Important biological area in Southern Alberta now under environmental protection

A large portion of land near the Livingston mountain range which has been used for cattle ranching by the same family for five generations. Now, thanks to a contract with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, it will be protected against future development.

Chapel Rock property contains wildlife corridor, rare wetland area

Emilie Brien with the Nature Conservancy of Canada stands within the Chapel Rock Property, nearby to important wetland areas now under protection. (Jennifer Dorozio/CBC)

The Chapel Rock property in southwest Alberta is a rare habitat for plants and animal life in southern Alberta.

It's also very windy.

"You never get used to the wind but you sure remember the beautiful days," said Berwyn Pisony, whose family has stewarded the land for five generations.

Recently, 879 hectares of the property came under conservation easement, a contract between the Pisony family and the Nature Conservancy of Canada that will ensure the land remains in its natural state.

The property, northwest of Pincher Creek and nearby to the Livingston mountain range along the eastern slope, is in an environmentally significant area in Alberta and one of the rarest riparian habitats in Alberta, according to the conservancy.

The contract allows sustainable ranching to continue, but prevents any future development, subdivision or draining of wetlands on the property.

It's a move Pisony feels good about. Now retired from cattle ranching, he spent much of his life tending to Chapel Rock while making a living cattle ranching.

"When I saw in the general area how things are being developed, I realized I didn't want that," he said.

Berwyn Pisony, left, and his grandson. The Chapel Rock peak, right, is where the property gets its namesake. (Submitted by Pisony family)

Berwyn's grandfather Joseph Pisony first homesteaded five quarters of the land in 1912. Since that time, the Pisony family gradually came to own more land and the property and ranch expanded. His children and grandchildren still use part of the land.

It was after the suggestion by his son that he started considering putting the land under protection, a process which took several years to complete.

"I'm very fortunate and grateful that I was eventually selected," he said.

Animals rely on area

The Chapel Rock property houses wetlands that create habitats for many species to nest, feed and breed. Sharptail grouse, a species of concern in Alberta, make their home in the area.

"Especially here, a lot of small wetlands spread out across the landscape is great for wildlife," said Emilie Brien, natural area manager for the Castle-Crownest Watershed with the conservancy.

The property is also a natural wildlife corridor for ungulates like deer, elk and larger mammals such as grizzly bears.

"It's kind of a corridor between the mountains, it really funnels the wide ranging mammals," she said.

Brien says the conservancy's long term goal is to protect the entire corridor that spans from Highway 3 north and south to the Castle Provincial Park.

A wetland area on the Chapel Rock property which is ideal for birds nesting, feeding and breeding. (Jennifer Dorozio/CBC )

'Habitat for connectivity'

Agreements like the conservation easement on Chapel Rock are worked out between ranchers and organizations like the conservancy and others in the area such as the Southern Alberta Land Trust.

Often these organizations raise funds, and use provincial and federal funding grants, to acquire the land.

The conservancy has an existing network of conservation lands around the Waterton Lakes National Park area.

"One of the main things is just creating a habitat of connectivity, for a lot of large mammals that move through that area," said Devon Earl, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association.

Earl says animals like grizzlies, which are threatened species "need a lot of intact landscape" and can move through these areas more freely. 

She says the area at Chapel Rock also plays an important role in the protection of headwaters, water filtration and flood mitigation.

"We don't live forever," said Berwyn Pisony, but he says he can, "count on the conservancy easement to protect the land."

CBC Calgary has launched a Lethbridge bureau to help tell your stories from southern Alberta with reporter Jennifer Dorozio. Story ideas and tips can be sent to