agree to not cultivate species at risk and rare plant habitat including tame or native prairie, shelterbelts and/or shorelines and to not knowingly destroy nesting sites. Stewards also agree to annually report the number of SAR on their land and any land use changes. The occurrence information, along with rare plant search and monitoring data collected by staff, is shared with the Saskatchewan Conservation Data Centre and with federal Recovery Teams to contribute to SAR statuses/listings, recovery strategies and action plans. The SOS programs work with just over 1,000 stewards conserving approximately 925,000 acres of habitat and 147 miles of shoreline for many SAR and rare plants. Recently, since focus began on habitat for the threatened Sprague’s Pipit in 2010-11, the programs have been working with 39 participants to conserve just over 113,000 acres of federally designated Sprague’s Pipit Critical Habitat at 964 sites across southern Saskatchewan. The SOS programs also partner with stewards to complete Habitat Enhancement projects including native seeding, wildlife-friendly fencing, and alternative water developments. Additionally, stewards are provided with educational resources including site-specific SAR Beneficial Management plans to help them make informed decisions for their operation as well as the SAR who call their land home.


Caruso, Kayla, University of Saskatchewan – Examining changes in prairie shorebird populations in relation to climate and lake habitat characteristics

Many shorebird populations are in steep decline, threatened by climate change, human disturbance, and habitat alteration. Shorebirds migrate thousands of kilometers from their wintering grounds to breeding grounds and often rely on a restricted set of high-quality staging sites to rest and refuel. Shorebirds migrating through the interior of North America rely on saline wetlands and lakes opportunistically as stopovers, but the prairie region has historically received less study than coastal stopover sites. Wet-dry cycles in the interior prairie pothole region (PPR) can drastically affect the availability of wetland habitat and the characteristics of saline lakes. Climate change is expected to lead to drier conditions in the PPR, impacting the availability of shorebird habitat in this region. This project aims to assess spatial and temporal changes in shorebird populations by revisiting lakes in Saskatchewan with historically high shorebird numbers but that have not been surveyed since the 1990s. The specific objectives of this project are to 1) understand changes in shorebird populations by comparing current and historic counts; 2) evaluate changes in populations in relation to wet-dry cycles and surrounding land-use to understand effects on shorebird habitat suitability; 3) determine current shorebird abundances in Saskatchewan lakes to see if they meet thresholds for potential nomination under the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). With shorebird populations declining globally, this project will provide critical information about how climate and land use change in the prairies alters lake habitats that are critical staging areas for migrating shorebirds.


Couve, Mandy, Alberta Conservation Association – Celebrating 12 Years of Land Conservation Partnerships in Southeastern Alberta

Alberta Conservation Association’s Land Management Program secures and conserves significant natural habitat in perpetuity to benefit our valued wildlife and fish resources and provide Alberta’s outdoor enthusiasts with year-round, sustainable recreational opportunities. We maximize the impact and efficiency of our work through collaborative partnerships with government (municipal, provincial, and federal), other conservation groups, private companies, producers and other conservation-minded individuals. Between 2010 and 2022, Alberta Conservation Association worked with 15 partners to purchase 12 separate land parcels, securing over 6,000 ac of wildlife habitat in southeastern Alberta, with an estimated value of over $6.8 million. These sites encompass over 3,000 ac of native grassland and riparian communities, providing habitat for at least 35 observed species considered “At Risk” in Alberta, and increasing connectivity to a network of privately protected and Crown land in the region.

Since purchase, ACA and partners have completed many habitat enhancement projects on these sites, including 1,370 ac of native grass and shrub plantings, over 160 ac of wetland restoration and 42 km of fence modifications. ACA also works with local producers to use livestock grazing at ecologically sustainable stocking rates, maintaining the vigour, integrity, and long-term health of the plant communities.


Downey, Brad, Alberta Conservation Association – MULTISAR: A Multi-species Habitat Stewardship Project

The MULTISAR project is a process for multi-species conservation at the landscape level. It is a collaborative effort between nongovernment, government, and landholders, which is succeeding because of the co-operative teamwork of all partners. The collaboration demonstrates a special open-minded attitude that goes beyond commitment and pride in any one organization and is indicative of a desire in our society for multi-species and landscape- level conservation. The South Saskatchewan and Milk River Watersheds were chosen as the project areas as they support a high number of species at risk in Alberta. Over the past 20 years the project has been developing Habitat Conservation Strategies and collaborating with the ranching community on habitat enhancements to benefit species at risk and the ranching operations who manage over 700,000 acres of habitat. Habitat Conservation Strategies are ranch level plans that identify beneficial management practices and habitat improvement recommendations that can also benefit ranching operations. Recommendations are identified by landowners, biologists, and agrologists using local knowledge and after completing in-depth range and riparian health assessments as well as wildlife inventories. MULTISAR’s partnership includes Alberta Conservation Association, Alberta Environment and Protected Areas (AEP), Prairie Conservation Forum (PCF), and Cows and Fish. Advisory members include Canadian Cattle Association, Alberta Beef Producers, and Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef with long-term funding support by Environment and Climate Change Canada.


Drake, Kiel, Birds Canada – Birds Canada’s Grassland Conservation Program

Populations of grassland birds are declining primarily due to loss of natural perennial cover to cultivation for annual crops. Declines in grassland birds will continue if conversion of grass to crop continues, and if existing rangelands are not managed with biodiversity-friendly practices. Birds Canada’s Grassland Conservation Program aims to help address the issue of declining grassland birds. To this, we produced a “Grassland Conservation Incentives Guide” and a “Climate and Biodiversity Friendly Production Practices Resource Guide” to help producers find information on various programs that are meant to incentivize conservation, and to highlight production practices that co-benefit livestock production and biodiversity. In 2021, we began a multi-year project with the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation and South of the Divide Conservation Program Inc., and other partner ENGOs and universities, to measure biodiversity that is supported by grassland production systems that are managed for livestock (cattle) production. We anticipate the results of this Weston Family Prairie Grassland Initiative research collaboration to help accelerate the implementation of sustainable practices that will help stabilize populations of grassland birds. As part of our effort to conserve native grasslands and prairie endemic birds, Birds Canada is collaborating with Canadian Wildlife Service personnel to develop a Bird Friendliness Index (BFI) that can be adopted to Prairie Canada with the aim to further incentivize conservation outcomes. We anticipate the BFI being an outcome-based metric that will serve as a biodiversity indicator that is useful to individual producers, production supply chains, and regulatory agencies.


Grant, Samantha, Parks Canada – Combatting fragmentation with collaboration

A landscape-based, ecosystem level approach is necessary to address mixed-grass prairie habitat loss and degradation. It is essential that native prairie land managers work together to combat fragmentation. Scale is often the limiting factor as very few individuals or organizations have large enough continuous tracks of land to independently maintain ecosystem function.

Effective collaboration among land managers to implement conservation at a landscape level is often hindered by the following; prohibitive costs of conservation actions, risk associated with attempting experimental methods, and underdeveloped relationships and confidence with conservation and government agencies. Grasslands National Park (GNP) is working to remove these barriers by lowering the cost and risk of implementing conservation actions through access to additional forage at a reduced rate (i.e. grassbanking), and experimenting with new technology and methods to improve efficacy. A key factor is that GNP is committed to working with other land managers through mutual collaboration, rather than a top-down approach, to pursue grassbank grazing agreements, and achieve mutual understanding and shared goals. We hope that collaboration facilitated by GNP’s grassbank program will yield innovative conservation methods that illustrate improved efficacy, and ultimately, result in a greater adoption of such practices; thereby reducing habitat fragmentation by connecting GNPs 76,000 ha of native grassland to native grassland stewarded by ranchers, provincial counterparts, and grazing corporations resulting in an area of native prairie more than twice that size.


Haines, Jessica, MacEwan University – Using Citizen Science to Monitor Franklin's Ground Squirrels

Franklin's ground squirrels (Poliocitellus franklinii) are found in parkland habitats in Alberta. They are not currently listed under SARA and in Alberta their species status is undetermined. But anecdotally, there are concerns that they could be in decline as some naturalists have observed that this species seems to have disappeared from many locations where it previously occurred in the province. Given the paucity of data available for this species, this project first aims to use citizen science to identify the current distribution of this species and potential locations of colonies. We will then select a subset of these colonies for population monitoring. In this presentation, we will discuss results from the first season of citizen science data collection. We will also outline plans for the upcoming season, which will focus heavily on outreach events to encourage more members of the public to participate in the project. We also hope to collaborate with experienced naturalists who could contribute observations of the current or past distribution of this species.


Hartley-Cox, Tory, University of Regina – Great-horned Owls: A Human-tolerant Species Thriving in An Altered Grassland Environment

Prior to European settlement, Great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) were probably limited to riparian areas and small natural aspen groves in the Canadian mixed-grass prairie. However, since European settlement, the Great-horned owl has steadily increased in abundance within the region, likely as a result of anthropogenic structures that are suitable for owl nesting, roosting, and hunting. The increase of Great-horned owls in the mixed grassland region can put them in conflict with wildlife conservation efforts. My objective is to assess the nocturnal habitat use and territory size of great horned owls in native grassland, cropland and tame pasture landscapes. In 2022 (the first year of a two-year study), nine owls were tracked using high-resolution satellite telemetry, yielding over 130,000 location data points across three broad habitat types. A subsection of transmitter locations (210 locations) were visited to determine perch and habitat characteristics. Preliminary data show differences in territory size and habitat use between habitat types, with breeding Great-horned owls travelling farther from nests in native prairie compared to those nesting in cropland-dominated landscapes. My results will be useful for managing habitat to reduce predation risk by great horned owls on other species in this area.


Hockley, Mindy, Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation – Partnering with Community Pastures for a Proactive Approach to Weed Management

Partnering with ranchers to help set them up for success not only today but in the years to come is a driving factor for why habitat agreements with the SSGF are successful. One agreement in place is in collaboration with the Monet Community Pasture, on the northern end of the Missouri Coteau by Elrose, SK. They identified the need to not only slow the spread, but proactively protect the entirety of the pasture, from Common Burdock, as well as the pastures of their memberships. We are two years into a 15 year Habitat Management Agreement and were able to provide them with the necessary resources and funding to implement a long term weed management strategy. This landscape is home to large herds of elk, deer populations and species at risk such as Ferruginous Hawks and Burrowing Owls. Common Burdock negatively impacts overall biodiversity of the native grassland as well as the welfare of cattle and species at risk that call it home. Native grasses are best managed through responsible grazing in combination with proper weed management to ensure these grasslands are healthy and productive for years to come. The Monet Pasture also actively participated in the monitoring of bird species with Birds Canada and offers educational tours throughout the year. Through our habitat agreements, funded by groups such as Weston Family Foundation, Environment and Climate Change Canada and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we partner with conservation minded ranchers to continue to protect this disappearing landscape.


Jackson, Shayla, University of Winnipeg – Diet and ranging behaviour of individual coyotes in southwestern Saskatchewan

The Grasslands National Park greater ecosystem is home to many species at risk (SAR) and is used as active ranchland for cattle grazing. Recent work revealed considerable cattle in the coyote’s diet year-round. An abundant source of livestock carrion has the potential to subsidize predator populations and increase predation on native prey, including SAR. To begin to assess the role of cattle in the coyote’s diet and on native prey, I aim to determine whether individual coyotes specialize on certain prey items (e.g., prairie dog vs. cattle carrion), and if so, how individual variation in diet affects the ranging and social behaviour of coyotes. I collected scat from within the National Park and adjacent ranchland. I will use SNP fingerprinting of nuclear DNA to identify genotypes for the individual coyotes that deposited each scat, and metabarcoding of mtDNA to identify vertebrate prey species contained in each scat, including SAR. I will use the DNA results to test the hypotheses that (1) individual coyotes specialize on certain prey items (e.g., prairie dog vs. cattle carrion) and (2) coyotes consuming cattle have a larger home range, as indicated by their scat being distributed over a larger area. Further, given cases of calf depredation in the region, I will use observations of coyotes to assess the activities they conduct on cattle pastures. This work will help to elucidate the role of cattle consumption on the diet and behaviour of the coyote population and the impact of coyotes on native species at risk.


Keller, Eve, Meewasin Valley Authority – Aquatic Streambank Restoration

Meewasin is a non-profit organization and regional conservation authority that manages several natural sites and extensive trail networks throughout the city of Saskatoon and the surrounding rural area. Hydrological features such as the South Saskatchewan River, creeks, and wetland complexes are important defining features across Meewasin sites and trail networks. Riparian areas adjacent to the river and creeks within the Valley are popular destinations for recreational site users and common locations for infrastructure maintenance and development. Meewasin promotes education, ecological monitoring, and integrated resource management practices within riparian areas in an effort to reduce the negative impacts that development and human recreation pose to these sensitive areas. This poster will discuss recent Meewasin initiatives to engage community in restorative aquatic plantings and willow staking along disturbed riparian areas as a means to advance bank stabilization and streambank restoration processes.


MacDonald, Amanda, Alberta Conservation Association – How Did the Deer Cross the Fence? An Evaluation of Wildlife-friendly Fence Modifications and Ungulate Response

Fences are a common feature throughout the agricultural landscape of North America’s Great Plains region. Knowledge surrounding the harmful implication that fences on the movement of wildlife, specifically ungulates, is expanding. It is widely accepted that there is a need to mitigate the impacts of these anthropogenic features and “wildlife-friendly” fence designs are emerging as a practical tool to meet these goals. Here we evaluate the response of sympatric ungulate species to the implementation of two fence modifications, clipping the top two wires together (clips) and the installation of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe to encompass the top two wires, with the goal of determining the optimal top wire height for a more robust understanding of effective wildlife-friendly fence standards. We used remote trail cameras from 2018-2020 to capture crossing events and recorded responses for pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

We used generalized linear modelling to test the effect the modifications had on crossing behaviour prior to and after the modifications were installed compared to a control site. We found that the modifications had no significant impact on crossing behaviour and wire height appears to be the most influential factor to evaluate the permeability of fences. We recommend the installation of clips as a cost effective method to lower top wire height and PVC pipe to improve fence visibility and potentially reduce entanglement events.


Maier, Erica, Meewasin Valley Authority – Urban Beaver Management in the Meewasin Valley

Meewasin is a non-profit organization and regional conservation authority that manages several natural sites and extensive trail networks throughout the City of Saskatoon and the surrounding rural municipality. Beavers are a keystone species within the Meewasin Valley region that rely on the forage and collection of woody plant materials for sustenance and habitat construction. Beaver presence in urban areas along managed riverside trail networks has become a contentious issue in the Meewasin region due to repeated instances of mature tree harvesting and associated damage to public infrastructure caused by beaver foraging activity. While the presence of beaver populations holds critical importance to the ecological balance of natural landscapes, this species presents complications to the maintenance of mature tree canopy, accessibility, and aesthetics along vegetated river corridors and landscaped trails. This poster will discuss Meewasin’s current approach to urban beaver management, highlighting the selective application of preventative tree wrapping as a mechanism for public engagement, mature tree protection, and urban beaver promotion.


Mitchell, Adam, University of Saskatchewan – Planting diverse forage in marginal cropland to restore biodiversity and ecosystem health while maintaining crop yield

Expansion of monoculture crops has driven substantial losses of habitat, biodiversity, and ecosystem services, resulting in prairies being one of the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet. Restoring these unique ecosystems is particularly challenging due to their economic importance for food production. However, in addition to arable land, many prairies contain wetlands and other marginal saline areas that produce relatively low crop yields. Thus, marginal areas may be the optimal targets for restoration work to address conservation goals without reducing crop yield and profitability. We tested the value of restoring marginal areas within 51 distinct 160-acre canola/cereal fields in Saskatchewan, Canada. Using yield maps, we asked participating producers to plant 10-20% of their fields with a diverse forage mix surrounding low yielding wetlands and/or marginal areas matched with nearby control fields cropped as usual. We then tracked changes in multiple metrics including acoustic biodiversity, water quality, soil health, crop yields and profits over subsequent years. Acoustic recording units (ARUs) recorded over 3000 hours of soundscapes in treatment and control fields. Bioacoustic indices, which are a proxy for biodiversity, showed increases over time, with measurable increases in the treatment fields relative to controls. There was no significant difference in yields or profits and forage treatments were an effective restoration tool for mitigating soil salinity. This suggests that restoring marginal areas within cropland is a nature-based solution that has significant promise to provide environmental, economic and agronomic benefits.


Odaisky, Nicola, Parks Canada – Re-learning the Buffalo Through Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing

A brief overview of the role the Sturgeon River Plains Bison play as a keystone species in a native prairie ecosystem. The discussion will touch on the challenges faced by the Sturgeon River Plains Bison and the application of shared knowledge for the learning and conservation of this population. An emphasis will be placed on the importance of relationships and collaboration between partners in order to achieve a common goal. In particular, Prince Albert National Park (PANP) continues to work closely with the land-based education programs to better understand the movements of bison and attain population counts and demographics.

Indigenous communities have an abundance of traditional ecological knowledge that greatly improves conservation, and is contributed and passed on through storytelling of their long historical connection to the land and buffalo. This knowledge will play a critical role in bison research and conservation efforts. PANP is working to provide opportunities to land-based learning school groups that will foster connection to the buffalo and their habitat. In particular, ecological monitoring skills will be honed which can then be used to assist in knowledge sharing and programs within the park and their community. The discussion will touch on the successes and challenges of past efforts as well as plans and goals for the future.


Parker, Lynnea, Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation – Landowner & Cattle Producer Values Towards Grasslands and Avian Species at Risk in Southwestern Manitoba

Most of Manitoba’s remaining grasslands are located on private land and are utilized as hay and forage. It is therefore important to understand the environmental values and beliefs of landowners and producers when developing conservation strategies to stem grassland ecosystem loss and support species at risk (SAR) recovery. In 2019, landowners and producers in southwestern Manitoba were engaged in an online survey (N = 46) that examined land use values, views towards SAR, and conservation program preferences. Results showed that 96% of participants had a personal value orientation that aligned with conservation principles. Overall, participants held positive views towards SAR with 78% indicating that it was moderately important to very important that the land they owned, managed, and/or leased could support SAR. When participants (N = 36) considered potential land use impacts, 8% believed the presence of SAR would negatively affect their land use and 33% were uncertain. Nearly half of participants (47%) were uncertain or unlikely to report the presence of SAR on properties they owned, managed, or leased. Of 12 conservation program options, participants (N = 46) were most willing to consider annual payments for a habitat outcome (87%), voluntary carbon offsets (83%), cost assistance with a grazing plan (74%), and bird-friendly beef certification label (67%). Findings suggest that landowners and producers are an underutilized resource for conservationists to partner with for SAR recovery and grassland conservation in Manitoba.

Public education about SAR is needed to raise awareness of conservation issues and address uncertainties surrounding land use impacts.


Pelc, Julie, Nature Conservancy of Canada – Establishing a Common Language for Ecological Restoration

The United Nations has declared 2021-2030 as the 'Decade on Ecosystem Restoration', to encourage the advancement of restoration opportunities and examine restoration as a science and practice. The term ecological restoration or simply restoration is applied in many ways with the most accepted definition being “the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed” (Society for Ecological Restoration 2004).

Restoration objectives tend to focus on targets such as biodiversity, species at risk, natural disturbance regimes and ecosystem processes. More recently, abating climate change and increasing carbon sequestration have become additional objectives. To facilitate connections and collaboration between interested parties, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is re- examining restoration terminology. There are many definitions and terms used to describe restoration, such as reclamation, reconstruction, recovery, re-establishment, reforestation, regeneration, rehabilitation, re-introduction, rematriation, remediation, revegetation, rewilding and socio-cultural restoration. Although most restoration efforts aim to repair ecosystems that have been altered by human activity, the goals of a restoration project may vary based on motivations like conservation, culture, economics, compliance and legislation. Furthermore, restoration objectives tend to highlight the need to restore a site to a historic state; however, the target temporal state prior to alteration varies between projects, making it difficult to determine a reference state. NCC will initiate discussions and support knowledge sharing to provide clarity within the conservation community with regards to restoration terminology.


Poppy, Shannon, Parks Canada – Balancing Beavers in a National Park

Beavers (Castor canadensis) play an important ecological role in boreal transition and mid- boreal upland eco-regions such as in Prince Albert National Park (PANP). Beavers have a long history and tradition in PANP including being the Parks Canada mascot. In the 1930s visitors traveled from far and wide to see Grey Owl’s famous beavers Jelly Roll and Raw Hide. Still, every year thousands of visitors make the pilgrimage to see where Grey Owl and his beavers lived. In the 21st century, road and trial networks in the park dissect and inhibit natural waterways leading to conflicts. How do we balance managing unwanted infrastructure damage with the Parks Canada mandate to protect and present examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage? What are the possible conservation technologies that could be implemented to maintain healthy landscapes, infrastructure and beaver?


Reidlinger, Brielle, University of Saskatchewan – Influence of Grazing Management on Grassland Songbird Communities

Temperate grasslands and the species they host are on the brink of extinction. Many species of grassland songbirds are at risk due to habitat loss, fire suppression, climate change, and the use of herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers. Old Man on its Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area (OMB) was established by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) as a part of their initiative to protect Canada's grasslands. OMB, along with a bordering community pasture, is the setting for my research. These grasslands support native and non-native grazing species, including bison, cattle, deer, and antelope. Chestnut-collared Longspur, Baird's sparrow, and Bobolink are among a few of the grassland Species at Risk found at the sites. I am researching the effects of cattle and bison grazing on grassland songbird and vegetation communities.

Three different grazing comparisons will be examined: 1. the difference between pastures grazed by cattle and bison, 2. the difference between pastures grazed by bison in the summer and winter, and 3. the difference between cattle pastures operated under two different grassland managers. I expect that the different species of livestock, the season of grazing, and management groups will create a variety of habitat patterns that will support a variety of Species at Risk. This research is important because it could allow livestock producers and managers to sustain and possibly improve, habitat for at-risk songbirds, which could shift the way rangelands are managed. The goal of this research is to determine successful grazing management practices for land managers, specifically NCC.


Rezansoff, Amanda, Alberta Conservation Association – Ranching viability and habitat stewardship on Alberta’s northern grasslands and forested rangelands: introducing SHARP

Livestock producers play an important role in sustaining wilderness areas, ecosystem function and biodiversity. On well-managed rangelands, grazing animals support plant health, improve soil quality, and preserve open space and wildlife habitat. The Species Habitat Assessments and Ranching Partnership (SHARP) is a voluntary, collaborative program delivered by Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) that supports landholders that want to maintain the unique grazing and ecosystem values on their property. SHARP operates in Alberta’s northern grasslands along with foothill, parkland, and boreal natural regions where forest grazing is interspersed. Together with the producer, we develop strategies for ecological and sustainable grazing, each contributing in some way to long-term profitability and environmental stewardship of the ranch. Participants of SHARP benefit from the trained expertise of ACA staff and technical partners, who are committed to supporting the ranch. We provide ranch managers the information needed for evaluating their rangelands based on indicators like ecosystem health, vegetation cover including sustainability of soil and plant production, and presence of weed species. A wildlife census (e.g., ungulates, songbirds, grouse, waterfowl, amphibians, bats and pollinators) is completed on each ranch to facilitate the proper implementation and evaluation of habitat enhancements that depend on the numbers and distribution of wildlife. Grazing recommendations based on selected forage and browse availability and wildlife habitat needs may also be proposed. We work cooperatively with landholders to implement voluntary cost-shared habitat enhancement agreements that co- benefit wildlife and ranching operations, such as wildlife friendly fencing projects and the installation of off-site watering systems for livestock.


Robertson, Sandi, Government of Alberta – Invasive Moth Threatens a population of Yucca glauca and Tegeticula yuccasella

In 2019, during annual monitoring of the Yucca glauca population an unknown disease was present on a population of Yucca glauca plants. The signs were a brown powdery/crumbly material covering the seed pods. After investigation and collaboration, the cause was determined to be from a moth called Holocera gigantella. H. gigantella is a species native to the southern US. H. gigantella is considered a significant threat to Yucca glauca and its mutualistic moth, Tegeticula yuccasella. The invasive moth consumed and destroyed all the seeds within an infected pod and is considered to possibly outcompete T. yuccasella. However, this has not been examined. Three years of efforts by Government of Alberta Wildlife Biologists to eradicate this invasive species has occurred and appears to be successful.


Robertson, Sandi, Government of Alberta – Recovery Actions to Conserve Sand Dune Habitat and Four Species at Risk

A plant commonly used in flower arrangements is a significant threat to sand dune habitat, and the endangered and threatened species that inhabit the area. In the sand dunes west of Pakowki Lake, Alberta, baby’s breath became established and expanded into the habitat of western spiderwort (provincially endangered, federally threatened), smooth goosefoot (federally threatened), gold-edged gem (federally endangered) and dusky dune moth (federally endangered). Baby’s breath is a large perennial invasive plant capable of spreading over 10 000 seeds per plant. If it is not managed effectively it can consume native prairie habitats, particularly habitats with sandy soils. Removal of baby’s breath resumed in 2018-2020, five years after earlier efforts to eliminate baby’s breath were carried out. In the five year gap, baby’s breath expanded into the critical habitats of species at risk. The efforts in 2018-2019 removed over 20 times the number of plants removed between 2008-2012. Removal efforts in 2020 included spot spraying with herbicide in areas away from the endangered and threatened species. Surveys in 2022 showed that the efforts to date have been successful in removing large baby’s breath plants and significantly decreased the number of baby’s breath plants in the sand dunes and surrounding area.


Schoenberg, Hanna, Parks Canada Agency – Identification and Management of a Cryptic Invader in a National Park: Phalaris arundinacea

Reed Canary Grass (RCG) (Phalaris arundinacea) is often considered a native species in Western Canada. However, throughout North America, introductions of aggressive RCG cultivars have resulted in its cryptic invasion, leading to the current presence of both native and non-native subspecies. The two subspecies are not morphologically distinguishable and can only be identified genetically. Elk Island National Park (EINP), is 194 km2, fully-fenced mosaic of aspen, wetland and grassland communities, situated in the Beaver Hills Biosphere, west of Edmonton, Alberta. The park supports several ungulate species, including approximately 1000 bison and 750 elk. Throughout EINP, RCG is invading wetlands, riparian areas, and upland grasslands. This can decrease plant and insect diversity, alter wetland hydrology, and reduce palatable forage for ungulates. Recent genetic analysis revealed three distinct genotypes of RCG within EINP: native, non-native and hybridized, with non-native RCG being dominant. Across EINP, managers are actively controlling invasive, non-native plant species to restore ecological integrity and maintain adequate forage habitat for ungulate populations. Control trials for the management of non-native RCG in grassland habitats are ongoing since 2020 and will continue until 2023.

Trials are testing the effectiveness of mechanical removal through mowing, the application of the graminicide clethodim, and a combination of both, on RCG biomass, cover, shoot density and length, and ability to reproduce sexually. Once completed, results from trials will direct best approaches for effective and enduring management of RCG.


Slater, Simon, Environment and Protected Areas-Fish and WildlifeStewardship–Ferruginous Hawk Recovery in Alberta

Surveys for ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis), a grassland obligate species in Alberta, have been conducted in Alberta since the early 1980s. Results showed an increase in the estimated number of breeding pairs from 1982 to 1987, a slight decrease from 1987 to 1992, and a dramatic decline between 1992 and 2000. These population declines formed the basis for listing the species as Endangered in 2006. Threats to ferruginous hawks include habitat loss, habitat disturbance, reduced nesting opportunities and prey populations, increased numbers of predators and competitors, indirect human-caused mortality, and climate change. In response to these challenges, Alberta Environment and Protected Areas, together with various partners, have been implementing and/or supporting conservation actions to recover ferruginous hawks including, but not limited to, various regulatory tools to protect nest sites and important habitat, erecting artificial nest platforms, research on industrial disturbance, climate change impacts and mortality, educational programming, annual monitoring, and a province-wide inventory every 5 years. The provincial inventory in 2022 showed a statistically significant increase compared to the 2015 survey, with an estimated population of 1,417 pairs (+/- 276).

Although when comparing inventory data since 1982 using a linear regression analysis we see a gradually declining long-term trend, the increase in population during this survey is cause for cautious optimism. Alberta Environment and Protected Areas will continue to work with partners to continue recovery efforts for ferruginous hawks.


Steinaker, Diego, South of the Divide Conservation Action Program Inc. (SODCAP Inc.) – Biodiversity and Conservation Agreements: Providing Habitat on a Working Landscape

Native rangelands on the Canadian prairies are an increasingly valuable resource that fall predominantly under the stewardship of cattle producers. Conservation agreements, where long-term commitments are made to not develop the land nor break the soil, are an effective way to ensure that working rangelands remain in native grass. The South of the Divide Conservation Action Program (SODCAP Inc) and the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation (SSGF) is partnering with the southwest Saskatchewan ranching community, environmental non-profits and universities to develop conservation agreements and measure their impact on prairie biodiversity. To that end, we have begun a project to measure the role of grazing intensity on the grassland breeding bird community on native grasslands in Saskatchewan. In collaboration of Birds Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Federation, and financial support of the Weston Family Foundation, we conducted avian point counts and deployed automatic recorders at 24 sites varying in previous year’s grazing intensity. Preliminary analyses reveal that diversity and structure contribute to bird community composition and abundance, but perhaps the most challenging attribute of conservation agreements is found in determining biodiversity thresholds to ascribe effectiveness of management actions. This study, together with gathering background knowledge from the wealth of research on grazing-biodiversity interactions on native rangeland will form the basis of these agreements.


Van Brempt, Myrthe, Beaverhill Bird Observatory – Defining Critical Habitat: a case study of least flycatchers at Beaverhill Bird Observatory, Alberta

Critical Habitat is often defined by the last places that an endangered species occurs, not by its abundance and productivity in a particular habitat or location. Least Flycatchers Empidonax minimus, like most aerial insectivores, have declined rapidly over the last 50 years in North America, mostly due to the extensive use of insecticides. Since the Least Flycatcher is the most common species encountered at the Beaverhill Natural Area, likely due to the high insect densities, in 2022 we studied the productivity, nesting density, and habitat preferences of this species. We monitored 28 nests until fledging and found a higher success rate than other researchers have found for this species. Nesting density in our research area double that found in other studies. Interestingly, our study shows no evidence for any clustered breeding, a well- documented breeding behavior for Least Flycatchers. Least Flycatchers seem to have a preference for nesting in Trembling Aspen, compared to Balsam Poplar trees. We suggest that high productivity and nesting density should be factors to help identify critical habitat and that the Beaverhill Natural Area be considered critical habitat for Least Flycatchers should that become necessary.


Williamson, Kelly, South of the Divide Conservation Action Program Inc. – Grazing Management to benefit Multiple Species at Risk in Mankota, SK

In the summer of 2022 SODCAP Inc partnered with the Mankota Pasture Ltd. to develop and implement a grazing management plan that would benefit the multiple species at risk that make their home on that 30,000 acre pasture. Their vast stretch of native prairie provides potential habitat for many species, including Greater Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spraguelli), Chestnut Collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus), and Swift Fox (Vulpes velox). Implementing a multi-species habitat management approach has posed a challenge for decades. With funds from the US National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we will assess habitat attributes for multiple species at risk by using a monitoring protocol recently developed the Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Program. Information from the “Guide to Habitat Attributes by Ecosite for Multiple Species at Risk” will be used to lead the grazing plan development and monitoring for this project. Habitat assessments were completed this summer and will continue in 2023. In 2020 the Mankota Pasture Ltd. took control of the grazing management of the Former Mankota PFRA Pasture, relying on the vast array of local knowledge provided by their board and shareholders and advice from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. The grazing management plan will benefit habitat for multiple species as well as shareholders business.


Williamson, Kelly, South of the Divide Conservation Action Program Inc.– The multiple benefits of connectivity when reseeding nativeprairie in southwest Saskatchewan

The South of the Divide Conservation Action Program Inc. (SODCAP) engages with landowners in southwest Saskatchewan to restore cropland to native prairie with a focus on improving connectivity between existing grasslands. In Saskatchewan, much of the remaining prairie that has been left intact is patchy and present in small fragmented pieces. This patchiness makes it hard for wildlife to adapt and thrive in their environment. Wildlife that evolved on the prairie need not only native habitat, but they also require habitat connectivity of these intact patches in order to succeed. Improving habitat connectivity ensures wildlife are able to move, migrate and expand to areas where they can find cover, food, mates and proper breeding habitat. It also allows for increased population growth and genetic diversity, as well as increased dispersal of species. Not only does reseeding improve connectivity, perennial grasslands also serve as highly effective carbon sinks. Unlike forests, where most of the carbon is stored above ground, carbon in grasslands is largely stored below ground in the root systems. SODCAP Inc. engages with landowners who have a strong conservation ethic. With funding from ALUS and the National Fish and Wildlife Fund, we are able to work with landowners on restoration and establishment activities that will benefit their operation but also benefit wildlife species, improved ecological goods and services and will serve to sequester carbon. (The poster will include on farm examples.)