Grasslands, the First Frontier; The Contributions of Strategic Zoning to Sustainable Land-use Planning

by Sky Jarvis & Tricia Bacon

Sky Jarvis is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park (SLPP) is a 5,535 hectare protected area located in Southwestern Saskatchewan near Swift Current (est. pop 18,000). This Park is located in the Mixed-Grass Prairie (Brown Soil Zone) ecoregion which has a characteristically warm, dry climate and a climate moisture index between -325mm to – 225mm (Thorpe 2007). This ecoregion has few intact patches remaining and is considered to be highly disturbed. In fact, it is generally accepted that only 20% of Saskatchewan’s native grassland remains (Hammermeister et al. 2001) and more recent estimates indicate there could be less than 14% (Sawatzky 2018). 

SSLP was established in 1973 and is one of the largest protected areas for native prairies in the province of Saskatchewan. It is an area rich in history as it is located in lands within Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 and the traditional territories of the Blackfoot/Niitsítapi, Cree, and Ĩyãħé Nakoda (Stoney) First Nations and of the Métis Nation, was used as a historical crossing site on the South Saskatchewan River, and in modern days, supports high levels of land and water-based recreation (Park Management Services 2018). This Park has a long history of cattle grazing practices within park boundaries through an annual permitting process. Located in the South Saskatchewan River Valley, the park and surrounding area serves as an important terrestrial and aquatic wildlife corridor (Guo et al. 2020). It also hosts some of the only known occurrences and critical habitat for the endangered sand-verbena (Tripterocalyx micranthus; Figure 1; COSEWIC 2002)

Figure 1– A photo of the endangered sand-verbena (Tripterocalyx micranthus), a flowering annual plant native to North America and found only in two Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as several states in the US. It’s found in dry habitats and associated with sand dunes and sandhill areas (COSEWIC 2002)

Cattle grazing has occurred in the areas of SLPP since before that park was created and forage production is a valued benefit generated by the park for local ranchers. However, overgrazing has been associated with increased soil erosion, reduced above ground biomass, riparian degradation, and disturbance to native plant and animal habitats. In the Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030 (Guo et al. 2020), it was recommended to test the ability to use rotational-grazing approaches to provide rest periods for grasslands to recover. There seems to be a need to Investigate rest-rotation grazing, native range deferrals, riparian exclosures, and other measures to ensure long term sustainability of a limited resource.

Invasive species, namely herbaceous plants and non-native grasses like Kentucky bluegrass and Crested wheatgrass have affected large portions of SLPP and have led to wide expanses of semi-native plant communities. Smaller patches of noxious weeds, leafy spurge, and Russian knapweed, if left unchecked, could spread rapidly as seen in similar landscapes. There seems to be a desire to test the efficacy of targeted grazing by sheep or goats in spring and early summer AND/OR prescribed burning with limited application of selective herbicide to meet the management goal of increasing native diversity and supporting invasive species objectives.

Recreation can also have wide-ranging impacts on landscapes and the goods and services they provide. Parks and protected areas have the complex mandate of providing visitor experiences to connect people with nature and to generate revenue to offset operating costs while simultaneously protecting a representative combination of habitats and species in the name of conservation. Human activities, when concentrated, can be associated with increased erosion (Farrell and Marion 2001), trampling (Pickering and Hill 2007; Pickering and Growcock 2009), and accidental introduction/ spread of invasive species (Potito, 2000). There seems to be increased demand for access to recreational spaces following the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic (Geng et al. 2021). As such there may be an increased need for public outreach and education regarding the impacts of human activities (invasives, wildfire), promotion of opportunities for local stewardship, and recognition of the need to share spaces with plants and animals.

Figure 2– A map of South Saskatchewan Landing Park as well as its current zones. Zonation at the moment is quite limited and broadly distributed between four main categories including Development (recreational facilities), Natural (relatively undeveloped and supporting low-impact activities such as trails and horseback riding), Protected (disturbed areas in need of restoration), and Resource Management (associated with cattle grazing). Image from: (Park Management Services, 2018).

Regular monitoring of park landscape features, especially plants, soil, water bodies and wildlife, assist park management to make decisions to prevent damage and keep park ecosystems healthy. These features act as indicators, or signs, to those able to read them.

Planning, consulting, and more planning

Land use planning and zonation are complex approaches to resource management. Different people have different values and interests in the land whether it be conservation, recreation, or supporting their livelihood; all values should be considered when making these complex decisions regarding use and access. Three levels of hierarchical land-use planning may be required to better understand the problem, site characteristics, and identify solutions, resources, and stakeholders that can help with decision-making and implementing actions that help achieve management goals. These three types of planning should be considered essential when attempting to design and implement a zoning scheme for a terrestrial or marine protected area (Figure 3).

Figure 3. An image showing the hierarchy of the different levels of planning. It is recommended that SLCC management and stakeholders work on discussing future park scenarios and setting targets associated with tactical planning in order to identify feasible approaches to zoning and threat management.  Image created by Tricia.

The first level of planning is strategic planning. This would include the identification of management objectives, threats, and potential opportunities through informed consultation with stakeholders, first nations, and members of the public (social aspect of planning). Consultation can be used to identify values (social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental). This step also includes the collection of a broad range of data from a variety of sources to inform stakeholder discussions around threats, priorities, and trade-offs.

Current stakeholders at South Saskatchewan Landing Park

  • Park Staff
  • Park Commercial Lessees
    • Marina
    • Store
    • Cactus Blume Private Campground
    • Glamping Resorts
  • Omache Bay Cottage Subdivision Cottagers Association
  • Prairie Sky Running
  • Tourism Swift Current
  • Town of Kyle
  • Park Grazing Permit Holders
  • SW Naturalists
  • The Prairie Dog Metis Local 123
  • University of Saskatchewan
  • Parks Culture and Sport Park Planning Unit
  • Landing View resort
  • Golf & Country Club
  • Parks Culture and Sport Landscape Protection Unit
  • Parks Culture and Sport Visitor Experience Branch
  • PCS Heritage Branch
  • Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment
  • Area Residents
    • Matador Hutterite Colony
    • Matador Community Pasture
  • Lake Diefenbaker Task Force against Zebra Mussels
  • Sask Water Security Agency

 

The second level of planning is tactical planning. This level of planning helps translate broad government objectives into clear, tangible management targets that can be implemented at the operational level. These semi-broad plans apply to sub-landscape levels and can focus on scales associated with hydrological processes and wildlife habitats, while still being broad enough to account for cumulative impacts. So far SLPP has listed management goals and objectives (Table 1) within Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030 (Guo et al. 2020) but has yet to set quantitative management targets that would help with the evaluation of these management approaches.

Table 1 Management goals and objectives stated within the Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030 (Guo et al. 2020). This plan acknowledges that this ecoregion supports a high level of native diversity and continues to be impacted by a number of threats. These goals and objectives aim to prioritize management actions to address urgent threats and sustain the natural landscapes and the species they support within SLPP through an ecosystem-based management approach.

Modeling and scenario planning can be useful tactical tools that can incorporate public values into management plans in order to help identify a range of feasible approaches to meeting broader objectives and goals (technical aspect of planning). Models can help study the potential effects of management and policy outcomes over space and time as well as highlight synergies that can help with optimization of approaches (more winning and less losing). The Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030 (Guo et al. 2020) and Saskatchewan Landing Sub-zoning Report (Saskatchewan Parks 2012) have identified key areas for restoration and generated several maps displaying the various land uses and threats occurring within the park (Figure 4)- these datasets and analysis would be beneficial in the creation of zones to support management goals and objectives within the park.

Figure 4: Two images showing the current grazing leasees and the occurrences of species at risk in South Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. Grazing permit holders represent of one the SSLP stakeholder groups, the input and relationship with this group should be an important consideration while developing zoning plans as ranchers have widespread knowledge and use of the park. They can be beneficial partners in developing sustainable grazing practices. Due to their widespread use, cattle grazing is one of the primary land uses that can affect native biodiversity and species at risk within the park boundaries. Both are interrelated and important aspects relating to the aforementioned management objectives. Retrieved from: Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030

The final level of planning occurs at the operational level. This level takes into account site-specific characteristics such as soil characteristics, plant community composition, critical wildlife habitat structures, cultural features, and ecosystem structure/ function. This level can also consider the availability of topographical or other natural/ artificial barriers that can help with zone delineation as well as considering areas that have been highly impacted and/ or degraded. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area (GBRMPA; Australia Government 2004) and the Gwaii Haanas Gina ‘Waadluxan KilGuhlGa Land-Sea-People Management Plan (GHMPA; Council of the Haida Nation 2018) are useful and relevant examples of effective zonation of protected areas to accommodate multiple user groups and land uses. Lessons learned by other park agencies both internationally and within Canada can provide valuable insights into the development of a zonation plan for SSLP (Table 2).

Table 2– These are some of the zone categories used in the GBRMP and a short description of the intended uses of the zone and how this could be modified to SLPP (GBRMP zoning plan 2003).

Operational plans should also highlight the methods and responsibilities for ecological monitoring. Essentially what indicators should be used, who will collect field data, and how this data will be analyzed and incorporated into successional management planning at the tactical level. Monitoring and evaluation are critical to determining if management objectives and targets can be met as well as helping to identify perverse and unintended outcomes that arise. This process enables managers to learn more about the responses of the systems they manage and can ensure the sustenance of ecological function and social values within landscapes. 

This process might sound familiar to adaptive management in its ability to shape learning and provide flexibility within resource management.  Indigenous guardian programs are emerging tools for parks and protected areas to engage and learn from local First Nations in ecological monitoring. These programs can be complemented by including members of the public such as seniors, families, and youth through opportunities to contribute to education and stewardship. Citizen science is another effective tool in engaging the public in monitoring and data collection. SLPP could investigate forming partnerships with local first nations and/or create its own project on iNaturalist and encourage visitors to log the species they find while recreating at this park.

Figure 5: An image showing the adaptive cycle to conservation which could be adapted and applied to the creation of a zoning plan. It’s important to include stakeholders, park staff, and user groups whose values can be incorporated into governance, planning, management, and evaluation. In doing so this will likely help with the success of implementing, enforcing, and monitoring the ability of the zoning plan to support broader management objectives. Retrieved from: Conservation Standards (2022).

The creation of zones takes specific effort and requires productive and open consultation with stakeholders, including local communities and First Nations. Proposed zones should incorporate local values and consider existing land uses, and natural topographical barriers to increase support for and effectiveness of guidelines on acceptable and unacceptable land-uses within certain areas of the park. Further, there will need to be a public education component where visitors are informed of the new zonation process and why it was necessary to move to this approach. 

As an example of proactive education, the GBRMPA created a park-specific app that can be downloaded onto a smartphone and contains a detailed map with zones and acceptable land-uses to help visitors with planning and navigation while in the park. GPS tracking can allow users to know what zone they are in and when they are approaching new zones, furthermore, there could be an “off-trail alert” which could notify the person when they are off walking/ hiking/ horse trail or when they enter a zone with more restricted uses (eg. started in a general use zone and traveled into a habitat protection zone). An app like this could help strengthen both the public education and enforcement aspects of a zonation approach to park management.

Building on Connections to Place

“If you were raised in southern Saskatchewan, the word “prairie” comes naturally, and you use it often to describe where you come from. For me growing up the word evoked images of yellow fields, canola dancing in the wind; the kind of landscape where your gaze is drawn upward, not towards mountains, but to the open sky. Saskatchewan is a Prairie province. I am from the prairies. I live on the prairies. Over the course of the past year, I have learned this ritual of description, so often repeated with pride, is a deception and delusion—crops, however beautiful, are not “prairie.” The time has come for prairie people to acknowledge that the landscape by which they describe themselves is almost gone and that the value of what remains is threatened.” 

 –Katie Doke Sawatzky 2018

Out of the historical 60 million acres of native grasslands, only 8.2 million acres (or 13.7%) remain as of 2015 (Sawatzky and Piwowar 2019). These trends in the loss of native temperate grass lights not only highlight the need for conservation efforts such as the creation of Provincial and/or National Parks, private land conservancies, and restoration, but can also point towards the need for zoning plans to be developed and implemented within existing and proposed parks in order to balance competing objectives such as recreation, conservation, and development in order to prioritize the maintenance of healthy functioning ecosystems. Zoning plans have been successfully implemented in protected areas both within Canada (Gwaii Haanas) as well as internationally (Great Barrier Reef). Ongoing consultation and consideration of current/future threats, pre-existing uses, and carrying capacity will be essential in delineating potential zones and the types of activities that they can support. The work done in the Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030 (Guo et al. 2020), Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Management & Development Plan (Park Management Services, 2018), and Saskatchewan Landing Sub-Zoning Report (Saskatchewan Parks 2012) have started the necessary strategic and tactical planning required for the development of a zonation plan. Further work beyond these reports to (1) identify quantitative management targets and (2) develop monitoring and operational plans would aid with the implementation and evaluation of proposed zones to meet broader management objectives and targets.

South Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park has a shared responsibility to (1) ensure opportunities for sustainable livelihood from grazing, (2) create opportunities for visitors to connect to nature and (3) protection of unique species and habitats found within park boundaries. These responsibilities can generate land-use conflicts which will lead to the need for trade-offs between land uses to ensure ecological viability. SSLP could consider creating a Zoning Plan that considers the existing user groups within a multifunctional landscape while also acknowledging the biological constraints of the ecosystem in which these relationships exist. This type of plan would be enhanced by opportunities to engage in consultation with stakeholders and First Nations and could be informed by the implementation of Zoning plans seen in several Marine Protected Areas to accomplish broader management objectives centered around sustainable development and conservation.

 

Please reach out to us to share other examples on how zoning plans have been implemented in parks and protected areas in a way that supports multiple user groups in a new age approach to conserving biodiversity and promoting human use and enjoyment of natural areas in a sustainable and adaptive way.

References: 

Australia Government. 2004. Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area zoning plan 2003. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/3390/GBRMPA-zoning-plan-2003.pdf

BC Forest Practices Board. 2019. Tactical forest planning: The missing link between strategic planning and operational planning in BC. Special Report 58. Retrieved from

https://www.bcfpb.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/SR58-Tactical-Forest-Planning.pdf

Conservation Standards. 2022. Open standards for the practice of conservation. https://conservationstandards.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2020/10/CMP-Open-Standards-for-the-Practice-of-Conservation-v4.0.pdf

COSEWIC. 2002. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the small-flowered sand-verbena Tripterocalyx micranthus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/species-risk-public-registry/cosewic-assessments-status-reports/small-flowered-sand-verbena.html

Council of the Haida Nation. 2018. Gwaii Haanas Gina ‘Waadluxan KilGuhlGa Land-Sea-People Management Plan 2018. Archipelago Management Board Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site. Queen Charlotte, BC, Canada.

https://pcweb.azureedge.net/-/media/pn-np/bc/gwaiihaanas/WET4/info/plan/PDFs/Gwaii-Haanas-LSP-Plan-2018_EN_lowres.pdf

Doke Sawatzky, K. 2018. The state of native prairie in Saskatchewan. Prairie Commons, Regina, SK. Retrieved from http://www.prairiecommons.ca/?page_id=300.

Doke Sawatzky, K., and J.M. Piwowar. 2019. Changes in prairie grassland extent in Saskatchewan from 1990-2015. Prairie Perspectives: Geographical Essays, 21: 1-8

http://pcag.uwinnipeg.ca/Prairie-Perspectives/PP-Vol21/Sawatzky-Piwowar.pdf

Farrell, T.A. and J.L. Marion. 2001. Trail impacts and trail impact management related to visitation at Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Leisure/Loisir, 26(1-2): 31-59.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/14927713.2001.9649928?casa_token=nQ7BtQJ2djQAAAAA:djeQ3bm7Q6O-fhMLoT5ZgZb2JGPkPI5edbg_xVjJKgPH7jNWbZmKFEux1kAIpKrXvPgg6DFTSksecTU

Geng, D.C., J. Innes, W. Wu, and G. Wang. 2021. Impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on urban park visitation: a global analysis. Journal of forestry research, 32(2): 553-567.

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11676-020-01249-w

Guo, X., T. Doan, D. Gross, and T. Chu. 2020. Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Grassland Management Plan 2020-2030. Saskatchewan Ministry of Parks, Culture, and Sport.

Hammermeister, A., D. Gauthier, and K. McGovern. 2001. Saskatchewan’s native prairie: statistics of a vanishing ecosystem and dwindling resource. Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK. Retrieved from:

https://www.npss.sk.ca/docs/2_pdf/NPSS_SKNativePrairie-TakingStock.pdf.

Park Management Services. 2018. Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Management & Development Plan.

https://pubsaskdev.blob.core.windows.net/pubsask-prod/97610/97610-English.pdf

Pickering, C.M. and A.J. Growcock. 2009. Impacts of experimental trampling on tall alpine herbfields and subalpine grasslands in the Australian Alps. Journal of Environmental Management, 91(2): 532-540.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301479709003260?casa_token=A_me0MEfBTIAAAAA:coiZ09PAcBOYviEuZlDto3ewnB3SOGIQqyclv9bEcgOlAVyYKLD9Hnv11gxfP7189k9Vdynb_Pxj

Pickering, C. M., and W. Hill. 2007. Impacts of recreation and tourism on plant biodiversity and vegetation in protected areas in Australia. Journal of environmental management 85: 791-800.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030147970600377X

Potito, A. 2000. Impacts of recreation trails on exotic and invasive species distribution in grassland areas along the Colorado front range (Master’s thesis, University of Colorado).

https://webappsprod.bouldercolorado.gov/openspace/research-reports/docs/3957_Potito_Aaron_Impacts-1-201307151457.pdf

Saskatchewan Parks. 2012. Saskatchewan Landing Sub-zoning Report. Phase I: Literature review, gap analysis, and field investigations.

https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.732.8935&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Thorpe, J. 2007. Saskatchewan rangeland ecosystems: Ecoregions and ecosites. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Government of Saskatchewan.

https://www.pcap-sk.org/docs/6_skecositeguide/Ecoregions_and_Ecosites.pdf