03/27/2013 04:00 EDT | Updated 05/27/2013 05:12 EDT

Groups want former federal community pastures in Saskatchewan kept public

REGINA - Almost 20 environmental and conservation groups in Saskatchewan want community pastures that used to be overseen by the federal government to remain under public control.

Ottawa handed responsibility for the pastures to the province last year.

Saskatchewan has announced that it will lease or sell almost 650,000 hectares of pasture to producer groups.

Prairie naturalist Trevor Herriot says the public should have access to and control the pastures.

Ian McCreary, president of the Community Pasture Patrons Association, says the key issue is cost.

The association wants the pastures leased at no cost to producer groups.

"I think the principal has to be that the land costs that are passed on to patrons have to be reduced to reflect the fact that the wider Saskatchewan economy benefits from these pastures as well," McCreary told a new conference Wednesday.

Herriot pointed out there are many reasons to maintain public access to and control of the grasslands.

"Things like food security, a viable local beef industry, ecological, cultural and historical values, including archeological sites, carbon sequestration, soil and water conservation and so on," he said.