Making an impact on the prairies
Conservation Volunteers Barb Collier and Kathy Manyk are all smiles as they lay mulch mats over elderberry shrubs. (Photo by NCC)
Caring for our conservation lands, and supporting others in adopting best methods for land stewardship, is a core part of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) mission. It's something we couldn’t do without the support of our volunteers. Since 2006, 18,790 volunteers have taken part in NCC’s Conservation Volunteers (CV) program, supporting more than 1,500 projects within natural areas from coast to coast.
Across the prairies, volunteers are making an impact on NCC conservation sites and supporting other community conservation initiatives in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Whether it’s preventing invasive species from taking over native grasslands, helping collect data on species at risk or conducting surveys of targeted species, our volunteers' hard work and dedication are helping us achieve our science and stewardship goals on the ground.
Here are a few examples of prairie conservation projects that were supported by Conservation Volunteers in 2017:
Sandstone Ranch, Alberta
Conservation Volunteers at Sandstone Ranch, AB (Photo by NCC)
This past summer, 22 volunteers joined NCC’s Alberta staff at Sandstone Ranch to help remove downy brome. Located in the Milk River Ridge Natural Area, an internationally significant fescue temperate grassland, the area is home to several species of rare and endangered animals, birds and plants. Sandstone Ranch’s 4,143 acres (1,677 hectares) of grasslands provides habitat for 66 wildlife species, 15 of which are at risk.
Leta Pezderic, NCC’s natural area manager for southeast Alberta, and her son, Duke, explained to the group that downy brome originated in the Mediterranean and southwest Asia. It was introduced in most parts of Canada, the United States and northern Mexico. A single plant can produce up to 5,000 seeds, which compete with perennial seeds for moisture.
Over the course of the day, volunteers filled almost 10 large garbage bags filled with the invasive weed. This was the first year NCC hosted an event on Sandstone Ranch to control this invasive species. The event was a success, and NCC hopes to repeat it again in 2018 to tackle the remaining brome.
Sprague's pipit (Photo by Steve Zack)
NCC found 10 species at risk on its large Wideview Complex — a major project in southwest Saskatchewan conserved in early 2017. Wideview covers 3,021 acres (1,222 hectares) of rolling hills and native grasslands in the Milk River Basin Natural Area.
This past summer, NCC staff and volunteers conducted a bioblitz — a conservation activity that involves documenting all species, including species at risk, found on the property. The information collected is used to make decisions on how best to manage habitat for those species.
Canada’s temperate grasslands are considered the world’s most endangered ecosystem. Grassland birds in Canada have shown major declines in the past four decades. NCC’s team of scientists was pleased to record the presence of threatened birds, such as Sprague’s pipit, loggerhead shrike and common nighthawk, in their survey.
Finding out which species occur on NCC properties is important in better understanding the landscape and determining the best ways to protect it and the species that live there.
Tall Grass Prairie Natural Area, Manitoba
Tall grass prairie in NCC's Interlake Natural Area. (Photo by Cary Hamel/NCC)
In Manitoba, NCC hosts regular monarch butterfly CV surveys to help monitor species populations on its properties. In addition, volunteers also help monitor milkweed, a plant that is a vital food source for monarchs.
Information collected at these events helps staff measure the effectiveness of NCC's conservation work, providing suitable habitat for monarchs in the tall grass prairie.
Although the tall grass prairie ecosystem once stretched from near present-day Winnipeg all the way south to Texas, today the largest intact blocks of tall grass prairie in Canada occur in the Tall Grass Prairie Natural Area. The area supports a diversity of habitat types: wet and dry tall grass prairie, marshes and fens, savannah and dense woodlands, riparian (riverbank) areas and rivers.
This data collected at monarch monitoring events is also submitted to the Mission Monarch project, a Canada-wide initiative to collect information about the distribution and status of monarchs. During these events, NCC staff teach volunteers all about this amazing butterfly and how to spot it in its various life stages.
Lend a hand for nature!
In the prairies and in the rest of Canada, NCC offers a wide variety of hands-on volunteer opportunities through our CV program to help restore and care for some of Canada’s most important natural areas. Find out how you can lend a hand for nature where you live by clicking here.