Calgary

Nature Conservancy of Canada completes conservation of Alberta's Waldron grasslands with King Ranch

With the addition of the historic King Ranch, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is now able to protect almost 14,000 hectares of southern Alberta grassland from future development.

14,000 hectare conservation easement largest in Canadian history

The Waldron Conservation project recently added the 4,000-acre King Ranch, which was run by two of Alberta's most wealthy brothers. 2:50

Nearly 14,000 hectares of Alberta grassland is now protected from future development thanks to the addition of the King Ranch to the Waldron Conservation Project.

The acquisition is the largest conservation easement in Canadian history — meaning the ranchers who own the land retain grazing rights, but won't cultivate it, subdivide it or drain the wetlands.

The Waldron lands are about 80 km southwest of Calgary, situated along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

The area is an important watershed and animal wildlife corridor for bears, cougars, elk, mule deer, hawks, eagles and moose.

"So the entire basin is now conserved as one large working ranch," said Larry Simpson, associate regional VP for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

Waldron shareholders on the King Ranch in the southern Alberta Foothills, which is now protected under the Waldron Ranch project — the largest conservation easement in Canadian history. (Karol Dabbs)

Wealthy brothers held pants up with twine

The property was previously owned by brothers and lifetime bachelors Harrold and Maurice King, who lived together in a log cabin on the ranch for more than half a century.

We hear about the Nature Conservancy's latest coup — an additional of the King Ranch to the Waldron Conservation Project to protect southern Alberta's grasslands. 7:08

The King brothers were multimillionaires, but you wouldn't know it.

"If you saw them in the town of Pincher Creek during the 60s, 70s or 80s they would almost look homeless," said Simpson.

"Binder twine for belts and hair going in every direction. They were highly intelligent and well-mannered but you didn't have any sense that they were some of the wealthiest ranchers in southwest Alberta."

The King Ranch is located in the ecologically sensitive Fescue Grassland, which was once the prime habitat for bison that roamed the Great Plains. (Karol Dabbs)

Protection through government, conservationists and cowboys

A group of ranchers, called the Waldron Grazing Co-operative, own the Waldron Ranch — the property adjacent to the King Ranch.

In 2014, the NCC paid $15 million for a conservation easement on the Waldron Ranch. That gave Waldron shareholders the purchasing power to buy the King Ranch for $11.5 million.

Th NCC then purchased an additional easement on the King Ranch, valued at  $5.4 million. Provincial and federal funding covered $2.3 million of that easement.

The rest was donated by the Waldron shareholders.

Members of the Waldron Grazing Co-op on the King Ranch, about 80 km southwest of Calgary. (Karol Dabbs)

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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