Category: 2013, Community Grant, Completed, Grant, Land Use


Alberta Fish and Game Association - Operation Grassland Community

Project Steward

Tony Jackson



One of the most intensively-utilized landscapes in the world, the Grassland Natural Region makes up only 14% of Alberta’s land base, yet it contains more than 75% of Alberta’s species at risk. Because 95% of this land-base is either used for conventional farming or ranching, protection of wildlife and their habitats clearly requires full consideration of socioeconomic realities.

Of the dominant land uses in the grassland region, sustainable ranching provides significant potential to prevent further wildlife population declines, and to sustain, enhance, and increase the habitats upon which they rely. This potential exists simply because the prairie ecosystem evolved with grazing bison, and so can thrive today with grazing cattle. However, modern livestock production isn’t without issues or concerns. In order to maintain economic viability, ranchers must manage their lands based on market signals. Sustainable practices, particularly those that address ecosystem goods and services that currently have no market value, can prove fiscally infeasible.

Study after study indicates that consumers are willing to pay for ecological goods and services; however, ‘willingness to pay’ requires that consumers understand for what it is they are paying. Currently, there is a clear disconnect between the urban consumer (80-90% of Alberta’s population) and the producers of their food. Urbanites that are directly connected with the producers of their food, notably those active within the sustainable & local food movement, also lack awareness about the prairie ecosystem in their own ‘backyard’.

Operation Grassland Community plans to produce and extensively promote a new film, “Road to a Sustainable Prairie”, alongside their previous film “Conservation Caravan”, to reach beyond rural fence-lines to the urban consumer, filling this information gap and starting an open and informed debate about actionable steps on the road toward a sustainable prairie. We will catalyze a conversation through media and with far-reaching support from influential local food movement activists. We will see to it that appropriate and timely information fuels continued debate and that debate informs and supports land-use innovation. Change will be clearly apparent through growth in a connected audience, increased government supports for valuation of ecological goods & services, and through implementation of on-the-ground practices that serve as first-steps to long-term, broad scale change.