Ducks Unlimited makes big purchase

6,000 acres New conservation ranch established outside Calgary

Ducks Unlimited Canada has celebrated its 75th anniversary by buying a 6,000 acre parcel of prairie wetlands in the middle of southern Alberta’s farming country.

“It’s an island of grass surrounded by a sea of cultivation,” said Barry Bishop, head of conservation programs with Ducks Unlimited Canada.

The 6,000 acre block, about an hour south of Calgary, is the largest wetland conservation project acquisition by Ducks Unlimited

“It’s a pretty unique area,” Bishop said about the foothills fescue grassland.

Gordon Marsh, owner of the land, said selling the land to Ducks Unlimited was a “win-win” situation. His family gets to continue ranching the area and the land is protected as a wetland.

“We got paid and we still got it,” said Marsh.

There are 10,500 acres of grassland in the block near Arrowwood, Alta.

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The Marsh family kept the grazing lease and the home quarter. They have signed a 10-year agreement to lease the land from Ducks Unlimited and have an option to lease it for another 10 years.

“It’s a way of preserving the ranch and improving the water, and it’s still a viable ranch,” said Marsh.

An estimated 800 potholes ranging from half an acre to five acres are located on the new Shell Buffalo Hills Conservation Ranch.

Shell Canada donated $3 million to help buy the land.

Marsh said the area remained in its natural state because it was rugged country. He bought two ranches and put them together and seeded the cultivated area to grass when he bought the land.

Marsh said several people have approached him over the years about buying the land to break up for farmland or for housing development, neither of which appealed to him.

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“I kind of shied away from that.”

It wasn’t until he was approached by Ducks Unlimited about buying the 6,000 acres as a block that he considered selling the land.

Bishop said the timing was ideal. The combination of Shell Canada, which was willing to be part of a large land acquisition, and Ducks Unlimited’s 75th anniversary helped the project come together.

“It takes a long time to put these together and get the funding. It’s the largest such acquisition Ducks Canada has done,” said Bishop.

“I wouldn’t think they would come together very often.”

Ducks Unlimited has made smaller land acquisitions in Western Canada in an attempt to maintain pothole areas for waterfowl, but they are fighting an uphill battle against farmers draining their land, he said.

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Ducks Unlimited plans to have full public access to the land through a series of walking trails.