Farmland & Prairie, tips and ethics
for birders and nature seekers

By Joan Eyolfson Cadham

"Land doesn't belong to anyone. The land belongs to everyone. We should be able to go anywhere we want to go." (Out-of-country tourist to rural Saskatchewan.) Real comments from real tourists sometimes make farmers from the Canadian prairies nervous, especially given that the tourist in question didn't appear to believe that his call for common land applied to his own suburban lot, house and garage.  
Prairie land, is farm land
  All that apparently empty land across the prairies does, in fact, belong to someone. It belongs to a prairie farmer who, when asked, is usually more than happy to welcome tourists who are willing to follow some simple rules.
A ramble through one of Saskatchewan's coulees, an hour listening to yellow-headed blackbirds swaying on catkins at the edge of a sapphire prairie slough, an evening spent photographing a spectacular sunset spread across a never ending horizon, a day of discovering bison herds and flocks of ostrich, a weekend of bird watching - Saskatchewan offers endless opportunities to enjoy easily accessible nature.
There are a few rules.
  First, bring along your favorite bug repellent. It hasn't been proven that, before half ton trucks and buses, rural kids travelled to and from school on two-seater mosquitoes, but the province does provide a safe home to some very hungry bugs. Don't forget your sunscreen and a good sun hat. Cold and windy in the winter - very hot and windy in the summer - that's Saskatchewan. Wrap-around skirts are not advised unless the wearer also carries a package of safety pins.  
  Please don't drive across fields. An apparently barren piece of land might have been recently planted. The ruts you cut aren't going to have harvest any easier. Driving across dry stubble or hay can cause fires. Ask permission of the land owner and establish the routes that you can take to the site of your planned adventure or photo shoot.
It is possible to find the land owner. If he isn't home and if his kids are at school and his wife is at work in town, a neighbor or someone in the nearest town will know how to find him. Many farm couples carry cell phones. Your first purchase should be an R. M. (Rural Municipality) map - or several of them.  
A fiery Prairie sunset
  They aren't expensive and they will make great souvenirs and conversation pieces when you get back home, especially if you editorialize them and make them your own. Remember - there's lots of nature fun to be found in rural Saskatchewan, but there's no fun to be had when you discover you are lost on a gravel road and can't find anyone home to sort you out. As farms get bigger and more farm families work off the land for necessary extra income, there is no longer the pioneer sureness of finding someone home every quarter mile.  
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