Grasslands National Park of Canada draft management plan 2020
Grasslands National Park is Canada’s first and only National Park established to represent the mixed-grass prairie – one of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada, and protect the Prairie Grasslands Natural Region. The park is located in southwestern Saskatchewan along the international border with the state of Montana. Grasslands National Park consists of two blocks (West and East).
The park was established in 1981 with a Federal-Provincial Agreement to protect and present a portion of the Prairie Grasslands. The park currently consists of 730 km2 and could eventually cover 906 km2 when land acquisition is complete. Under the terms of the Agreement (renewed in 1981 and 2019), land acquisition occurs on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis.
Erosion, glaciation, and a semi-arid climate have formed many of the park’s characteristic features. This has left the park with incredible marine and dinosaur fossils from epochs past (60-80 million years ago). Grasslands National Park human history dates back more than 10,000 years, as evident by the thousands of archaeological sites that dot the landscape. The park encompasses one of the largest concentrations of undisturbed, pre-contact sites in Canada. Many different Northern Plains Indigenous groups used the landscape that formed the park. In these semi-arid plains, lightly vegetated badlands, and winding river valleys, the park and region are home to many species at risk such as the Black-tailed Prairie Dog, Greater Sage-Grouse and Burrowing Owl. In 2005, Parks Canada re-introduced Plains Bison after 120 years of absence on the landscape. In 2009, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada declared Grasslands National Park a Dark Sky Preserve.
The park is open year-round with facilities such as visitor centres and campgrounds open from May to mid-October. Visitor experiences range from family-friendly interpretive programs, scenic driving tours, special events, remote backcountry adventures, guided wagon rides, fireside chats, and a range of trails to explore.
This management plan replaces the 2010 management plan for Grasslands National Park. Since 2010, the park has focused significant conservation effort on species at risk, monitoring and habitat management, implementing a bison conservation strategy, connecting with Canadians through sharing conservation stories, engaging volunteers, developing a basic visitor offer, new trails, and a new 10 km paved scenic drive.
The four key strategies for the ten-year management plan are:
- Key strategy 1: Growing land base and sustainable park infrastructure.
This strategy focuses on working towards park completion by continuing to acquire remaining properties within the park’s proposed boundary. Baseline inventories, asset prioritization exercises, and service level reviews are all a key component of this strategy.
- Key strategy 2: Species at risk and resource management.
This strategy aims at ensuring the protection of the park’s treasured landscape with all its natural and cultural resource values. Increasing partnerships and improving knowledge will also be key elements of this strategy.
- Key strategy 3: Completing a basic visitor experience.
This strategy focuses on offering visitors a powerful, meaningful, and quality experience. The natural and cultural wonders of the park combined with the visitor offer will create a unique sense of place.
- Key strategy 4: Building support and connection with Indigenous peoples and stakeholders.
Relationship building and partnerships are at the heart of this strategy. Advancing relationships to better engage with Indigenous partners, local communities, visitors, licensees, park neighbours, and other stakeholders are vital to the success of Grasslands National Park.
Parks Canada administers one of the finest and most extensive systems of protected natural and historic places in the world. The Agency’s mandate is to protect and present these places for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. Future-oriented, strategic management of each national park, national marine conservation area, heritage canal and those national historic sites administered by Parks Canada supports the Agency’s vision:
“Canada’s treasured natural and historic places will be a living legacy, connecting hearts and minds to a stronger, deeper understanding of the very essence of Canada.”
The Canada National Parks Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act requires Parks Canada to prepare a management plan for each national park. The Grasslands National Park of Canada Management Plan, once approved by the Minister responsible for Parks Canada and tabled in Parliament, ensures Parks Canada’s accountability to Canadians, outlining how park management will achieve measurable results in support of the Agency’s mandate.
Indigenous peoples, stakeholders, partners and the Canadian public were involved in the preparation of the management plan, helping to shape the future direction of the national park. The plan sets clear, strategic direction for the management and operation of Grasslands National Park by articulating a vision, key strategies and objectives. Parks Canada will report annually on progress toward achieving the plan objectives and will review the plan every ten years or sooner if required.
This plan is not an end in and of itself. Parks Canada will maintain an open dialogue on the implementation of the management plan, to ensure that it remains relevant and meaningful. The plan will serve as the focus for ongoing engagement and, where appropriate, consultation, on the management of Grasslands National Park in years to come.
2.0 Significance of Grasslands National Park
Grasslands National Park is Canada’s first and only national park established to represent the mixed-grass prairie, and protect the Prairie Grasslands Natural Region.
Mixed-prairie and short grass prairies have been reduced to 20–30% of their former extent, jointly exceeding losses reported for any other major ecological community in North America Footnote 1. Despite being a highly endangered ecosystem, native grasslands are underrepresented in protected areas in North America. Connected with that, species that make their home in this landscape are increasingly rare. Therefore, the park plays an important role in species at risk conservation.
The park was established in 1981 with a Federal-Provincial Agreement to protect and present a portion of the Prairie Grasslands. The 906 km2 of land that lies within the current and proposed park boundary represents one of Canada’s finest examples of North American mixed-grass prairie habitat.
Erosion, glaciation, and a semi-arid climate have formed many of the park’s characteristic features. This has left the park with incredible marine and dinosaur fossils from epochs past (60-80 million years ago). Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex fossils have been discovered here as part of the earliest paleontological research done in Canada. The park is one of a handful of places around the world that reveals the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary – the layer of soil strata that separates the age of dinosaurs and their mass extinction.
Grasslands National Park human history goes back 10,000 years, as evidenced by the thousands of archaeological sites that dot the landscape. The park encompasses one of the largest concentrations of undisturbed, pre-contact sites in Canada. Many different Indigenous groups used the landscape that formed the park, following the migrations of the bison, and using the resources available. In the last century and a half, ranching and some farming has become the dominant land use.
Grasslands National Park is a land of rolling hills, rugged coulees, and striking badlands. Low precipitation in the park area influences many of the park’s ecosystem conditions, including the uniquely adapted vegetation and animal communities. Waterways such as the Frenchman River in the West Block and Rock Creek in the East Block add to the biodiversity, and serve as important habitats for wildlife and plants.
In these semi-arid plains, lightly vegetated badlands, and winding river valleys, the park and region are home to many species at risk such as the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (the only remaining population to exist in its natural habitat in Canada), Greater Sage-Grouse, Burrowing Owl, Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer, and Greater Short-horned Lizard. Cool and warm season grasses dominate the landscape while sagebrush, greasewood, prickly pear cactus, and numerous flowering plants add richness to the plant community. The treeless, windswept plains evolved with grazing, drought, periodic fire, and a variable continental climate. The park and region are a haven for prairie endemic species that have had their habitat destroyed elsewhere. In 2005, Parks Canada re-introduced Plains Bison after 120 years of absence. Prior to European settlement, the prairies were home to tens of millions of free-roaming bison (among other large ungulates such as elk and pronghorn antelope). As well as playing an essential role in shaping the park’s ecology, this conservation bison herd contributes to the species’ continental restoration.
In 2009, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada declared Grasslands National Park a Dark Sky Preserve. Dark sky preservation contributes to ongoing protection of the natural day-night cycle for the flora and fauna of the park, supporting natural hunting, foraging, and reproductive behaviors. It also guarantees a spectacular view of the night sky to visitors!
3.0 Planning context
Grasslands National Park is located in southwestern Saskatchewan along the international border with the state of Montana. The park consists of two blocks (West and East), approximately 160 kms from Val Marie visitor centre to East Block visitor centre. The West Block centres on the Frenchman River Valley, and the East Block features the Badlands of Rock Creek and the Wood Mountain Uplands. West Block access is near the village of Val Marie (on Highway 4 and Highway 18). East Block access is near the town of Wood Mountain (on Highway 18).
The 1981 Federal-Provincial Agreement was renewed in 1988, and again on January 10, 2019. The first major land purchase occurred in 1984, and by 2001, there was sufficient land base to pursue formalizing Grasslands National Park in the schedule of the Canada National Parks Act. Under the terms of the Agreement, land acquisition occurs on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis. The park currently consists of 730 km2 and could eventually cover 906 km2 when land acquisition is complete.
The park is open year-round with facilities such as visitor centres and campgrounds open from May to mid-October. Visitor experiences include family-friendly interpretive programs, scenic driving tours, special events, remote backcountry adventures, guided wagon rides, fireside chats, and a range of trails to explore.
Since 2010, Grasslands National Park has focused significant conservation effort on species at risk management, including the development and signing of the 2016 Multi-species Action Plan. Advances have been made on monitoring and habitat management, implementing a bison conservation strategy, connecting with Canadians through sharing conservation stories, and engaging volunteers through conservation programs.
Also since 2010, the park has invested significantly on developing a basic visitor offer with two new campgrounds (one per block), a handful of new trails, and a new 10 km, paved scenic drive in the East Block. These were accomplished through the noteworthy infrastructure investments to the park.
A 2017 State of the Park Assessment identified four themes as key priorities for the implementation of this management plan:
- Land assembly and growing infrastructure base
- Species at risk and conservation management
- Building the basic visitor experience program
- Building support and connection with stakeholders and Indigenous peoples.
Growing land assembly and sustainable park infrastructure
Grasslands National Park is still in the assembly phase (acquired land rights in 2019 encompass 95.82% of the proposed West Block and 60.86% of the proposed East Block). The continually growing land base has resulted in a patchwork of park-owned and privately-owned lands within the proposed boundaries. It presents a challenge for long-term planning because as each acquisition expands the land base, it also expands park responsibilities, increases the amount of infrastructure, and increases the required staff effort to manage species at risk habitat, cultural resources, visitor-related facilities, ranch buildings, and contaminated sites. Also, under the Federal-Provincial Agreement, roads and bridges are to be transferred to Parks Canada from rural municipality authorities, when sufficient lands are under Parks Canada management, and the parties negotiate their transfer.
Recent investments have enabled the development of two front country campgrounds, an additional scenic road with parking, hiking trails, and orientation signage, which filled gaps for critical visitor needs. The park has built specialized assets to manage the park’s ecosystem, such as a bison handling facility, and new fire and emergency facilities. Fences are a significant component of the park’s bison and grazing programs, and thus ongoing capital investment and maintenance are essential.
Visitation growth and changing visitor trends have also increased pressure, not only on existing assets, but in creating the need for new assets, such as roads, signs, and buildings.
Species at risk and resource management
Grasslands National Park has a high representation of species at risk, with 29 species listed as of July 2019; for some of them (e.g. Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, Greater Sage-Grouse), the park protects one of the last populations remaining in Canada, and is a leading manager in this regard. Critical habitat– legally defined as the habitat required for species survival or recovery – has been identified for 13 species, which collectively covers the majority of the park (i.e. 96%). The total amount of critical habitat continues to expand in the park as more species are listed, and recovery strategies are approved. Climate change-driven stressors are likely to increase, which will need to be understood, evaluated, and mitigated.
Additionally, under the Species at Risk Act, an Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-Grouse took effect in Canada in 2014, encompassing approximately two-thirds of the park. This legal tool was put into effect due to the species’ significant population decline in recent years and includes year-round prohibitions (e.g. no native plant removal, structural height limits, noise restrictions).
Bison were reintroduced in 2005, and continue to provide visitors an opportunity to view the species in its natural habitat, while they play a major ecosystem role through their grazing and wallowing behaviour. Prescribed fire was first used at Grasslands in 2000, and the program has continued to grow and support habitat and species at risk targets. Grazing and fire will continue to play important roles to manage the health of the park’s native prairie ecosystem.
The park has a rich cultural heritage, and more of these resources are gained with each new land acquisition. More knowledge, particularly Indigenous knowledge, about cultural resources is needed to enable sound decision making when planning projects and to proactively protect these resources. Particularly, large, recent land acquisitions have not been surveyed for cultural resources.
Building the basic visitor experience program
Visitation has grown significantly since 2010. Additionally, the park now provides a broader service offer to visitors than previously available. In 2019, the park welcomed 17,477 visitors showing a steady upward trend, doubling visitation since 2013.
With limited overnight accommodation in the region, camping at one of the two new campgrounds provides an opportunity to immerse oneself in the park and exposes visitors to big sky experiences under one of Canada’s dark sky preserves. An overnight stay in an oTENTik (Parks Canada’s own roofed campground accommodation) enables the park to attract a broader range of visitors.
Visitors can drive the new Badlands Parkway – a gateway experience to the park – that provides intimate views of impressive vistas and wildlife. A few trails invite visitors to leave their car, connect with the landscape, and experience the unmeasurable beauty and solitude of the park. The recent addition of campgrounds and constructed trails has coincided with attracting previously unreached visitor segments such as families, to intimately explore prairie grasses and flowers, and discover a landscape with a surprising amount of topography.
Building support and connection with Indigenous peoples and stakeholders
For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples maintained a close connection with this land and physical evidence of their presence is widespread in Grasslands National Park. Since the late 19th century, most Indigenous communities (First Nations and Métis) have been geographically distant from the park due to their removal from the region as part of Indian Reserve system establishment. Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation is the lone exception of an Indigenous community close to the park. Indigenous communities have been engaged for specific programs in recent years, particularly around special events or specific milestones.
Grasslands has a volunteer program, focussed largely on monitoring, conservation efforts, and visitor experience special events. In the past, the volunteer projects included fence marking, sagebrush plug planting, Black-tailed Prairie Dog research, and bird counts.
Prairie Winds and Silver Sage is a not-for-profit Friends group that operates in its own facility including a gift store, displays, and gallery space near the West Block. Near the East Block, the Wood Mountain Historical Society provides a similar service in their museum. These are some of the many partnerships that Grasslands maintains to ensure success in its conservation, visitor experience, and awareness programs.
The vision presented below expresses the future desired state of Grasslands National Park in 10-15 years.
This is Grasslands National Park – a vast, protected, and awe-inspiring wilderness prairie landscape, filled with rare and at-risk species and spaces, and human stories flowing through time, all found beneath some of Canada’s darkest skies.
- Stand amongst the whispering grasses of the rolling hills, rugged coulees, and striking badlands. Dinosaur fossils reveal ancient connections with life from millions of years ago. Wallow indulgently in life’s seasons, and watch for the thriving bison herd roaming again today.
- Carefully wander through thousands of archaeological sites dotting the landscape, and consider the lives of Indigenous peoples from over 10,000 years ago. Remember the stewardship of the ranchers and others over the past 150 years who’ve helped conserve this as one of Canada’s finest examples of North American mixed-grass prairie.
- Discover, or better yet, be part of conservation efforts here, where ecological integrity and cultural values of this treasured place are protected, appreciated, maintained and improved – being at the forefront of management decisions, informed by science, and Indigenous knowledge.
- Explore immersive and captivating guided experiences showcasing the park’s one-of-a-kind character, including some of Canada’s rarest wildlife, breathtaking views, diverse Indigenous cultures, rich western heritage, and abundant palaeontological resources. Weave together unforgettable memories, and appreciate the safe and high quality visitor infrastructure that reflect the essence of place like none other!
- Appreciate the heart of Grasslands National Park, as demonstrated through its partners and stakeholders, whom are vital to its successes. The foundations of respect, reconciliation, communication, and shared common goals, bridge connections between Indigenous peoples and other stakeholders with their park lands. Descendants of the people who have lived here know that their stories are authentically presented and that their cultures are both respected and celebrated.
- Reflect on the stories and lessons yet to be learned and the actions we will take together to ensure this place remains a living legacy for generations to come.
5.0 Key strategies
Four key strategies frame the management direction for Grasslands National Park for the next 10 years. These strategies, corresponding objectives, and targets lay out a roadmap for achieving the vision for the park through an integrated approach to park management. Targets have been prioritized with specific dates where feasible. Targets will be achieved by the specified dates or earlier, depending on opportunities, annual priorities, and operational capacity. Where no date has been referenced, the target will be achieved within the period of the plan.
Growing land base and sustainable park infrastructure
Parks Canada will work towards park completion by continuing to acquire remaining properties within the park’s proposed boundary, in accordance with Federal-Provincial Agreement. Where appropriate and possible, newly acquired lands and assets will be incorporated into the various park programs. This could include restoration of lands, integration of acquired buildings and other site infrastructure with visitor experience opportunities, and establishment of additional park operations. The park will seek unique and innovative solutions to provide safe and meaningful visitor experiences, fulfill requirements associated with ecological integrity, improve current resourcing, while maintaining a sustainable operation.
Given the dynamic nature of Grasslands National Park’s land base, and the complexities and richness of its natural and cultural treasures, there is still much to learn. Therefore, Parks Canada needs effective relationships with various partners and stakeholders, and unique approaches to support this learning, to be responsive in its management. Baseline inventories, asset prioritization exercises, and service level reviews will assist the park with achieving its resource conservation and visitor experience goals, while managing important issues like contaminated sites, greening operations, and sustainability.
Grasslands National Park continues its process to complete the park.
- Acquired lands increase from 2018 land base.
- By 2030, the administrative and legal transfer of lands from Saskatchewan to Canada are completed, and those lands that Parks Canada currently owns or has leasehold rights to are gazetted.
- Partners, stakeholders, and the public are provided with updates on park assembly, as appropriate.
Acquired assets, as part of past and future land acquisition, are strategically evaluated for program usefulness, durability, safety, cultural resource values, species at risk impacts, and climate resilience.
- Assets are evaluated for their potential re-use within five years of acquisition.
- By 2025, a strategic approach is created to guide infrastructure maintenance and investment to ensure its intended program function, maintenance within available resources, Green Government commitments, barrier-free and inclusive principles, while incorporating character of place attributes.
Assets meet program requirements, sustainability objectives, and are maintained in satisfactory condition.
- Land, built assets (e.g. buildings, roads, and other built assets), and natural and cultural resource conservation inventories are improved compared to 2010 available information.
- In the next State of the Park Assessment, built assets indicators (buildings, roads, and visitors facilities) identified as ‘poor’ condition are either improved to ‘good’ condition, are identified for recapitalization, or are directed towards disposal.
- By 2030, where possible, participate in efforts to reduce or eliminate emission of greenhouse gases by park operations and its visitors while enjoying the park.
A park land use plan is employed to facilitate integration of resource conservation programs, visitor experience capital investments, and acquired assets.
- By 2030, a land use plan covering all currently acquired park lands will be continually utilized to identify, inform, and recommend visitor experience and operational capital investments with respect to natural and cultural resource conservation values.
Special considerations: It is important for the park to continue its focus on land acquisition while determining the role of acquired ranch assets, performing liability assessments, and transitioning lands into the full park operation. Additionally, it will be important for the park to pursue a range of strategies to appropriately resource park operations within increased land holdings to respond to the pressures noted above.
Species at risk and resource management
Parks Canada will ensure the protection of Grasslands National Park’s treasured landscape with all its natural and cultural resource values. Maintaining and improving the park’s ecological integrity, and supporting species at risk recovery, using a landscape-based approach, will govern all park management decisions. Partnerships, including with Indigenous communities and knowledge holders, are nurtured to maximize opportunities for conservation gain, and lead to a better understanding of its processes and ecosystems.
Environmental stewardship and improved knowledge will position the national park as a key contributor to the conservation of the mixed-grass prairie ecosystem as a whole. Intact and connected landscapes, both within the park and beyond its boundaries, will improve species at risk recovery and critical habitat protection. Visitor programs will provide opportunities for appreciating native prairie landscapes and enjoying natural and cultural experiences. Grasslands National Park will continue to be a leader in bison conservation, fire management, grazing programs, and ecological restoration.
Ecological integrity of Grasslands National Park is maintained or improved.
- In the next State of the Park Assessment, the park has maintained or improved the condition and trend ratings for the grassland ecosystem indicator Footnote 2.
Grassland ecosystem processes and functions are managed and restored, while maximizing resilience to climate change.
- By 2030, large, previously disturbed areas, dominated by agricultural grass species, are identified, prioritized, planned, and restored by incorporating various tools.
- By 2030, the introduction of new invasive plants is prevented, and current populations are contained or eradicated, through active identification, prioritization, planning, best management practices and strategy implementation.
- By 2030, prescribed fire are applied on an average of 100 hectares per year with the goal of managing species at risk habitat, bison and/or cattle grazing, and non-native plants.
- By 2030, collaboration on grazing will increase between the park and regional land managers, with a focus on improving species at risk habitat.
The bison herd is healthy and thriving, has a population size that is self-sustaining, and is managed in accordance with an updated bison management plan.
- The bison herd remains disease-free and genetically pure.
- By 2030, the feasibility of bison herd expansion is evaluated to inform park management and land use.
- The bison management plan is regularly updated with the input of key partners, including Indigenous communities, and accounts for factors such as expansion, ecological carrying capacity, species at risk recovery, capital investments, visitor experience programs, and Indigenous involvement.
Recovery actions for species at risk and their habitats are implemented, and incorporate strategies to address climate-change driven threats (e.g. plague management in Black-tailed Prairie Dogs).
- By 2022, the Multi-species Action Plan is amended in consultation with local stakeholders, Indigenous communities, and various government bodies and considers factors such as capital investments and visitor experience opportunities.
- By 2030, more than 50% of recovery actions identified in the revised Multi-species Action Plan are completed or ongoing.
- By 2030, strategies for landscape-scale management of keystone species, such as Greater Sage-Grouse and Black-tailed Prairie Dog, are developed and implemented while accounting for multiple landscape uses identified by park management and the Land Use Plan.
Protection of cultural and paleontological resources is maximized as a result of increased knowledge and strengthened partnerships.
- By 2025, development of a cultural resources value statement is completed.
- By 2030, the inventory of cultural resources is advanced compared to 2018.
- By 2030, collaboration with stakeholders and Indigenous partners results in the weaving together of local and Indigenous knowledge into park management.
- By 2030, inventory, protection criteria, and presentation of the paleontological resources are all improved.
Public awareness of prairie conservation and its benefits has increased through improved local engagement and broader audience outreach.
- The number of conservation stories (natural and cultural) shared publicly compared to the last cycle of the management plan 2010-2020 is increased.
- By 2030, programs that offer meaningful volunteer opportunities to participate in active management are in place (e.g. citizen science).
- Partnerships in support of conservation programs are continued or increased.
- Increased local engagement and consultation are included in species at risk and ecological integrity planning.
Special considerations: The park’s challenge is to inform, plan, and respond to growing commitments established by the Species at Risk Act (e.g. recovery strategies, action plans), while also managing a more robust visitor and conservation operation.
Completing a basic visitor experience
Grasslands National Park, Canada’s only prairie national park, will offer visitors a powerful, meaningful, and quality experience. The natural and cultural wonders of the park combined with the visitor offer creates a unique sense of place. The park will take a phased approach to completing the basic visitor service offer. This incremental approach will enable the park to better include Indigenous knowledge, scientific information, and visitor use management tools in its decision making while considering the potential of its present and future land base. The park will nurture visitor safety, manage impacts to sensitive areas, and highlight both rare and common species, along with the park’s human and geological heritage.
The park will target those markets identified in an updated visitor experience strategy whose social values, travel motivations, and preferences align with the park’s visitor offer. Visitor opportunities and infrastructure will be developed and managed efficiently, sustainably, and with attention to character of place. These opportunities and developments will complement the protection of natural and cultural resources. The park will work with partners to further enhance and enrich visitor experiences and to foster deeper understanding and lasting connections with the mixed-grass prairie, and the cultures connected with it.
Visitors connect with the essence of place through the provision of quality facilities and services, developing them incrementally, and incorporating engineering, ecological and social science in planning, design and construction.
- By 2030, the park’s two campgrounds (Frenchman Valley Campground, Rock Creek Campground) are finished as appropriate; visitor access to drinking water, shade, and washrooms are ensured.
- By 2025, plans are completed to develop current and future visitor nodes and facilities (e.g. backcountry camping opportunities) that meet the priorities of targeted audiences, while meeting Green Government commitments, and barrier-free and inclusive principles.
- By 2023, a sustainable trail plan is developed and implemented that includes improvements to existing and development of new trails, utilizing the strategic environmental assessment tool.
Visitors enjoy and are satisfied with their visit at Grasslands National Park as a result of enjoyable, unique and immersive experiences.
- By 2023, the visitor experience strategy is updated.
- By 2030, interpretive programs are refined, with input of key partners, to showcase key components currently underrepresented including: stories and voices of Indigenous peoples; active management stories (e.g. species at risk monitoring and recovery actions); and paleontological history.
- By 2030, existing partnerships with ‘friends’ groups are maintained, and new ones with Indigenous partners’ and regional stakeholders’ are developed to share their cultural connections to the park.
- By 2030, the most recent data shows that:
- At least 90% of visitors enjoy their visit.
- At least 85% of visitors consider the park meaningful to them.
- At least 60% report that they have learned something about the natural and cultural heritage of the park.
- By the next State of the Park Assessment, visitation levels have increased and are managed so they are sustainable and supported with appropriate facilities and services.
Grasslands National Park visitor infrastructure is managed to provide safe, and more accessible visitor experiences.
- By 2023, the visitor safety plan is updated, and implemented.
- By 2030, an increase in visitor awareness of safety risks, and available tools to mitigate risks.
- Throughout the life of the plan, any new infrastructure will incorporate the most recent Government of Canada accessibility standards.
Special considerations:The park has not yet completed many of the plans for new visitor facilities, and therefore important components are still missing (e.g. shower facilities, drinking water, sustainably built trails, waste treatment, road improvements, accessibility improvements). The priority will be to focus on incrementally completing the visitor experience offer in a unique environment with species at risk habitat, abundant cultural resources, and a continually growing land base.
Building support and connection with Indigenous peoples and stakeholders
Relationship building and partnerships are at the heart of this strategy. It aims to build stronger relationships with Indigenous communities based on respect, reconciliation, communication, and common goals. Opportunities exist to help Indigenous communities reconnect with the traditionally used lands of Grasslands. The strategy also intends to focus on relationships with partners to achieve common goals, increase support, and contribute to the enhancement of the park’s programs (e.g. conservation, visitor experience). The relationships between Parks Canada and Indigenous partners, local communities, visitors, licensees, park neighbours, and other key stakeholders are vital to the success of Grasslands National Park.
Work with Indigenous communities to establish meaningful relationships and identify opportunities for increasing their engagement in park management and operations.
- By 2025, relationships with Indigenous communities are established.
- By 2030, an approach of Indigenous engagement for the park will be identified and work has begun toward achieving co-identified outcomes (e.g. establishment of an Indigenous Advisory Committee.
Stakeholder support and partner development for landscape-based conservation programs has increased.
- By 2030, stakeholder involvement in major conservation initiatives is demonstrated.
- By 2030, partnerships are nurtured to achieve common goals and be more successful in promoting Grasslands National Park success stories through a wide range of media compared to 2010-2018.
- By 2030, various partnership initiatives are developed for landscape-based planning.
Partner and stakeholder support for enhancing the visitor experience programs and completion of visitor experience infrastructure development has increased.
- By 2030, diversified services and amenities are offered by local business, recreation, and tourism partners, based upon the renewed visitor experience strategy.
- By 2030, partner and stakeholder involvement early in major visitor developments is demonstrated.
Special considerations: The historic relocation of Indigenous peoples away from the park area could be an incentive to reconnect with this landscape, creating a path for reconciliation. Grasslands National Park will be seeking opportunities to build relationships and collaborate with Indigenous groups who have traditional connections to the region.
Parks Canada’s national park zoning system is an integrated approach to the classification of land and water areas in a national park and designates where particular activities can occur on land or water based on the ability to support those uses. The zoning system has five categories:
- Zone I – Special Preservation;
- Zone II – Wilderness;
- Zone III – Natural Environment;
- Zone IV – Outdoor Recreation; and
- Zone V – Park Services.
The zoning plan for the park is illustrated on maps 2 to 6. The park zones apply to all areas of the park.
Zoning will help support the park vision by directing visitor use to appropriate areas of the park, and ensuring that rare or sensitive ecological or cultural areas are protected.
All infrastructure projects (e.g. trails, campgrounds, day use areas, parking lots, park services facilities, bison facilities, etc.) regardless of the zone they are in, will need to also comply with applicable legislation (e.g. Species at Risk Act, Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-Grouse), ecological integrity and species at risk recovery objectives, and cultural resource management guidelines.
There have been no significant changes to the 2010 zoning, as the area covered for each zone is similar. Adjustments to zoning have been made to contribute to improving ecological integrity, reflect contemporary use, acknowledge current land use in transition of ownership, and to adjust the potential land use.
Zone I – Special Preservation (less than 0.1% of the Park)
Zone I is applied to areas of the park that are among the best examples of the features that represent the natural region, or that support outstanding, or rare, natural or cultural features. This zone offers the highest level of protection. This zone may also be used to protect areas that are too sensitive to accommodate facility development or large numbers of visitors. Within Zone I areas, preservation is the primary management consideration. Motorized access and circulation is not permitted. Natural features may be interpreted off-site.
For Grasslands, this area includes the large snake hibernaculum in the West Block. Visitor access may be prohibited on a seasonal basis. Because of the sensitivity of this zone I area, it is not shown on the map.
Zone II – Wilderness Area (98% of the park)
Zone II wilderness contains extensive areas that are good representation of the natural mixed-grass prairie that are conserved in a wilderness state. These areas are meant to protect representative natural landscapes where visitors can experience the park’s ecosystems with few, if any, human intrusion or facilities. Rustic backcountry camping facilities, and wilderness trails, would be appropriate. No motorized access or circulation is permitted other than for specific, approved park management purposes (e.g. fire response and prescribed fire, grazing management, sylvatic plague mitigation, etc.).
It is expected that new trails will be developed within the life of this management plan based on the revised trail plan. Trail locations and design will respect the Zone II objectives and conservation goals and requirements.
Zone II wilderness areas total 749 km2 and represent 98% of all park lands. These Zone II areas encompass the prairie dog colonies, large intact upland grasslands, Greater Sage-Grouse leks, tipi ring concentrations, and badland features.
Zone III – Natural Environment Area (0.15%)
Zone III areas are managed as natural environments that are capable of supporting a range of visitor experiences. These areas enable visitors to enjoy and learn about the park’s natural and cultural features through outdoor recreational and educational activities requiring minimal facilities and services. While motorized access may be allowed, it will be controlled. Zone III areas encompass a total area of 1 km2 of the park.
For Grasslands, these zone III areas include:
- Viewpoints and associated trails along each scenic drive (West Block and East Block),
- Trails (e.g. Eagle Butte, 70 Mile Butte, Top Dogtown, Two Trees, etc.)
- Day use areas
- West Block Backcountry loop that is maintained to a non-paved surface standard
Zone IV – Outdoor Recreation (0.45%)
The Zone IV areas are capable of supporting more intensive visitor use and major facilities to accommodate a broad range of opportunities for understanding, appreciating, and enjoying the park’s heritage values. Visitor opportunities and related essential services and facilities will be provided in ways that place minimal impact on the ecological integrity of the park. These zones provide direct access by motorized vehicles. These areas encompass 3 km2 of all park lands.
The zone IV areas include:
- Roads used by visitors (front country roads): Scenic Drive, Two Trees, access in the West Block, and Badlands Parkway, Rock Creek access in the East Block.
- Parking lots (gravel or paved) along the roads and at the various trail heads.
- Frontcountry camping (e.g. Frenchman Valley Campground in the West Block and Rock Creek Campground in the East Block).
- Day use areas (e.g. Belza, Rock Creek day use, Frenchman Valley, Two Trees, etc.)
- Potential areas for future visitor opportunities: Larson yardsite, Dixon yardsite, Walker yardsite, Otter Basin trailhead, Molested backcountry launch, Storey Lowell homestead, Peterson Lookout (north end East Block).
Zone V – Park Services (0.05%)
The Zone V applies to operation, maintenance, and administrative facilities. These areas encompass 0.4 km2 of all park lands.
The zone V areas include:
- Bison facilities which include sheds, loading area, pens, corrals, etc.
- Roads used by the park’s team.
- Depending on the zone IV decisions regarding the Dixon or Walker yardsite, one of these two sites may be used as a zone V area for equipment storage and maintenance staging area.
Non-Conforming Uses (1.5%)
Any inappropriate use or activity that does not conform to the spirit and intent of the zone (short or long term) is termed a non-conforming use. These areas encompass 12 km2 of all park lands. Types of non-conforming use at Grasslands National Park include:
- Roads and trails within the park that are currently required to meet legal access requirements for neighbours, until such time that full land ownership leads to final road network decisions (e.g. East Block). These roads were in existence prior to acquisition by Parks Canada.
- Roads and trails, not open to the public, that are currently required to meet management objectives, until such time that full land ownership leads to final road network decisions (e.g. East Block). These roads were in existence prior to acquisition by Parks Canada.
- Disturbed hayfield lands that are currently used by Licensees or park staff for meeting haying requirements.
Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-Grouse
The requirements under the Emergency Order for the Protection of the Greater Sage-Grouse need to be respected for all new uses (e.g. facilities, infrastructure, etc.) in all zones where the order applies.
As per the National Parks of Canada Domestic Animals Regulation, the superintendent of Grasslands National Park may, to facilitate grazing for ecological purposes in the park, on application, issue a permit authorizing the permit holder to graze any domestic animal that is an herbivore in the park.
The park uses various land agreement tools to assist the park in active management. Some of these agreements may require a non-conforming use designation.
Environmentally and Culturally Sensitive Sites
This designation applies to small areas that contain significant and sensitive resources that require special protection or management. A designation can be applied within any of the five zones. Specific guidelines for each sensitive area will define visitor use and resource management strategies. Because of the sensitivity of these areas, and in some cases their locations may change or new ones may be identified, they are not shown on the maps. As new information on park resources is obtained, it will refine the boundaries of sensitive sites.
One type of resource exists in the park which does not have additional protection instruments. To increase their level of protection, paleontological sites can be designated Environmentally Sensitive Sites and managed in Accordance with Park’s paleontological protection and presentation plan.
Culturally Sensitive Sites include features that may be considered sacred by Indigenous peoples, such as medicine wheels and burials, and cultural resources that require special actions for their protection.
7.0 Summary of the strategic environmental assessment
All national park management plans are assessed through a strategic environmental assessment to understand the potential for cumulative effects. This understanding contributes to evidence-based decision making that supports ecological integrity being maintained or restored over the life of the plan. The strategic environmental assessment for the management plan for Grasslands National Park considered the potential impacts of climate change, local and regional activities around the park, expected increase in visitation and proposals within the management plan. The strategic environmental assessment assessed the potential impacts on different aspects of the ecosystem, including Greater Sage-Grouse, native prairie habitat, riparian areas, and species at risk.
Greater Sage-Grouse are listed as an endangered species and numbers have been declining rapidly. Greater Sage-Grouse habitat is found across much of Grasslands National Park and the park is the location of two of three remaining leks, or mating grounds, in Saskatchewan. As a result of the importance of the park to Greater Sage-Grouse and the low numbers in Canada, proposed plans for visitor infrastructure and acquired infrastructure were assessed for potential impacts to Greater Sage-Grouse functional habitat.
Greater Sage-Grouse functional habitat can be destroyed by removing vegetation, creating too much noise, adding structures that result in habitat avoidance and facilitating predator access. An overall improvement of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat is required to support recovery of the species. While limited opportunities exist to restore habitat by reducing noise, the overall area impacted by noise can be maintained and research into the impacts of trail user noise conducted when the need arises. Reducing access by predators to habitat by reducing places where birds can perch and reducing attractants is a priority. Specific goals will be identified in the short term as restoration actions are already underway.
The native prairie in Grasslands National Park is important given the reduced extent of native prairie across North America. Grazing and fire are necessary to maintain habitat for many species and support ecological processes. The management plan identifies ecologically based goals to direct the management of grazing and fire for species at risk and the health of the native prairie. The strategic environmental assessment identifies additional mitigations and strategies to address the destruction of native prairie for infrastructure and invasive species.
The Grasslands National Park Multi-species Action Plan sets out direction for the park’s actions to recover species at risk and the plan will be updated in the coming years. The strategic environmental assessment also sets out recommendations for managing increased visitation, creating a trails plan, and managing assets, to avoid contributing to unwanted cumulative effects.
The strategic environmental assessment was conducted in accordance with The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals (2010) and facilitated an evaluation of how the management plan contributed to the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. Individual projects undertaken to implement management plan objectives at the site will be evaluated to determine if an impact assessment is required under the Impact Assessment Act, or successor legislation. The management plan supports the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy goals of Greening Government, Sustainably Managed Lands and Forests, and Healthy Wildlife Populations.
Many positive environmental effects are expected and there are no important negative environmental effects anticipated from implementation of the Grasslands National Park Management Plan. However, given the importance of cumulative effects to species in the park and the expected changes in visitation and infrastructure, cumulative effects need to be re-evaluated regularly.