Calgary

Historic Oxley Ranch in southern Alberta to be protected

One of Canada's oldest working ranches — Oxley Ranch in southern Alberta — will be protected in a conservation agreement that aims to preserve rare grasslands habitat and the headwaters for much of the province's drinking water.

900-hectare Oxley Ranch in southern Alberta foothills owned and operated by Jennifer Barr and family

The Oxley Ranch in southern Alberta is near several other properties protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, including the Welsch Ranch, Waldron Ranch and King Ranch. All feature important grasslands, and are also located in the headwaters region of southern Alberta — an area that covers only four per cent of the province but provides fresh drinking water to 45 per cent of Albertans.

One of Canada's oldest working ranches will be protected as a result of a conservation agreement with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The 900-hectare Oxley Ranch in the southern Alberta foothills is owned and operated by Jennifer Barr and her family.

The ranch was established in 1882 and will still function as a cattle operation.

"To protect it from development and overuse in the future," said Barr on the impetus for the agreement. "Our world is changing very quickly, it's a family ranch and it's been in our family since 1919."

The Oxley Ranch is one of Canada’s oldest working ranches. When established in 1882, it spanned 80,900 hectares, making it one of the four largest ranches in Alberta’s foothills. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

The agreement prevents cultivation of grasslands, drainage of wetlands, subdivision and land development.

The property has one of the last pieces of relatively intact fescue grassland in Alberta.

It is estimated that less than five per cent of such grassland remains in the country, making this area one of the most threatened regions of Canada. 

Family retains ownership

The family retains ownership of the property with an obligation to long-term conservation. It is an ongoing legally binding contract even if ownership changes.

"This land is our family's legacy. It's been my personal sanctuary for my entire life. I have a great appreciation for what my grandmother, my aunt and my stepfather all sacrificed to hold on to this ranch," Barr said Tuesday.

Oxley Ranch owner Jennifer Barr's family has been living on the Oxley Ranch since 1919. 'I have a great appreciation for what my grandmother, my aunt and my stepfather all sacrificed to hold on to this ranch,' Barr says. (Genevieve Normand/Radio Canada)

"I have always felt a great responsibility to care for it, to preserve it, for future generations."

"Combined with the protected Crown lands, this important grassland habitat will continue to supply habitat to native plant and animal species and provide an important wildlife corridor along Alberta's eastern slopes," added Bob Demulder, Alberta vice-president of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

A horse walks through the grasslands on the Oxley Ranch in southern Alberta. The eastern slopes of Alberta contain the last one per cent of the Canadian Great Plains that remain intact and still have enough space and habitat to sustain all of the species that historically roamed the grasslands, including bears, wolves, cougars and their prey. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

With files from Radio-Canada's Genevieve Normand