Historic research ranches won’t be riding off into the sunset

The future of Onefour and Stavely ranches has been secured by the province and the University of Alberta

Decades of grassland research in southern Alberta will be preserved thanks to a deal between the province and the University of Alberta.

The agreement will ensure rangeland studies continue at the historic research ranches of Stavely and Onefour.

In 2013, the future of both sites was thrown up in the air when the federal government decided to discontinue to use them following a round of budget cuts. The herd at Onefour was disbanded later that year, but the province stepped in to allow research to continue at both sites.

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Stavely sits on 930 acres near the town of the same name midway between Calgary and Fort MacLeod. It was established by the federal government in 1949 and located in Foothills fescue region, which is susceptible to invasion by introduced plant species. One of the most comprehensive stocking rate studies in North America was created at Stavely, and is still ongoing.

Onefour, a 42,000-acre ranch south of Medicine Hat along the United States border, was was also set up by Ottawa (in 1927). Located in one of the driest areas of the province, it’s unique because of its biodiversity and species at risk, and is challenging to manage from a productivity perspective. At Onefour, plots have been used to monitor the productivity of grasslands in regards to long-term climate trends.

Both ranches have conserved valuable native prairie, flora, fauna, and wildlife habitat — and are considered “the birthplace for range management in Western Canada,” said Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier. “Both sites have been examples of how land stewardship can lead to extraordinary results. In fact, the knowledge of grazing stewardship at Stavely has been instrumental in developing the good stewardship implemented by producers that conserves valuable Foothills fescue grasslands.”

The new deal will ensure this valuable research continues, said Edward Bork, director of the Rangeland Research Institute at the University of Alberta.

“If we didn’t have that agreement in place, those long-term studies would disappear,” he said.

“In agro-ecological work, the biggest payday comes when you run studies for five, 10, 20 years because you get the accumulative respects of how the ecosystem is responding, how the carbon is responding, how the biodiversity is responding, and so on.”

The ranches are utilized by local producers under grazing leases and they will continue to be full partners, he added.

“When we go in as researchers, they know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and we have the opportunity to extend our results back to those same producers or the local rural community,” said Bork.

Stavely and Onefour will now be additional sites for research started at other university locations.

“We are now diversifying the work we are doing elsewhere,” said Bork, “for example, at Kinsella and at Mattheis (research ranches) where we are looking at drought effects and how that affects everything from grassland productivity to grassland health to greenhouse gas uptake.”

The sites will also be used for teaching students about topics such as grassland ecology, wildlife management, carbon sequestering and storage, impacts of climate change on rangelands, land reclamation, and grazing systems.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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