Submitted by: Tracie Westington, Quinte Regional Communication Coordinator
In 2016, as part of an Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) initiative, OSCIA began delivering the Ontario division of Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL) to help protect, through education and cost share funding, two species at risk. The two programs originally created were the Grassland Stewardship Program aimed to help the Bobolink and BadgerWay, created to help the American Badger.
In 2019, the Federal government wished to continue funding the program, but on a broader scale. The new mandate covered 12 species at risk. A change to the Ontario SARPAL program had all species covered under just one program. The current SARPAL program is in initiative focused on working with farmers to support the recovery of species at risk on agricultural land. (images taken from – https://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/osciaprograms/sarpal/)
The 12 species covered under the current program structure are:
2. American Badger
3. Loggerhead Shrike
4. Henslow’s Sparrow
5. Barn Swallow
6. Eastern Meadowlark
7. Grasshopper Sparrow
8. Little Brown Bat
9. Eastern Foxsnake
10. Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee
11. Rusty-patched Bumble Bee
12. Monarch Butterfly
This program is based on creating and/or maintaining habitats for these 12 at risk species by instituting the following Best Management Practices (BMPs):
• Tree and shrub planting
• Establishment of in-field perennial grass strip(s)
• Wetland restoration
• Grassland restoration
• Cross fencing for rotational grazing
• Fencing to exclude livestock from woodland areas
• Forage harvest management (delayed haying)
Participants are required to sign a Conservation Agreement with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) before any funding is released. By signing the agreement, the landowner is agreeing to maintain the project for three years, with the exception of the delayed haying practice which only requires a one year commitment. Additionally, they agree to complete an annual survey for the length of the agreement. Farmers can receive up to a maximum of $20,000 in SARPAL costshare funding per program year. Land owners can do as many or as few of these programs as they wish depending on desire and land type.
A big problem for the species at risk, explains Monique Aarts, a conservation biologist with Blazing Star Environmental, is habitat fragmentation. Without safe ways to move, nest, mate, forage for food and overwinter, some birds, insects and animals cannot continue to thrive or even exist. The SARPAL program aims to address these concerns by encouraging landowners to maintain or re-establish the habitats required by the targeted species at risk.
From 2016-2020 there were 212 projects completed across the province, with an apparent increase in interest as the current year’s funding has already been fully allocated. Funding has been secured for 2022 with details and intake dates to be finalized.
Eleanor Renaud, a farmer from Renfrew County, has been utilizing SARPAL funding for the past few years for grassland restoration and delayed haying projects. Eleanor runs a cow-calf operation of approximately 50 head. Delayed haying has not had any drawbacks for Eleanor who is not concerned with the quality or quantity of hay she gets from the later cut hay. She finds that the roughage in the later cut hay is beneficial to her beef cattle. She concedes that this practice might not be as popular with dairy farmers.
How much time does Eleanor invest in this program? She only spends about 30 minutes a year. She has found that the funding application is easy, and OSCIA staff are there to help if you have any questions.
After approval of the program, Eleanor fills out a survey once a year and provides pictures of her standing hay. She explains that it does not take much work or time, and she has seen the benefits: seeing just one Bobolink three-years ago, to six pairs this year.
Eleanor has also established rotational grazing on her farm. She is not currently funded by SARPAL for this practice but believes the benefits are worthwhile. She said it makes her feel good to know she is making a difference to help the environment.
A third component, that started in 2021 is onsite surveys conducted by Blazing Star Environmental biologists. Landowners with established SARPAL projects are asked if they are willing to have the biologists do a site visit to survey for species at risk. The visit is by the owner’s permission only. The landowner is encouraged to join the biologists and ask any questions, but is not required to do so.
The onsite monitoring, which only takes a couple hours, is seen as a beneficial step towards collecting more concise data and verifying the benefits for the projects. Six of the 12 SAR were observed on site visits this year.
Many landowners may be reluctant to become involved as there is a concern that they will be limited to what they can do with their property if species at risk are found there. Maria Ramirez Giraldo, Programs Analyst with OSCIA explains that participating in the site visits is voluntary and the information collected is very beneficial but general in nature, and does not disclose ownership details. The goal is to monitor the species at risk and the projects, while not impeding a farm’s financial viability. There is a recognized need by ECCC to monitor SARPAL projects for species at risk, not only because it is an important step in advancing the program, but enhanced monitoring will allow ECCC to measure the impact of the program on species at risk recovery, and contribute species-level data to ongoing recovery planning and implementation.
If you are interested in participating in the SARPAL program, and would like more details on the program, and what funding is available, visit the OSCIA website www.ontariosoilcrop.org and click on the Program’s tab. You can also contact OSCIA by email at SARPAL@ontariosoilcrop.org or by phone at 519-826-3035.
If you are interested in improving the SAR habitat, but do not want to be part of the official program, visit the website for details on the BMPs and for suggestions of what you could do on your land.