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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Habitat - A Place to Live

Animals, like people, have certain needs in order to survive and thrive in our environment. Their requirements are simple: shelter from bad weather and predators, an abundant food supply and clean, fresh water. These needs are fulfilled by the right kind of habitat - a place to live.

There are over 600 species of birds and mammals in Saskatchewan and their territorial ranges in southern Saskatchewan continue to shrink. Human activities and development over the last century (including roads, towns and cities, agriculture and industry) have carved away 75 per cent of the natural areas in our province's agricultural region. This region contains one of the most altered landscapes in North America.

Today southern Saskatchewan's wildlife populations are relying on approximately one-quarter of their original habitat, which is unevenly scattered across the prairies. Much of this remaining habitat does not fully meet wild species basic needs to survive and thrive. The continuing degradation and loss of habitat is one of the greatest threats to the survival of Species at Risk (SAR).

The Fish and Wildlife Development Fund

Saskatchewan hunters and trappers recognize that healthy and diverse wildlife populations are a barometer of the ecosystem. Their responsible conservation ethic and love of nature are making positive and vital contributions to the management and preservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat. This ensures that habitat, and thereby wildlife, is preserved for everyone to enjoy.

The Wildlife Development Fund (WDF) was created when these users offered to pay more for hunting licences, provided the extra money was put into a special habitat conservation fund. In 1970, legislation was passed to create the Fund.

A fisheries component was added in 1984 and the fund name was changed to the Fish and Wildlife Development Fund (FWDF). The FWDF now receives 30 per cent of the revenue generated from all fur, angling and hunting licences sold in the province.

Wildlife Habitat Programs

Although habitat protection and management are the primary focus of the FWDF, there is an increasing commitment to form partnerships with organizations and individuals in an effort to continue to improve and conserve Saskatchewan's natural resources. The FWDF is also used for salary and program expenses for department staff working on initiatives that are compatible with Fund objectives. The FWDF has broadened its scope of activities in recent years to diversify the ways habitat is conserved for the benefit of all aquatic and terrestrial wildlife species - harvested and non-hunted.

Partnerships

The Fish and Wildlife Development Fund forms partnerships with government and non-government organizations to work on specific management projects. These partnerships, most lasting three to five years, set out to accomplish specific goals to protect, conserve and enhance wildlife habitat in Saskatchewan's agricultural and forested regions. The projects range from jointly buying land, conserving habitat on private land in partnership with landowners, to ensuring wildlife conservation is considered in the ways forests are used.

Habitat Purchase

Until recently, land acquisition has been the fund's core habitat protection program. Over 219,000 acres (88,629 hectares) of land, generally marginal to agriculture and in its natural state, has been bought at an accumulated cost of over $21 million. These wildlife lands are located across the agricultural region, mainly in the aspen parklands. The combined area of Fish and Wildlife Development Fund lands consists of only two-tenths of one per cent of the agricultural land in the province. Although most wildlife lands are purchased from farmers, some are granted from lending institutions, rural municipalities, railway companies and other government agencies. For land to be considered for purchase, it should usually consist of at least 75 per cent native habitat. Other factors include the vulnerability of the habitat to development, the amount of important habitat left in the area, and a willing seller. The offered price is based on recent comparable land sales in the particular rural municipality.

Normally governments do not pay taxes to other levels of government. The FWDF uses interest generated on revenues to pay rural municipalities grants-in-lieu of taxes on FWDF lands. Rural communities are benefiting along with wildlife, as the FWDF supports the tax base in over 100 rural municipalities.

Conservation Easements

A conservation easement, can be issued in perpetuity or for a set time period, and is a voluntary agreement between a grantor (landowner) and holder (usually a conservation agency). The landowner receives financial payment (a proportion of assessed value) and retains ownership, and the easement is registered against the property's title. Landowners grant conservation easements to protect ecological values while allowing the land to remain in private ownership and available for compatible agricultural (non-cultivation) use.

The Conservations Easements Act, enacted in 1997, offers landowners and easement holders flexible options that can be applied to individual conservation easements. Easements are about one-third (or less) of the cost of fee simple purchase and the landowner continues to act as the steward of the land, protecting its intrinsic native habitat values.

Ten agencies currently hold just over 1,147 easements, comprising about 232,000 acres. The Ministry of Environment, through the Fish and Wildlife Development Fund, currently contributes $950,000 for cost-shared conservation easement acquisition and land securement through its three major land securement agreements.

The Ministry of Environment's Lands Branch serves as the provincial registrar keeping track of all completed conservation easements, although they are also registered as a caveat on the title of the property through Information Services Corporation.

Habitat Management

Fish and Wildlife Development Fund lands are managed to provide the best possible wildlife habitat year-round for the greatest number of species. Small portions of these lands, about 10 per cent, were farmed before the fund acquired them. These cultivated acres have been converted to forage, and in many instances local farmers are issued haying permits on these lands. Grazing is not normally allowed on FWDF lands, so as to conserve food and shelter for wildlife. Sometimes special, temporary haying and grazing arrangements are made at the time of purchase. Occasionally grazing is used as part of a vegetation management plan to maintain a property. Weed and pest control on wildlife lands ensures that the fund is a good neighbour.

The FWDF encourages and funds co-operative projects with local, volunteer interest groups for managing wildlife lands. On existing lands, improving habitat may involve planting trees, clearing small openings in the bush to stimulate browse growth, as well as clearing away old buildings, machinery and fences.

You Can Use Wildlife Lands

Wildlife lands are not reserves or sanctuaries. These natural areas have been bought with hunter and trapper dollars, and can be used by everyone. Naturally hunting is allowed on these lands. The wildlife lands are also open to other outdoor nature enthusiasts, including hikers, bird watchers and photographers. Some wildlife lands are under active management plans. In some cases, grazing and haying are used to maintain a healthy ecosystem. There are three main rules: walk-in traffic only (except when retrieving big game during hunting season) no camping and no littering and no interference with an authorized management treatment (eg. haying or grazing). FWDF lands can be found using the document below, or through Saskatchewan Interactive Maps.

You Can Help

You can help conserve wildlife habitat in many ways through the Fish and Wildlife Development Fund. You or your organization can take on a habitat enhancement project on FWDF lands or in your own backyard. The FWDF graciously accepts ownership of and will manage donated wildlife habitat. Cash donations to the fund are tax deductible. Your actions will produce results to ensure wildlife has a home in Saskatchewan.

Other ways you can help support the sustainable management and use of Fish and Wildlife resources includes: supporting legislation that conserves wildlife habitat; joining or supporting your local conservation group or wildlife federation; planting shelterbelts (using native fruit-bearing species), protecting wetlands and sloughs, including their riparian areas; and maintaining natural areas, large or small.

Up to $5,000 available in funding for full-time students enrolled in a post-secondary institution.



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