Grazing co-op buys historic Alberta ranch

Conservation easement planned | Purchase of ranch expands Waldron Grazing Co-operative operations to 65,000 acres

It will take a few days and a few good horses to ride all the way across southern Alberta’s Waldron Ranch, now that it has expanded to 65,000 acres.

In an $11.25 million deal that was expected to be finalized April 7, the Waldron Grazing Co-operative bought 14,000 acres of deeded and leased property, plus rights to graze forest reserve land.

Last owned by ranchers Bill and Cody Bateman of Cochrane, Alta., the property north of Lundbreck, Alta., was previously owned by the famed King brothers, Maurice and Harrold, who were original members of the grazing co-op when it was formed in the early 1960s.

“It’s beautiful. It’s perfect. It sits right into the corner of our ranch and fills out that whole valley. It’s a perfect fit for us,” said grazing co-op chair Tim Nelson, whose father was also an original co-op member.

The purchase was made possible through last year’s deal with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which put $15 million into the co-op’s coffers, issued a tax receipt for another $18.5 million and placed the 30,535 acre stretch of native grassland between the Rockies and the Porcupine Hills into a permanent conservation easement.

The money had tax implications for the co-op’s 72 members. Some wanted to get their money out and others saw potential to buy the Bateman property, which was already surrounded on three sides by the Waldron.

“I always wanted to buy more land with it,” said Nelson.

“The whole idea of the Waldron Grazing Co-op is to graze cattle. The more land we can have, the more cattle we can have. That’s always been my idea.”

However, Nelson said he understood some members’ desire to take the money, so the co-op created a new share system that allowed some to cash out and others to allocate their shares to the latest land purchase.

Nelson said a plan is in place for a conservation easement on the new land acquisition, also with the Nature Conservancy.

Larry Simpson of the nature conservancy confirmed the group’s interest in another easement, although when contacted April 3, the Waldron’s purchase was still unofficial.

“If the Waldron is successful in completing acquisition of the King ranch, we look forward to bringing forward a recommendation to the board for its approval,” Simpson said.

Michael Roberts, manager of Waldron Ranch, said the newly acquired property has been kept in excellent shape by the Batemans and will increase the ranch’s overall carrying capacity.

“It’s always been grazing land, and it’s really been well looked after by the Batemans, and it was looked after by the Kings,” he said.

Nelson also praised the previous owners’ land stewardship and care for fences, corrals and grass.

Nature Conservancy involvement would preclude further development of the property, as it has already for the bulk of the Waldron Ranch.

The ranch is one of the few major expanses of native prairie remaining in Alberta. Bisected by Highway 22, it has seen traffic increase through its heart every year.

“Eventually development would have put enough pressure on this that … there would have been houses all along here just like there is everywhere else,” said Roberts.

“But now that won’t happen.”

That is likely what the late Harrold and Maurice King would have wanted, added Roberts.

Nelson agreed.

“I would suspect that that’s what they wanted. They were ranchers. That was their whole being,” he said.

The Kings are part of regional lore, renowned for shrewd business management despite their lack of formal education. That contrasted sharply with their frugal lifestyle and hillbilly-like living quarters and appearance, which included binder twine suspenders and lack of a bathtub.

The brothers died in the mid-1990s, and their heirs sold the property to ranchers who maintained it for grazing.

Care for the grassland lives on, as does the desire for fair dealing.

“Even the people who wanted their money out were supportive of buying the ranch,” said Nelson.

“Of course, there’s always a dispute over the cost.”

This week’s deal involved 4,200 acres of deeded land, 500 of lease land and 9,000 acres of forestry grazing rights amounting to 2,019 animal unit months.

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