August 15, 2005

Regina U to work with Sask Environment on Great Sand Hills environmental study

The Saskatchewan government has approved a grant of up to $900,000 to the University of Regina to support work on the Great Sand Hills Regional Environmental Study (GSHRES) for the current year (2005-06). To date, $1.5 million of the $3.14 million allocated for this project has been spent on various studies in the Great Sand Hills leading to the creation of sustainable use options for the future management of the area.

Dr Dave Gauthier, head of a scientific advisory committee set up in January of this year to oversee the GSHRES, said, "This regional environmental study will provide strategic recommendations to guide human activities. It will help ensure that the long-term ecological integrity of the area is maintained, while corresponding levels of environmental, socio-cultural and economic benefits are realized."

Dr Gauthier, a geography professor at Regina U, is also the executive director of the Canadian Plains Research Centre (CPRC). Other committee members include Dr Polo Diaz, also from Regina U, Dr Bram Noble from the University of Saskatchewan and Dr Paul James from Saskatchewan Environment. Dr Reed Noss of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, an internationally recognized expert in ecosystem management, has been retained as the committee's senior scientific advisor.

The GSHRES was launched in response to a recommendation made following a review of the 1991 Great Sand Hills land use strategy. Tensions between competing interests in the area triggered the 2002 review, whose findings and recommendations, presented to the government in June 2004, were accepted in their entirety.

The GSHRES will generate baseline assessments characterizing the region's environmental, economic and socio-cultural dimensions. Information from these baseline assessments will be used to conduct a cumulative risk and vulnerability analysis, taking into consideration the defined impacts. This analysis, in turn, will be used to develop alternative scenarios for sustainability and to specify the preferred alternative.

A request for public input on an overview of the GSHRES elicited some valuable comments from the public, which have been incorporated into the study's design. Additional consultation will take place over the course of the two-year study. Fieldwork connected to the study began this spring and a report to the government is expected to be completed by the end of the 2006-07 fiscal year.

The Great Sand Hills area, located in the southwest corner of the province, consists of 1,207 square kilometres (750 square miles) of prairie featuring native grass and active and inactive sand dunes. It is home to a number of rare and threatened species.

To enhance protection of the area, the Saskatchewan government enacted regulations this past March to conserve 36,585 hectares (366 square kilometres), ensuring that no surface disturbance will take place (ELW March 21, 2005).

More information is available on the GSHRES Web site, www.se.gov.sk.ca/GSH, or from Traci Braaten at Saskatchewan Environment, 306/787-1611.

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