Alberta ranchers to conserve huge tract of native grassland

Southern Alberta ranchers are banding together to preserve a huge swath of native grassland almost untouched by development.

$37.5M deal is the largest of its kind in Canadian history

Three of the 72 ranchers who agreed to a huge conservation deal on more than 12,000 hectares of native southern Alberta grassland ride off toward the Rocky Mountain Foothills. The deal, announced Monday, will keep the wildlife-rich land free of housing and agricultural development and allow the ranchers to graze cattle and retain ownership. (Kyle Marquardt/Canadian Press handout)

Southern Alberta ranchers have banded together to preserve a huge swath of almost untouched native grassland that some call a "Prairie Serengeti."

The Nature Conservancy of Canada, which worked on the project, says the $37.5-million deal is the largest of its kind in Canadian history.

"Everything — everything — that was there when Columbus arrived is still there," said Larry Simpson of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. "That's what makes this area so special."

The 72 members of the Waldron Grazing Co-op have agreed to sign a conservation easement on more than 12,000 hectares of rolling Prairie and Foothills that their group has owned since 1962. The land, located on either side of Highway 22 south of Longview, Alta., was being eyed by developers and could have been sold for at least $75 million, said Simpson.

Instead, the ranchers agreed to easements that forbid subdividing, draining of wetlands or cultivation of the land.

"We're not in it for the money, we're really not," said rancher Tim Nelson from Stavely, Alta., chairman of co-op board. "We decided we could preserve the land and we could also continue to use it the way we've used it for the last 52 years.

"It's not going to be houses out there, it's not going to be hotels. It's just going to be like it is."

The deal allows the co-op to retain title and keep grazing the roughly 10,000 cattle currently home on the range. Some energy development exists on carefully restricted terms and future proposals would be considered case by case.

$37.5M deal

"It's not like a park, it's not like an ecological reserve," Simpson said.

"Those are really important, but when we looked at the settled area of Alberta, we realized that if we were going to go to war over every single well that was going to be drilled we would not get much done. We're going to focus on conserving working landscapes as best we can."

The total cost of the project was $37.5 million, with $12.2 million from the provincial government and $4 million from Ottawa. The ranchers received $15 million — money they've already used to purchase another 5,700 hectares of adjacent grassland that they also plan to place under conservation easement.

The Waldron lands connect a large wildland park and even larger forest reserve. With the exception of bison, they are home to all the species that were originally native to the Prairies, including grizzly and black bears, wolves, cougars, hawks, eagles, elk, moose, deer, coyotes and foxes.

Nelson said public access on foot is permitted.

Visitors are asked to contact the range manager. Phone numbers will be posted on signs.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?