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Cowboys on horses at Bob Creek Ranch in Alberta
Sean Feagan | NCC

Alberta Ranchers Are Proving You Can Protect Sensitive Land And Stay in Business

Conservation partnerships with ranchers are a model for how sustainable agriculture and environmental protection can coexist

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is working on another partnership with Alberta ranchers to protect more important grassland and wildlife habitat in the southern foothills.

Waldron Ranch Gate
The Waldron Ranch gate | Waldron Grazing Co-op

As part of an ongoing conservation partnership, the NCC is raising money to protect Bob Creek Ranch while supporting sustainable ranching on lands dominated by rough fescue. 

Rough fescue is Alberta’s provincial grass. Though most regular Albertans would trample it without a second thought, rough fescue is important for water filtration, carbon storage, and forage for both domestic animals and wildlife. 

And it’s disappearing fast.

Bob Creek Ranch is also home to several species of conservation concern, including limber pine, grizzly bear, Columbia spotted frog and golden eagle.

This 1027-hectare ranch bordering the Old Man River was recently bought by Waldron Grazing Co-operative Ltd.

Forward-Looking Partnerships

The forward-thinking co-op was formed in 1962 when 116 ranchers pooled together $ 1 million to buy 17,800 hectares of grazing land in the Rocky Mountain foothills.

The idea was to protect their own ranches from overgrazing, conserve the natural environment from cultivation and allow their operations to thrive and grow. 

Today the 65-member co-op owns roughly 26,300 hectares.

Bob Creek Ranch is an important piece of a southern Alberta conservation puzzle. 

It would complete a 43,000-hectare chunk of grasslands, wetlands, and forests, which also includes Bob Creek Wildland Park (established by the Government of Alberta in partnership with NCC and oil company BP Amoco in 1999), the Black Creek Heritage Rangeland (established by the Government of Alberta in 2000) and The Waldron Ranch

Such partnerships show what can be achieved when non-profits and landowners work together rather than against each other to protect habitat and watersheds while still allowing rural Albertans to make a sustainable living.

“The partnership we’ve built with The Waldron speaks volumes about how conservation agreements can be a win-win for everyone involved. By working together, we’ve proven that conserving places like Bob Creek Ranch isn’t just good for ranchers and wildlife, but for all of us,” a press release, said Bob Sutton, Regional Board Chair for Nature Conservancy of Canada. 

The addition of the Bob Creek Ranch will add another piece to the puzzle of protected areas in the Alberta foothills | NCC
The addition of the Bob Creek Ranch will add another piece to the puzzle of protected areas in the Alberta foothills | NCC

Repeat a Past Success 

In 2013, the Waldron Grazing Co-Op made history by signing a Conservation Easement Agreement with the NCC to protect the historic Waldron Ranch

This is how it works. The value of a conservation easement is the difference between the property’s fair market value and the value if it were developed. Typically, that difference is 25 to 35 percent of fair market value.     

The province and federal government contributed $12 million and $4 million, respectively, to the $37.5 million agreement. It was the largest conservation deal of its kind in Alberta. The agreement protected nearly 12,400 hectares from subdivision, property development, and cultivation, but the ranchers still retained grazing rights.

With funds from this deal, the co-op later purchased the King Ranch, then created another conservation agreement on that property in 2015

The Waldron Co-op and NCC hope to repeat this success story with Bob Creek Ranch.  

“The Waldron has found a very beneficial partnership with NCC to ensure that these lands will remain just as they are; a beautiful range where cattle and nature can thrive. Continuing this partnership with the purchase of the historic King Ranch and now with the purchase of the Bob Creek Ranch, more native prairie will be conserved,” said Frank Welsch, Board Chair of Waldron Grazing Co-operative.

The Bob Creek Ranch agreement is expected to cost $3 million. 

The nature conservancy is trying to raise a total of $10 million this year to support the Bob Creek Ranch project and other prairie conservation projects, such as the historic McIntyre Ranch.

The beauty and habitiat diversity of the Bob Creek Ranch | Sean Feagan | NCC
The beauty and habitiat diversity of the Bob Creek Ranch | Sean Feagan | NCC

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