Upcycled solutions for grassland bird conservation

Mosaic repurposes for conservation pipe caps used in their potash operations

Vesper sparrow (Photo by Angela Waldie)

Vesper sparrow (Photo by Angela Waldie)

The Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area (OMB) in southwestern Saskatchewan is one of the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC's) flagship projects for protecting remaining intact native grasslands. 

The OMB property is a 13,088-acre (5,297-hectare) ranch that has sections reserved for bison and cattle grazing. The hollow posts used to fence land around where the plains bison live pose a risk to small birds. When small birds try to land on the posts, they fall inside and die. 

"Numerous studies have been done in both North America and Europe documenting the hazards that open pipes present to birds. The general consensus is that they present an easily preventable mortality risk,” says Sarah Ludlow, conservation science coordinator/GIS for NCC in Saskatchewan. “Once a bird falls down a pipe, it is trapped. The pipes are often too narrow for them to open their wings to fly out and the sides are too smooth to allow birds to climb out.”

“OMB has thousands of uncapped metal fence posts. There is huge potential for large numbers of birds to be affected,” adds Ludlow. “The land is home to many avian species of conservation concern. Therefore, minimizing potential threats to birds in the area is imperative. Capping the open metal fence posts at OMB is a simple solution to a preventable hazard and an easy way to aid bird conservation." 

And that’s where Mosaic, a company that mines phosphate and potash and produces a variety of crop nutrient products to help growers across the globe enrich their soils, comes in. They are committed to reducing their environmental footprint and operating sustainably. 

Mosaic has set sustainability targets to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, energy and freshwater use by 10 per cent per tonne by 2020. The company is also aiming to reduce waste by reusing and recycling resources. That’s where the idea of repurposing discarded materials from their operations began. 

At their Belle Plaine facility in Saskatchewan, pipe caps become waste material from drilling activities. A Mosiac employee connected with the NCC offered these caps as a cover for hollow fence posts used at OMB. Mosaic is pleased that such a simple idea is making a big impact. 

“When we can partner with an organization like NCC, to not only provide funding for an impactful program, but to find innovative ways that help both our own sustainability objectives and NCC’s conservation goals, we can build a more powerful partnership,” says Sarah Fedorchuk, Mosaic’s senior director, public affairs-Potash.

In August, NCC held a Community Volunteers event at OMB. More than 30 volunteers capped 795 fence posts. The volunteers that attended the event are interested in nature and were from all age groups, including a two-generation family.

To date, Mosaic has collected over 2,250 pipe caps. The caps have been deployed with the support of 115 community volunteers.

Going above and beyond in support of migratory birds

In addition to collecting pipe caps for NCC’s project at OMB, Mosaic has generously provided financial support for NCC’s conservation efforts. This support helps NCC to protect Saskatchewan’s most important natural areas and the plants and animals they sustain. 

Over the past two years, Mosaic has provided $40,000 towards the protection of critical habitat. A portion of these funds aided in the securement of NCC’s Pratt Lake conservation project, approximately 80 kilometres west of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Mosaic’s support was provided in U.S. dollars from their head office in Minnesota. This allowed match funds to be accessed under the North American Wetland Conservation Agreement (NAWCA) grant program and the Government of Canada's Natural Areas Conservation Program. As a result, Mosaic’s investment was more than doubled for greater conservation impact. 

The funding provided to conserve the Pratt Lake property will protect 133 acres (54 hectares) of key boreal transition zone habitat. This land is home to many boreal birds, including the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s choice for national bird, the gray jay. The land is also habitat for several species of ducks, as well as deer, elk and moose.

“The financial support and volunteer hours that Mosaic has provided to the Nature Conservancy of Canada helps contribute to a variety of important conservation needs. By working collaboratively with industry, governments and individuals, greater conservation results are achieved,” states Cody Barnett, director of development and communications for NCC in Saskatchewan. “We are truly grateful for the support of Mosaic’s employees across Saskatchewan, and for the funding that Mosaic has provided for the conservation of our natural areas. Without their support we would struggle to complete this important work.”

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