Nature Conservancy of Canada expands protected land in Alberta’s Southern Foothills

Nature Conservancy of Canada expands protected land in Alberta’s Southern Foothills

April 13, 2016

Calgary, AB

King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)
King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has assisted the Waldron Grazing Co-operative in adding the very historic King Ranch to the largest conservation easement in Canadian history. With the acquisition of the ranch, the existing 12,357 hectare (30,535-acre) Waldron conservation project, a conservation easement secured by NCC in 2014, has grown by an additional 1,701 hectares (4,205 acres).

The King Ranch is located along the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22) in the wildlife corridor linking the 28,000-hectare (70,000-acre) Bob Creek Wildland Park (the Whaleback) and the 39,000-hectare (97,000-acre) Porcupine Hills Forest Reserve and in close proximity to other properties with Conservation Easements, including the Waldron Ranch.

Waldron Grazing Co-operative has purchased the property, which was formerly owned by the eccentric multimillionaire King brothers, two men that helped shape ranching in Southern Alberta.

Numerous stories have been written chronicling the legend of the two brothers—Harrold and Maurice—who purchased the land in the 1920s and lived together as perpetual bachelors in the same log cabin on some of Alberta’s most valuable land.

By the time the brothers died in the 1990s the ranch was worth millions, but Harrold and Maurice lived frugally without electricity in self-imposed isolation for the better part of a century. They were known to wear old pants held up by twine, choosing to invest every penny into their beloved ranch.

Many people who knew the brothers are pleased to see the land conserved, allowing their legacy to live on.

King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)
King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s conservation easement on this significant stretch of working native grassland prevents further development in the area and will assist in the conservation of water quality, flood mitigation, and the maintenance of important watershed along Alberta’s southern foothills. It is also a wildlife corridor that facilitates the movement of large carnivores such as bears and cougars.

Other species this property supports include elk, mule deer, golden eagles, bald eagles, and moose. The King Ranch is also home to the ferruginous hawk, which is on Alberta Species at Risk’s Threatened list. Sometimes found in Alberta’s prairie region during the summer months, ferruginous hawks and burrowing owls are the only birds of prey that use grasslands as their main habitat.

The property is also habitat for COSEWIC’s Endangered Limber Pine, a five-needled pine that can live up to 1,000 years and whose seeds provide important food for bears, small mammals, and birds.

This project was supported private donors, the Waldron shareholders, by funding from the Government of Alberta, and by funding from the Government of Canada through the Natural Areas Conservation Program. A portion of this project was also donated to NCC under the Government of Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program.

 

King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)
King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Quotes

“As we celebrate National Wildlife Week, the Government of Canada is pleased to work with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to protect this important grassland habitat and continue the King brothers’ legacy. Through the Natural Areas Conservation Program and the Ecological Gifts Program, our government supports initiatives that encourage private landowners who want to protect ecologically sensitive lands in Canada.”

Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

“The Alberta Government, through the Alberta Land Trust Grant Program, is proud to have played a part in conserving the King ranch. I want to personally thank the Waldron Grazing Coop shareholders as well as the Nature Conservancy of Canada and their supporters for their commitment to preserving this historic and ecologically sensitive property. Conserving healthy well managed grasslands on private lands like the King ranch directly contributes to maintaining the health of our headwaters which, while making up less than 4% of the province, provides clean drinking water and ground water recharge for 45% of Albertans.”

The Honourable Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)
King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

“The purpose of the grazing co-op at its inception in 1962 was to provide more grass to benefit shareholders’ existing ranches.  Our founders would be proud of the way the Waldron is protecting the watershed and utilizing better grazing practices.  Future generations will benefit from utilizing the increase of acreage with more opportunities for responsible environmental stewardship.”

Gerald Vandervalk, Chair of the Board of the Waldron Grazing Co-op

“The King Ranch has been sold twice since the brothers passed away in the 1990’s. Each time it was sold, there was the potential someone would buy the property and cultivate the fescue grasslands or allow country residential homes to be built on the property. With the Waldron Grazing Coop being the new owners has come a commitment to keep the land healthy and intact by virtue of the conservation easement they have placed on the land. The Waldron shareholders’ decision to conserve this magnificent property is good: good for the cattle, the wildlife, our water, and the people who can drive down the Cowboy Trail and enjoy the raw beauty of the area.”

Larry Simpson, Associate Regional Vice President for the Nature Conservancy of Canada

King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)
King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Facts

-The King Ranch was purchased by the Waldron Grazing Coop shareholders with the funds they received from the conservation easement NCC purchased on the Waldron Ranch. The two properties are adjacent, and will be managed as one unit with common ownership from now on.

-The King Ranch is located in the native fescue grassland, of which less than five percent remain in Canada. This subregion is considered one of the most threatened biographic regions in Canada.

-The rough fescue grasslands provide essential ecosystem services by filtering water, fixing carbon, protecting soil, and providing forage for both wild animals and domestic livestock.

-This area was once prime habitat for the millions of bison that once roamed the Great Planes, and dinosaur footprints reveal a history dating back millions of years.

King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)
King Ranch. Photo by Karol Dabbs (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

About

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is the nation’s leading land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect more than 1.1 million hectares (2.8 million acres), coast to coast. In Alberta, we have conserved over 234,000 acres (94,700 hectares) 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 easements on ecologically significant landscapes.

The Government of Canada’s Natural Areas Conservation Program (NACP) is a unique public-private partnership led 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 $400 million in matching contributions has been raised by NCC and its partners.

To learn more about the Ecological Gifts Program, please visit http://www.ec.gc.ca/pde-egp/.

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Check out a video here of this beautiful part of southern Alberta