The Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill community pastures have been designated an Important Bird Area (IBA), highlighting the western Manitoba site as key habitat for endangered birds and the role grazing cattle play to maintain it.
The designation comes from Nature Manitoba, Bird Studies Canada and Nature Saskatchewan, groups that say they hope this focuses more attention on the role beef producers play in conservation.
The Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill community pastures, straddling the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border encompass 583 sq. km in size, making it the largest intact native mixed-grass prairie in Manitoba.
Tim Poole, co-ordinator of the Manitoba Important Bird Areas Program said IBA designations are symbolic, but the intent behind them is to create and build public engagement.
“It doesn’t give protection, per se, but what it does do is it highlights to everyone the importance of these areas, and hopefully gives reason for the public to want to have these sites given protection,” he said.
In this case, it will highlight and explain the important partnership between conservation and beef production.
“We want people to start to recognize the environmental benefits that come from cows actually grazing the land,” said Poole. “There’s been a lot of negativity about beef production in the media, and we want people to actually start to recognize the environmental benefits that come from cows.”
The Ellice-Archie and Spy Hill community pastures, which are grazed by 1,520 cow-calf pairs, are especially noteworthy as breeding grounds for threatened bird species, and although the site is outside the area of southwestern Manitoba perceived as “core” for grassland bird populations, the density of listed grassland species here are arguably the highest in Manitoba.
Sprague’s pipit, chestnut-collared longspur and Baird’s sparrow all make their homes here. In 2017 and 2015 counts, there were 146 pipits and 230 longspurs found on these pastures.
The site is one of 20 community pastures operated by the Association of Manitoba Community Pastures (AMCP).
Zane Fredbjornson has been the site’s manager for the past seven years. It’s great to see the pastures receiving this recognition, because it helps highlight to the public that cattle are the tool to manage these landscapes, he said.
“The cows are creating the right environment for these birds. That’s a win-win situation. When the public starts to understand that these work hand in hand, I think that’s great.”
It also shows they’re doing something right by using rotational grazing methods here. These have proved good for the grass, helped boost productivity of the pastures, and evidently are good for the birds, he said. It’s also good for the soil, which is very light and needs to stay covered.
“One of our limitations here is it can really dry out in a hurry,” he said.
The Ellice-Archie Spy Hill site becomes the province’s 36th IBA. Others in Manitoba include the Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-Grass Prairie IBA, an area including larger tracts of grasslands in the Poverty Plains, Lyleton-Pierson area and the Blind Souris River Valley.
Fredbjornson was a speaker at the Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference in Winnipeg.