Wild About Saskatoon: Actual motion wanted to guard nature in Sask.

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Governments may not be living up to their commitments to preserve endangered areas, but some people in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan are.

Signage in the northeast swale on November 17, 2015 in Saskatoon. (RICHARD MARJAN /The StarPhoenix) jpeg

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We wish we were not surprised to hear that our provincial government is skipping COP 15, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, now being held in Montreal.

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As Andrea Olive pointed out in her recent comment (SP, Dec. 7), the government of Saskatchewan has really never seemed to care about protecting nature.

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While the rest of the world, including Canada, works towards a goal of conserving 30 per cent of lands by 2030, Saskatchewan is standing pat at the 12 per cent it set about two decades ago. Even this unambitious target has been beyond our reach.

According to the latest figures on the province’s website, only 9.76 per cent of lands in this province have been protected. Small, isolated fragments of habitat are not nearly enough to maintain robust, diverse and functioning ecosystems.

But if our government isn’t taking action to protect biodiversity, many Saskatchewan people are. Over the last 10 years, Wild about Saskatoon has worked to celebrate and advocate for the natural areas in and around this city.

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We are constantly inspired by the many people who deeply care about the natural world and work tirelessly and creatively to educate others and to protect and restore ecosystems.

This city is blessed with a wealth of natural assets — the magnificent river valley, naturalized and conserved areas, the urban forest as well as gardens and parks. These areas support an abundance of life from crocuses to meadowlarks to tri-coloured bumblebees to white-tailed and mule deer.

The city’s Official Community Plan envisages a city that “grows in harmony with nature” and that “thrives in harmony with its natural environment, conserves resources, and consistently demonstrates environmental leadership.”

In addition, the plan includes a commitment to prioritize nature in urban design: “Developments shall incorporate, preserve, and complement all significant natural features (and) shall respect the physical capacity of land to accommodate development …”

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These are glowing words. But does the city walk its talk?

Two of the city’s most significant natural areas, the Northeast Swale and the Small Swale, are being encroached upon by current and projected development, including the proposed University Heights 3 neighborhood and a major highway, the Saskatoon Freeway.

This high-speed route is expected to carry eight lanes of traffic through the Northeast Swale and expand to 10 lanes in the Small Swale.

The grasslands and wetlands of the swales are remnants of one of the most endangered and least protected ecosystems on earth. In our region less than five per cent of the original fescue prairie remains.

Yet the Northeast Swale alone contains over 200 species of plants and over 100 species of birds as well as many mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

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Of these, there are 17 federally listed species (species listed as threatened or endangered) including the barn swallow, northern leopard frog and American badger as well as 15 provincially listed species including the northern shrike, crowfoot violet, small yellow lady slipper and plains rough safe.

Simply listing these species does little justice to the exquisite beauty and vitality of these areas and the joy they bring to people who visit.

If the Swales are degraded beyond repair — death by a thousand cuts — Saskatoon’s proposed National Urban Park will be a sorry effort. It is past time for governments at all levels to get serious about protecting nature.

Joanne Blythe and Chad Hammond are members of the Steering Committee for Wild About Saskatoon, a Saskatoon group that takes a stand for the protection, connection and enhancement of natural areas and that advocates for civic and provincial policies that support the health of local ecosystems.

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  1. The Lonetree Lake property consists of 629 hectares of endangered prairie grasslands located one hour and 45 minutes from Regina, Saskatchewan, that is being protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.  (NCC photo)

    Cameron Wood: Saskatchewan grasslands among ecosystems most in danger

  2. This May 2013 photo shows a conservation area near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

    Andrea Olive: Saskatchewan remains a conservation laggard in Canada

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With Files from the Edmonton Journal and the Montreal Gazette

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