Ranchers, Conservationists Take Action To Protect Habitat

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“I just can’t help but wonder why did it take, you know, 14,000 years for this meeting to happen?”

– Dixon Hammond, Beaver Creek Watershed Group

Southern Alberta is home to about 60 per cent of the province’s population, but only 40 per cent of the water resources. Therefore, stewardship groups are a vital part of water conservation in the area, says Jacqueline Nelson, chair of the Alberta Stewardship Network.

At the organization’s annual meeting and workshop called “Stewards in Motion” here in June, several stewardship groups had the opportunity to share their stories. The Alberta Stewardship Network was created in 2004 as a way to support and recognize the efforts of such groups across Alberta.

Dixon Hammond, a fourth-generation rancher-turned-mechanic to support his “hobby of ranching,” lives in the Beaver Creek area about 40 kilometres west of Fort Macleod and is an active member of the Beaver Creek Watershed Group. Poor water quality in 1999 spurred local landowners to take a closer look at Beaver Creek, holding an inaugural meeting early the next year. “I just can’t help but wonder why did it take, you know, 14,000 years for this meeting to happen?” said Hammond.

By 2002, water development in the Beaver Creek area was underway with offstream watering and fencing projects. In 2004, the group initiated a water quality monitoring program, and in 2005, they received an Emerald Award for their efforts, although heavy rain on the day of the awards ceremony prevented the group from attending the ceremony. “We received more rain on that one day in June than we did the rest of the year,” said Hammond.

By 2007, the group had five years of data, which has yet to be organized and presented. “We know the water is still bad sometimes but it has turned into a better picture from 1999.”

In 2008, the Beaver Creek Watershed Group organized a tour to count fish in the creek. “It was an encouraging event for me as a landowner to see the array and abundance of fish,” said Hammond.

Now, in its 10th year, the group continues to plan projects and seek funding for ways to enhance its water resources. “We are doing our best to make it better,” said Hammond.

Reducing bear conflicts

Another group to share its success stories was the Drywood/Yarrow Conservation Partnership. Chair Tony Bruder, along with Dennis Lastuka and Dick Hardy, talked about its three-year history, which included a trail ride along the creeks to familiarize people in the area with the resource. The partnership is also taking steps to reduce human-bear conflicts by following a model of the Blackfoot Challenge in Montana, which uses preventive measures to reduce attractants.

In April, the group introduced a bear-proof livestock disposal unit.

“Everyone thought it was a good idea, but no one wanted it on their place,” said Hardy. In addition to the contained disposal units, the group would like to eventually replace wooden grain storage bins, which are often raided by bears, with steel bins with hopper bottoms. By working with other organizations and the government, the partnership will continue its effort to improve water resources and reduce human-bear conflicts.

Corlaine Gardner of the Grasslands Naturalists-Medicine Hat Interpretive Program knows what it takes to educate people about water resources. Through the program at Police Point Park, Gardner and her team have developed a map of wetlands in the city for every classroom in the city. “Teachers know where the wetlands are and where to walk to places that are important for education,” says Gardner. She engages the public through various projects, such as frog calling, tree planting and geocaching.

Gardner advises other stewardship groups to take advantage of media and not to assume that no one else is interested in water conservation activities. “Don’t try and do it all yourselves,” she said. The program is in close contact with the local newspaper and also provides a “Nature Break” on local television.

The Alberta Stewardship Networks contact number is (1-877-7-ASK-ASN) for directing stewards and stewardship groups to existing resources, and a web-site www.ab.stewardshipcanada.ca), which features stewardship organization profiles, funding resources and scientific and technical information. There is also a directory of watershed stewardship that contains contact information for more than 250 stewardship groups and supporting agencies.

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