Just outside the Swift Current city limits sits a large piece of grassland that is now officially protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which they announced this morning.
The Cave Pasture conservation project features 286 hectares of grasslands, wetlands and shoreline habitat, and is a refuge for numerous species, including the iconic sharp-tailed grouse, the provincial bird.
Situated immediately adjacent to Swift Current’s northside along Highway 4, the native grassland’s proximity to city life posed a threat to its survival.
The property was acquired from the previous owners who listed it on the market according to Michael Burak, the NCC’s program director for southwest Saskatchewan.
“There was definitely a very high risk of it being lost or converted to either something like a subdivision or an additional commercial space,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that it remained native grass as it is today. So, we decided that we would purchase it so that we could continue to see it managed for cattle grazing and just for native grass.”
A large and active sharp-tailed grouse mating lek was noted on the property, signifying the area's importance for their breeding and conservation.
During property visits, NCC staff observed a thriving ecosystem with a significant number of waterfowl, including seven different species of ducks and several Canada geese.
“Another reason we thought it would be really important to protect is to give people in the City of Swift Current a nice natural space to be able to explore and spend some time and get kind of reacquainted with nature and birds and plants," Burak added. “And then when we actually started to do some of our initial field work out there, once the sale closed, we did actually find that there were a number of species at risk that are using the property.”
Among loggerhead shrike (threatened), Sprague’s pipit (threatened), lesser yellowlegs (threatened) and long-billed curlew (special concern), NCC staff also noticed northern leopard frogs in the oxbows.
The Cave Pasture conservation project exemplifies a dedicated commitment to conserve more than 500,000 hectares by 2030.
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