Grazing and Restoration Field Day at Abbey, SK

At the Sandhills Grazing and Restoration Field Day in Abbey, Saskatchewan, experts and enthusiasts alike delved into the nuances of grassland ecosystem management, focusing on topics like carbon storage and biodiversity. A visit to Neil Block's ranch offered a practical perspective, highlighting sustainable grazing practices in sensitive sandhills ecosites.

On August 22, 2023, Living Lab – Central Prairies and the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation co-hosted a Sandhills Grazing and Restoration Field Day in and around Abbey, Saskatchewan. More than 60 participants gathered in Abbey to discuss the newest science, projects and programs focused on grassland ecosystems and their benefits, including carbon storage and sequestration, and biodiversity. Presenters included Dr. Cameron Carlyle from the University of Alberta, and Dr. John Wilmshurst from Canadian Wildlife Federation. Participants then traveled southwest to Neil Block’s ranch to discuss and experience first hand how different grazing and grassland management strategies can affect sensitive sandhills ecosites.

Neil Block manages a large tract of native grasslands in the sandhills of southwest Saskatchewan. He grazes cattle in large pastures with very conservative stocking rates to ensure appropriate amounts of litter (i.e., dead plant material) are always present, to protect the soil surface and to add carbon and other nutrients back to the soil. He is also working to convert old stands of introduced crested wheatgrass back to native species. Neil attested to how his practices help maintain the system’s overall resilience, and how, by attuning his management to benefit biodiversity of plants and animals, he has also improved the productivity of his ranch business.

Field day attendees participated in plant identification and range health assessment exercises, and lively discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing grazing managers today. We heard a lot of enthusiasm for the ranch visit, and hands-on portion of the day. We look forward to the next time we can gather in the field, to grow our skills and understanding of prairie systems, and highlight differences and similarities between sites involved in the Living Lab. A special thanks to Neil, and all the other presenters and attendees, the South of the Divide Conservation Action Program, Inc., and the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation for a great day.