Gateway Gazette

135-year-old Southern Alberta Historic Ranch Conserved

Nature Conservancy of Canada protects another site with rich human history in foothills

The Oxley Ranch, one of Canada’s oldest working ranches, has been conserved for today and for the long term thanks to a conservation agreement with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

This 917-hectare (2,266-acre) property is situated in the majestic foothills of southern Alberta, in the Municipal District of Willow Creek, west of the Town of Stavely.

When the ranch was established in 1882, it spanned 80,900 hectares (200,000 acres), making it one of the four largest ranches in the Alberta’s foothills.

Over the years, various books have been written chronicling the story of the Oxley Ranch and detailing its role in Alberta’s ranching history. Historically, the property was associated with the Fort Macleod-Calgary Trail — the primary north-south transportation route prior to the Calgary and Edmonton Railway.

Today, the remainder of this historic property is managed as a cattle ranch that will be protected under a conservation agreement, which prevents the cultivation of grasslands, drainage of wetlands, subdivision and development of the land.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Alberta Region is pleased to work on this project with Jennifer Barr and her family, whose ancestors have been living on the Oxley Ranch since 1919.

A conservation agreement is a solution for landowners who still want to retain ownership of their property, but are interested in long-term conservation. It is a legally binding contract recognized by both provincial and federal law, and remains in place even if ownership of the land changes in the future.

In Alberta’s southern foothills, partnerships like this between NCC and landowners help maintain the region’s ecological integrity as a working landscape.

A concerted effort to protect grasslands and headwaters

The southern foothills are a priority for NCC’s conservation work, as this region is one of the last pieces of relatively intact fescue grasslands in the province. It is 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.

The eastern slopes of Alberta contain the last one per cent of the Canadian Great Plains that remain intact and still have enough space and habitat to sustain all of the species that historically roamed the grasslands, including bears, wolves, cougars and their prey.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)-designated endangered limber pine can also be found on the property.

The ranch is located in close proximity to several other properties conserved by NCC, including the recently announced Welsch Ranch, Waldron Ranch and King Ranch.

All of these ranches feature important grasslands, and are also 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.

Each working ranch conserved in this region benefits the ranching community, native wildlife and Alberta’s headwaters.

This project was made possible with the support of Jennifer Barr, her mother Willa Gordon, the Government of Alberta through the Alberta Land Stewardship Grant, the Government of Canada through the Natural Areas Conservation Program and donors. A portion of this project was donated to NCC under the Government of Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program, which provides enhanced tax incentives for individuals or corporations who donate ecologically significant land.


“This land is our family’s legacy; it’s been my personal sanctuary for my entire life. 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. It is a precious piece of God’s country that can never be replaced once it’s gone. Knowing that it will remain as it is and will be protected from now on gives me great comfort.”
–    Jennifer Barr, landowner

“The Oxley Ranch is a fantastic example of how working landscapes and conservation can go hand in hand. The conservation of this property is another huge success for nature in Alberta. Between the work that NCC and other land trusts have done in the foothills of the Rockies, we have assembled more than 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres) of private conservation lands. Combined with the protected Crown lands, this important grassland habitat will continue to supply habitat to native plant and animal species and provide an important wildlife corridor along Alberta’s eastern slopes.”
–    Bob Demulder, Nature Conservancy of Canada’s regional vice-president in Alberta

“I want to thank Jennifer Barr and her family, as well as our provincial partners, for making this important conservation initiative a reality. This project demonstrates the Government of Canada’s proud support of habitat conservation efforts by Canadians through both the Ecological Gifts Program and the Natural Areas Conservation Program. Working together, we will protect these important headwaters and grasslands from development for generations to come.”
–    Hon. Catherine McKenna, Minster of Environment and Climate Change

“The Oxley Ranch is a link to Alberta’s past, but also a promise of a bright future. This news is good for Albertans. As we work together to protect our working habitats, we also conserve wildlife corridors, ecological resilience and drinking water for future generations.”
–    Shannon Phillips, Minister of Alberta Environment and Parks


  • Oxley Ranch provides important habitat for a diversity of breeding bird species, including prairie falcons and bald eagles, both of which nest on the ranch. It is also key overwintering habitat for elk and mule deer. Wide-ranging mammals, such as grizzly and black bears, cougars and bobcats, have all been seen on the ranch.
  • The primary reason that the headwaters region is mainly ranch land today is because, when the west was first being settled, the terrain was too rugged for cultivation. This resulted in ranching being the main economic influence in the area. Ranching has kept the big open spaces of the eastern slopes intact until the mid-1990s. Today, however, ranch economics in this area cannot compete with land prices paid by urban developers. As a result, this region is facing heavy threat from fragmentation.
  • This property includes several miles of Willow Creek, which flows through the heart of the ranch and the surrounding floodplain. The native plants that grow alongside the river play an essential role in controlling spring run-off and high water levels.


The Nature Conservancy of Canada is the nation’s leading private, not-for-profit land conservation organization, protecting vital natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, as a result of its supporters, NCC and its partners have helped protect more than 1.1 million hectares (2.8 million acres), coast to coast. In Alberta, we have conserved more than 94,700 hectares (234,000 acres) of this province’s most ecologically significant land and water.

The Government of Alberta created the Alberta Land Trust Grant program in 2011 — a program designed to support land trusts such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada to assist in the purchase of conservation agreements on ecologically significant landscapes.

The Government of Canada’s Natural Areas Conservation Program (NACP) is a unique public-private partnership managed and directed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). To date, $345 million has been invested in the NACP by the Government of Canada to secure our natural heritage. Additionally, more than $500 million in matching contributions has been raised by NCC and its partners.

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