One of Alberta’s oldest ranches will remain a working operation thanks to a conservation agreement with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
When it was founded in 1882, Oxley Ranch covered 200,000 acres, making it one of the four largest ranches in the foothills. The remaining 2,266 acres will now be preserved from cultivation, drainage of wetlands, subdivision and development of the land.
“This land is our family’s legacy; it’s been my personal sanctuary for my entire life,” said landowner Jennifer Barr, whose family has been living on the ranch since 1919. “I have a great appreciation for what my grandmother, my aunt, and my stepfather all sacrificed to hold on to this ranch. I have always felt a great responsibility to care for it, to preserve it, for future generations.”
The southern foothills are a priority for the Nature Conservancy as the region is one of the last pieces of relatively intact fescue grasslands in the province. It’s estimated that less than five per cent of native fescue grasslands remain in the country, making this area one of the most threatened regions of Canada.
“It is a precious piece of God’s country that can never be replaced once it’s gone,” said Barr. “Knowing that it will remain as it is and will be protected from now on gives me great comfort.”
The ranch looms large in Alberta’s ranching history and was associated with the Fort Macleod-Calgary Trail — the primary north-south transportation route prior to the Calgary and Edmonton Railway. It is located near several other properties that have reached agreements with the Nature Conservancy, including the Welsch Ranch, Waldron Ranch, and King Ranch. All are located in the headwaters region of southern Alberta — an area that covers only four per cent of the province but provides fresh drinking water to 45 per cent of Albertans. The southern foothills remained mostly ranch country until the mid-1990s, but ranch economics cannot compete with land prices paid by urban developers.
Oxley Ranch is home to a variety of bird species, including prairie falcons and bald eagles, as well as native plant species, which grow along the banks of Willow Creek, which runs through the property for several miles.