August 6, 2007

Sask moves to designate areas of Great Sand Hills for protection

Following a thorough review, the Saskatchewan government has accepted a final report on the Great Sand Hills Regional Environmental Study and has taken immediate action on the report's most urgent recommendations concerning additional protection in highly sensitive areas in the Great Sand Hills.

The report, prepared by the Great Sand Hills Scientific Advisory Committee, singles out 18 separate areas as the minimum that need protection in order to conserve this unique part of the Great Sand Hills landscape. Based on this recommendation, Environment Minister John Nilson said he will immediately start the process to designate these areas as Ecological Reserves.

"The Great Sand Hills is a spectacular landscape, recognized nationally and internationally as one of the largest remnants of native grassland in Canada," he said, adding, "The Regional Environmental Study identified the values and provides the data we need to establish a long-term management plan for this area. We are moving forward in designating lands for protection as ecological reserves as part of our commitment to sustaining the ecological integrity of the Great Sand Hills."

The report and its supporting documentation will also be sent to the Saskatchewan Environment's environmental assessment branch to be reviewed as a development proposal under the provincial Environmental Assessment Act. Based on the results of this review, additional areas may be considered for protection.

The report, its recommendations and preferred options focus on overall regional sustainability and the maintenance of ecological integrity of the Great Sand Hills. Some of its recommendations that lie outside the general application of the Environmental Assessment Act and it is expected that the final ministerial approval will cite those particular recommendations and direct them to the appropriate departments for action.

The government set up the Great Sand Hills Scientific Advisory Committee in January 2005, to oversee the Regional Environmental Study of the area. Dr Reed Noss of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, a world-renowned expert in ecosystem management, served as the committee's senior scientific advisor. Other committee members included Dr Bram Noble from the University of Saskatchewan; Dr Dave Gauthier, Dr Polo Diaz and Dr Ben Cecil from the University of Regina; and Dr Paul James from Saskatchewan Environment.

The two-year study included consultations with the public and First Nations and yielded 25 individual studies which were then condensed into a comprehensive final report submitted to the Minister of Environment.

The Great Sand Hills area contains more than 1,950 square kilometres of native prairie, which includes active and stabilized sand dunes and is home to rare and threatened species such as the Sprague's Pipit.

The final report, along with background information, may be viewed on-line at www.se.gov.sk.ca/GSH.

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