Bringing back the bluebird: 4 out of 5 species declining on Saskatchewan grasslands

20-06-2019 11:06

According to a recent United Nations report on biodiversity, extinction looms over a million plant and animal species and Saskatchewan’s grasslands are no exception.

For more than half a century, Lorne Scott has made it his life’s mission to track local bird populations.

He has dedicated nearly his entire life to conservation and spent more than 50 years banding close to 9,000 bluebirds. Over the years, he’s also built around 2,500 nest boxes.

“We band bluebirds to find out how long they live, where they go to winter and if they come back the following year,” Scott said.

READ MORE: Two generations helping Saskatchewan bird species — one birdhouse at a time

Over the years, Scott said he’s watched the bluebird population decline. While areas like Strawberry Lakes just south of Indian Head have healthy numbers, other parts of the province paint a different picture.

“It started on my farm in the 1990s,” Scott said. “Up until then, I had 25 to 30 pairs nesting and for the last five years I haven’t had any.”

He adds that 86 per cent of the landscape south of the forest fringe has been lost, one of the factors impacting habitation.

And it’s not just the bluebird population being affected. Four out of five species on the grasslands are declining.

WATCH: (Jan. 24, 2019) Going wild for wildlife with Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Saskatchewan

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Saskatchewan currently has some of the weakest laws for endangered species and habitat protection in the country.

“We need large areas of natural areas to really ensure species survival and diversity,” Scott said.

“Unfortunately government policies dictate that public lands should be sold, the government shouldn’t own land. This is a very flawed philosophy because once a lot of our public lands are sold, they are broken and cleared.”

With agriculture taking over, some farmers like Arden Curts are trying to protect as much native habitat as possible.

“There’s a lot of species that disappear with the canola and grain farming and such and they have nowhere to go, so it’s kind of nice to preserve it on our own farm,” Curt said.

READ MORE: Dozens of migratory birds shot, left to rot near Unity, Sask.

Over the years, the fourth-generation farmer set up nest boxes, shied away from clearing grasslands and overgrazing.

“We’ve set up nesting baskets, nesting tunnels through ducks unlimited and Sask Wildlife Confederation. We’ve also set up bluebird nesting boxes as well as tree swallows and this time for the first year purple martin houses,” Curts said.

A few years ago, he received the highest award for conservation from the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation.

“It was pretty breathtaking to receive that, that’s for sure,” Curts said.

Just like Curts, Scott hopes to inspire the next generation, hoping it’s not too late for some species like the bluebird.

“It’s really imperative we protect as much of our natural ecosystem as we can, Scott said.

“I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that the next generation won’t miss what they don’t know and that’s really sad.”