The dialogue around Canada’s national election has recently focused on campaign plane usage and carbon offsets.
But the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association is calling on candidates to focus more on Canada’s northern Great Plains, which are home to some of the most periled and threatened ecosystems in the world, the association notes in a press release.
The Canadian Forage and Grassland Association (CFGA) is currently developing a grassland protocol for Canada, including a large segment around the northern Great Plains. The protocol is part of the CFGA’s Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Program (AGGP), which will underlay the foundation of a carbon offset program to keep these valuable lands intact and globally position the Prairie grasslands as carbon benefactors.
At one time, there were 141.5 million acres of Prairie grasslands across Western Canada. A webinar recently hosted by Climate Action Reserve and Bluesource noted that only 26 million acres remain; the balance has largely been converted to annual crop production. Climate Action Reserve is a California-based carbon offset registry that has been working with CFGA on adapting the grasslands protocol to Canada. The project currently includes sites in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Only one per cent of these grasslands are secured under some sort of conservation easement. Cedric MacLeod, CFGA executive director, says the development of the CFGA protocol will make a solid case for the carbon abilities of grasslands while supporting producers.
“We don’t want these grasslands to be parks or set-aside lands,” says MacLeod, who is leading the CFGA grassland protocol project. “These are hard-working landscapes and lifelines for producers, communities and our nation’s economy. If we can give a powerful selling point via grasslands’ ability for carbon capture globally, Canada wins. We need that information to help us make our case.”
MacLeod says the CFGA Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program has finished its first field season of measuring fields to complement the offset discussion. Results are being compiled nationally to assist with the protocol and Year One results should be communicated soon.
Grasslands have plants with deep roots and healthy soil, key ingredients for carbon capture, the release states. But “economic pressures around technology-aided agricultural production” are taking their toll on grasslands, the release notes.
“It’s a tough scene and a heck of a conundrum,” says Duncan Morrison, Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association executive director. “The CFGA protocol should bring a valuable mechanism to the ongoing scenario of accelerated loss that so far has been pretty much unimpeded. Meanwhile, there’s enough science and literature that proves the values of grasslands from their carbon-capture ability to ready our actions and outreach as we finalize the CFGA protocol project going forward.”
Concurrently, there are other upsetting signals around grassland loss from the associated steep declines in grassland birds due to habitat loss, to water quality concerns, to depleted community resiliency around weather events like floods and droughts, notes the CFGA. With the advancement of producer-led, science-based regenerative agriculture and the soil health focus, there is some hope on the horizon. Still, grasslands need more attention and urgency, states the CFGA release.
“We believe we are sitting on a potential economic boon with incredible national economic gains, wide-spread producer uptake and global prominence primarily via the adoption of a producer-valued system that promotes retention and enhancement of existing grasslands,” says MacLeod. “The CFGA carbon offset protocol will help us all better understand that potential and to engage collectively toward solutions and prosperity.”