Waldron Ranch conservation agreement completed

The 30,535-acre ranch will remain a working operation but the easement prohibits development, subdivision, cultivation or drainage

Nature Conservancy of Canada – The Nature Conservancy of Canada in Alberta has completed the conservation easement for the Waldron Ranch — the largest such deal in Canadian history.

The iconic 30,535-acre ranch, located along the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) northwest of Lethbridge, is home to the largest intact native fescue grassland remaining on the eastern slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. It connects the 70,000-acre environmentally significant Bob Creek Wildland Park (Whaleback), to the 97,000-acre Porcupine Hills Forest Reserve.

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photo: Kyle Marquardt

The conservation agreement ensures the land will continue to be utilized as a working landscape and preserves habitat for numerous wildlife species that depend on this corridor. It prohibits development, subdivision, cultivation or drainage.

That will protect headwaters of streams and rivers, as well as species at risk, such as golden eagles and ferruginous hawks, that have been observed on the ranch.

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photo: Kyle Marquardt

“The Waldron Grazing Co-op and the Nature Conservancy of Canada have created an alliance that will ensure that the Waldron Ranch will remain intact, healthy, and agriculturally productive for ever. We are proud of this accomplishment,” said Tim Nelson, chair of the 72-rancher co-operative.

The total project cost more than $37.5 million, with co-op members making the largest donation. The province contributed $12.2 million while Ottawa provided $4 million and the Calgary Foundation provided $1 million.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has conserved more than 234,000 acres in Alberta.

The story of Waldron Ranch

Ecology

  • Comprised primarily of native habitat in a broad valley between the Bob Creek Wildland Park to the west and the Porcupine Hills Forest Reserve to the east.
  • Rough fescue grasslands dominate, but the ranch also has extensive and diverse montane ridges and riparian areas, as well as Douglas fir and lodgepole pine forests and aspen woodland.
  • Habitat for grizzly bear, black bear, cougar, golden eagle, ferruginous hawk, moose, white-tailed deer, bald eagle, and wild turkey.
  • Part of an ecosystem that once extended from the Rocky Mountains to Winnipeg, a 1,300-kilometre stretch that was the North American equivalent to (and triple the size of) Africa’s Serengeti. Only 0.5 per cent of this area remains and is known as The Last Five Miles.

History

  • First ranched in 1883 as The Walrond Cattle Ranch, with 8,500 head of Hereford and Polled Angus cattle from Montana grazing 260,000 leased acres.
  • When the original ranch ceased operations in 1908, most of the land was first leased but eventually sold with the Waldron Grazing Cooperative becoming the owners in 1962. The co-operative was established by Ed Nelson, Bill Greig, Ellis Oviatt, Axel Sundquist and Bernie Kokesch. Many of the original shareholders were southern Alberta grain farmers who also raised cattle and needed summer range for their animals.

Quotes

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photo: Kyle Marquardt

“I grew up in Alberta’s foothills; our family ranch is just outside of Waterton Park. I’ve travelled all over the world and haven’t seen anything as pretty. They should be preserved.”

– Corb Lund, Canadian country music artist

“Preserving large chunks of rangeland such as the Waldron Ranch on Alberta’s eastern slopes is a very good thing;
Good for the elk, bear, deer and all the wildlife that shares the fescue grasslands.
Good for the rivers and streams that filter and bring our clean water.

Good for the beef cattle that begin their lives in an open-range environment.
Good for the urban folks driving Highway 22 to give their kids a glimpse of our last golden west.
Good for my soul.”

– Ian Tyson, singer-songwriter, cowboy

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