While the prairies may look tough at first glance, nature’s balance is delicate. This is the challenge conservationists are tackling at the 2017 Native Prairie Restoration and Reclamation Workshop. The workshop, organized by the Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan, runs Feb. 8 to 9 at the Ramada Hotel in downtown Regina.
The workshop’s theme, Reclaiming Spaces, Restoring Species, has proven popular. “We have, I think, the highest number of registrants this workshop, compared to past years; we have over 230 registrants,” said Kayla Balderson Burak, manager of the Action Plan group.
An affordable workshop fee and a chance to hear from some 20 experts helped draw the crowd, Balderson Burak believes.
“We also tied Species at Risk Conservation in with Native Prairie Restoration this year, which is a bit different,” said Balderson Burak. She said the organizers did this because the two topics go hand in hand.
“It’s not all about protecting what we have left but (also) what we can do with what has been disturbed,” said Balderson Burak.
A SPCAP workshop is held every two out of three years. This year’s event includes a trade show, poster session, and a silent auction to raise funds for the group’s education programs.
The federal and provincial governments help fund the workshop, but Balderson Burak said one of the main challenges for SPCAP and similar programs is an overall lack of resources.
Balderson Burak said new methods to restore habitat can be quite costly in both the equipment and work time.
“A lot of the smaller groups do struggle to meet the requirements to be able to implement some of these initiatives,” said Balderson Burak.
This workshop allows people “to connect and network and get more intimate and really talk about some of these challenges with each other,” said Balderson Burak.
One of the speakers is Francis Kilkenny, who flew in from Idaho to speak about the Great Basin Native Plan Project. Kilkenny is a research biologist with the United States department of agriculture’s forest service branch, based out of Rocky Mountain Research Station.
Balderson Burak said Great Basin project is “about growing native plants and harvesting native seed, specifically for species at risk.” She added there is nothing quite like it in Canada yet.
“I think we can learn a lot from (the project), here in Canada,” she said.
Researcher Kilkenny described the Great Basin Native Plan Project as “an intern agency partnership between the U.S. Forest service and the bureau of land management, which is a part of the department of interior and we also have a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
According to the Great Basin Native Plan Project website, one of its goals is to “increase the variety of native plant materials available for restoration in the Great Basin.”
“We tend to work typically on post-fire restoration,” said Kilkenny. Because of the typically large scale of devastation, the goal is to get the ecosystem's functions back by using common, rather than rare, plant species.
“I think we’ve tended to think about it (as), ‘Well, can I get something on the ground that grows,’ instead of thinking about it in a long-term way and understanding (that) what we’re doing to the environment as we do these practices…is really important,” said Kilkenny.
The areas Kilkenny works on contain grasslands and shrublands. “There are a lot of similarities in the types of restoration that might be done (in Saskatchewan),” he said.