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Long-time prairie restoration event goes virtual to tackle critical issues

Posted on 28 January 2021 by Submitted by SK PCAP

8th Native Prairie Restoration/Reclamation Workshop goes February 1st-5th, with the theme: "Restoration and Reclamation in a Changing Environment: 

Adapting to Change, Building Resilience”.

Native prairie landscapes are uncultivated grassland ecosystems that are dwindling quickly. With estimates suggesting there is between 11-14% of prairie left remaining in Saskatchewan, maintaining and managing this valuable resource is important.

Prairie is made up of intricate networks of plant species, wildlife, birds, insects, and even invisible soil microbes, and all the different parts fit together like pieces in a puzzle. Prairie grassland is both diverse and practical, providing forage for livestock and habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Prairie also provides valuable services for agriculture and the environment, such as carbon sequestration, nutrient filtering, water retention, and sediment trapping. 

Once native prairie has been changed or dug up, or built upon, can it be restored? This is a hard question that will be addressed at the 8th Native Prairie Restoration/Reclamation Workshop hosted by the Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan (SK PCAP). The conference theme is “Restoration and Reclamation in a Changing Environment: Adapting to Change, Building Resilience," and is happening Monday, February 1 through Friday, February 5, 2021. 

Renny Grilz, a Resource Management Officer with the Meewasin Valley Authority, is a member of the organizing committee as well as a presenter. Reclaiming a natural prairie site is different than restoring it, Grilz says. “Reclamation is putting an equivalent land cover back on the site post-disturbance,” he explains. “Reclamation is the first step but restoration is the next step, when you are actually trying to bring back some of the natural ecological processes and a higher level of biodiversity to the site,” Grilz adds.

This long-running event has gained credibility with its capacity to provide timely information on urgent challenges that affect a variety of prairie stakeholders. “This year we have a couple of topics on orphan wells, which is an emerging issue with some of the federal and provincial programs that are available,” Grilz explains. Presenters will be talking about programs to restore abandoned oil and gas well sites on native prairie in both Alberta and Saskatchewan, a problematic issue landowners and experts say needs attention. 

Other topics that will be covered include climate change, rangeland resilience, invasive species management, seed testing, Indigenous conservation strategies, and plant species selection. Grilz will share his insight on incorporating unique resources during restoration planning. “Get outside of standard text books or training manuals,” he says. “It’s more about thinking outside the box, looking for new information and new methods like incorporating traditional Indigenous knowledge, or using citizen science,” he adds. 

This unique workshop is one of the longest running events of its kind. Grilz says he is seeing multiple generations participate in the conference. “You’re now seeing second and third generation family groups attending,” he explains. “As people are retiring there are new people coming in as well, and there is a continuity of knowledge being transferred.” 

For the first time, this leading conference will be delivered through a virtual platform. While going online has been a new experience for the established event, there have been some unexpected benefits. Creating connections and building networks has always been a major strength of the conference. “From academics to non-government organizations, to landowners, to government agencies, to the energy and mining sector, to producers, this event brings together a wide range of stakeholders and interests,” Grilz explains.  “Going virtual allows other people to join the conference that wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” he says. Remote attendance has also enabled the group to access additional experts and presenters from further away.  

Anyone interested in learning more about the upcoming event can visit http://www.pcap-sk.org/upcoming-events/nprrw2021

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