Kitchen table conservation: The importance of collaboration with landowners
It is surprising to some just how much conservation entails talking to people. It’s still important to identify species, assess the health of the landscapes we are managing, manage invasive species and all of the other tasks people expect, but I think the most important part of my job is working with people; especially landowners.
The reason the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is able to protect the landscapes we work in is because they have been responsibly stewarded by past generations of landowners. The majority of the land that NCC has protected to date in Saskatchewan has been through conservation agreements — voluntary, perpetual agreements restricting the types of activities that can occur on the land for the benefit of biodiversity. These agreements create a lifelong partnership between the landowner and NCC and are most effective when there are open lines of communication.
Whether it is over the phone, in the pasture, or — my favourite — at the kitchen table, we have countless conversations with landowners about the best way to manage a particular invasive species, thoughts on grazing management, concerns over public access, the types of species on the property or what kind of shape the grass and creeks are in. I do the best I can to provide good advice, such as talking at length about how to try to get a hold on sweet-clover, or to provide whatever support I can, such as providing NCC signage to discourage snowmobile use.
The thing I enjoy most about these conversations is that the learning is not one-sided. As someone who grew up in the city, sitting down and chatting with farmers and ranchers has been immensely valuable in adding to my knowledge of agriculture. Being able to understand the unique perspective of landowners also helps me to get a sense of the practicality of the things I am suggesting.
Neighbours to properties that we own are also valuable in our conservation efforts. In Saskatchewan, the majority of properties that NCC owns are leased for grazing because well-managed disturbance is important for promoting biodiversity. It is our neighbours who actually undertake most of this grazing management on our lands. Their cooperation in following our grazing plan, which sometimes creates extra work on their part, maintaining fences and corrals and providing honest feedback on the condition of the land and locations of invasive species is vital in our day-to-day operations. In some cases, the information I have learned from conversations with neighbours has been incredibly helpful in planning the management of a newly purchased property.
I know I would find my job to be insurmountable if not for the land stewardship of past generations of landowners and the partnerships forged with current landowners and neighbours who share our passion of conserving these ecologically valuable landscapes.