Ranch signs conservation agreement

One of Canada’s oldest ranches has signed an agreement with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to protect 2,266 acres of native range.

Located west of Stavely, Alta., the Oxley Ranch is owned and operated by Jennifer Barr and her family.

It covered 200,000 acres in the Alberta foothills when it was established in 1882, making it the fourth largest ranch in Canada.

Barr raises commercial Limousin cattle and wanted to preserve the natural area for generations to come.

The Oxley is home to diverse wildlife populations such as prairie falcons, bald eagles and large mammals such as elk, mule deer, grizzly and black bears. It is also located close to other protected historic properties including the Waldron, Welsch and King Ranches.

“There are many other things she could have chosen to do that might have returned her greater commercial value, but she made a choice,” said Larry Simpson of the conservancy, a land trust that works with landowners to conserve natural areas.

It has protected 2.8 million acres in Canada and 234,000 acres in Alberta.

Barr moved to the ranch as a four-year-old when her mother, Willa, married owner Jim Gordon. He died in 1997. The ranch became her home and the love of her life, a legacy she hopes to pass on to her children, Heather and Donavan.

“Daddy Jim was a naturalist and pointed out all the natural wonders as we rode together,” she said.

“A natural storyteller, he had a tale to tell about everything that happened on the ranch over the years,” she told reporters March 27.

His mother, Elsie, was a daughter of George Lane, a ranching pioneer and one of the founders of the Calgary Stampede.

Each generation struggled to keep the ranch afloat.

“Land values far exceed what family ranches can afford to expand,” she said. “In our area, the constant pressure for real estate development for acreages is tempting for financially strapped ranchers. Jim constantly warned me about the damaging effects on our landscape and our lifestyle if we fell into the trap of subdividing.”

People often refer to a ranch as property that can be capitalized on, but she sees it as a personal responsibility to protect it.

“Ranching is not a lucrative career choice,” she said. “It is a calling and a sense of belonging. The ranch does not belong to me, I belong to it. I am only its temporary caretaker.”

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