Alberta ranch along Castle River protects habitat for at-risk species
In honour of World Wetlands Day (February 2nd), the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) announced the conservation of Riverside Ranch, a 1,600-hectare (3,950-acre) ranch along the Castle River, in the foothills of southwest Alberta. Riverside Ranch is located between the towns of Lundbreck and Beaver Mines and has been in the Zoratti family for over a century.
The Zoratti family and NCC have entered into a conservation agreement, which restricts recreational development on the property and will ensure the land is kept intact for the long term. The agreement allows the family to continue operating their cattle ranch while maintaining the landscape and the Castle River in a natural, healthy and un-fragmented state.
Riverside Ranch was established in 1914 after Peter Zoratti immigrated to Canada from Coderno, Italy, and purchased a property near Beaver Mines. Since that time, the Zorattis have cared for the land, and each generation has helped expand and improve the ranch.
It is the family’s wishes to see the ranch conserved, not just to protect the natural landscape, but also to honour the dedication of generations past and to preserve their ranching heritage.
Clean fresh water is essential for the health of people, plants and animals and is the foundation for all life on Earth. The Castle River is one of these water sources, and it provides habitat for several provincially significant populations of species at risk, including westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout. Both of these species are designated as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The river also supports forests of poplar and white spruce trees, which are habitat for a high diversity of breeding birds, like ruffed and sharp-tailed grouse and wild turkey.
The forests on this property contain limber pine, which is designated as endangered by COSEWIC. Limber pine is a five-needled pine that can live up to 1,000 years, and its seeds provide important food for bears, small mammals and birds. Some of these trees on Riverside Ranch are more than 500 years old.
The property is home to grizzly bear, which are listed as a special concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Other species on the property include cougar, wolf, elk, deer and other grazing mammals.
Native habitat in the foothills retains water from rainfall and snowmelt, which helps mitigate flooding, both locally and further downstream. The foothills along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains make up an important part of the headwaters of the South Saskatchewan River. The headwaters region makes up only 4 per cent of the province of Alberta by area, but these headwaters are the source of fresh drinking water for 45 per cent of Alberta’s population.
Any land that can be protected in this area represents important benefits for the future of fresh water to a large portion of Albertans.
Ranchlands located in the foothills of Alberta contain large expanses of foothills parkland and rough fescue grasslands, montane forest and important watershed and riparian (waterside) areas.
This conservation agreement adds to the substantial investment that NCC and ranchers have already made along Alberta’s eastern slopes to conserve one of the largest remaining intact blocks of native grassland in North America.
Supporters of this project include the Government of Alberta’s Land Trust Grant Program, and the Government of Canada, through the Natural Areas Conservation Program. 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.
“Every generation in my family had a hand in expanding and improving Riverside Ranch. I saw the need to protect our heritage and preserve the ranch that our past generations developed and that our future generations will inherit. Partnering with NCC will do that: preserve our ranch, the natural landscape and our grasslands.” -Berny Zoratti, landowner and grandson of ranch founder Peter Zoratti
“We realize we are very fortunate to be able to make a living on the ranch, but we also go out on the ranch to camp, hike, fish, and create beautiful memories. As kids, including mine at present, we enjoy the land for all it offers which I believe carries over to being adults. As adults we recognize the tremendous value in land conservation for all future generations to come, not only for the sustainability of the ranch but also so they may get a chance to experience the ranch lands as they have always been.” -Mark Zoratti, landowner and great-grandson of ranch founder Peter Zoratti
“I am so happy that Riverside Ranch is getting conserved on World Wetlands Day. To know that the place I rode my first horse and cast my first fly will be protected forever gives we me great joy. Thank you.” -Karla Guyn, niece of Berny Zoratti and Chief Executive Officer, Ducks Unlimited Canada
For World Wetlands Day, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is proud to announce the conservation of Riverside Ranch. This ranch in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains is located in the headwaters region for the South Saskatchewan River, and every project protected in this area positively impacts the future of fresh water in Alberta. The conservation of this ranch also ensures the native grasslands will continue to supply habitat for many native plant and animal species that live along the Rockies’ eastern slopes. For these reasons NCC is proud to be part of this conservation success.” -Bob Demulder, Regional Vice-President of the Nature Conservancy of Canada
“I can’t think of a better project to mark World Wetlands Day than the protection of Riverside Ranch. Our government’s Land Trust Grant program is one of the ways we commit ourselves to conserving Alberta’s incredible landscapes, and we are proud to support the work of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Alberta ranchers recognize the need to preserve critical habitat and safeguard the foothills for future generations, and I would like to thank the Zoratti family for their generosity in supporting this conservation effort on their property.” -Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks
With the help of partners like the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Zoratti family, our government is making progress towards doubling the amount of protected nature across Canada’s lands and oceans. Nature is central to our Canadian identity and by taking the initiative now to conserve Riverside Ranch, we’re ensuring our kids and grandkids can connect to nature and experience its wonder.” -Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada
• Wetland conservation is of great importance. In the settled areas of Alberta, 64 per cent of the slough and marsh wetlands have disappeared (according to the Institute of Wetlands and Waterfowl Research).
• Native grasslands provide essential ecosystem services, such as carbon fixation, water filtration, forage production and soil protection.
• Canada is a signatory to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, also called the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on February 2 to mark the 1971 adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in Ramsar, Iran; 88 per cent of United Nations’ member states have become contracting parties to the Convention on Wetlands.
• Each working ranch conserved in this region benefits the ranching community, native wildlife and Alberta’s headwaters. NCC’s conservation agreement on this significant stretch of working rangeland will assist in the conservation of water quality, flood mitigation and the maintenance of an important watershed along Alberta’s southern foothills.
• The conservation of ranches in this area is significant because only seven per cent of Canada is considered prime agricultural land, which is approximately the size of Montana and North Dakota combined. Yet those two states have a population of approximately one million people, and this area in Canada supports a population of around 30 million. This density of people has put extra pressure on the ranchers, which was resulted in a dramatic increase in the amount of native ranchland being converted to other land uses, such as subdivision, acreage development and crop production.
• To learn more about the Ecological Gifts Program, please visit ec.gc.ca/pde-egp
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the nation’s leading private, not-for-profit, private land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC has helped protect more than 1.1 million hectares (2.8 million acres), coast to coast. To learn more, visit natureconservancy.ca.
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 and donations of land with high conservation value.
The Government of Canada’s Natural Areas Conservation Program (NACP) is a unique public-private partnership to accelerate the pace of land conservation across southern Canada. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) manages the program. Federal funds are matched by contributions raised by NCC and its partners. Habitat conserved under the NACP enhances natural corridors and other protected areas.