Alberta ranch signs conservation agreement

Ranch family hopes the deal signed with Nature Conservancy Canada will protect their land from future development

Shane and Laurel Hansen were making their wills a few years ago and started thinking about the future of their southwestern Alberta property.

Their 903 acres a few kilometres east of Waterton Lakes National Park could be prime real estate for campgrounds or country residential acreages, but that is a future they never want to see.

Now the Hansen ranch has entered a conservation agreement with Nature Conservancy Canada that restricts development and ensures it can continue as a working cattle operation.

“We just wanted to protect our land for future generations because we love what we do and we love where we live but without the land, really you have nothing. So we just felt that we wanted to protect it for the future and ensure our family’s legacy of having that land continues,” Shane Hansen said.

The land is in Cardston County, which Hansen said has liberal rules for subdivision and development, so the NCC agreement is added protection for the ranch.

His grandfather, Otto Hansen, emigrated from Denmark to Canada in 1928 and bought the property in 1935. Shane, Laurel and their sons, Riley and Carter, took over the ranch from Shane’s parents, Earl and Ruth, in 2003, and they hope Carter will carry on the family ranching tradition.

The Hansens have been approached many times to subdivide and sell acreages to people attracted to the foothills, mountain views and natural habitat. It’s a major change from the region’s initial development, said Hansen.

“Really, the history of this area was a lot of people came here with nothing. It was people who were pretty hard up that came to this corner of the world because it was so far from the nearest town. It was over a day’s ride to Cardston to get supplies … so land was cheap here compared to the rest of the province.”

Proximity to the United States also made the region a hotbed for the illegal liquor trade during U.S. prohibition in the 1920s.

“There was a lot of whiskey running, and moonshiners were in this area too, and that’s how a lot of them paid for their land,” said Hansen.

The Hansen family has about 500 acres of hay and 100 acres of greenfeed and runs a 325 cow-calf herd on the property. Boundary Creek, a tributary of the St. Mary River, runs through it.

The ranch also provides habitat for wolves, wolverines, lynx, fishers and grizzly bears, as well as various birds and amphibians.

The easement on Hansen Ranch adds to a network of land in the region that has similar agreements.

“The creation of a buffer zone of protected properties surrounding the park, called the Waterton Park Front, is one of Canada’s most successful private conservation initiatives. The conservation agreement on Hansen Ranch adds to this network of conservation lands,” the NCC said in a news release announcing the easement.

Hansen said that is an advantage.

“This foothills area, it’s not as big an area as people think. It’s dwindling because of subdividing pressure and recreation pressure and it’s one of the only areas where the animals can migrate back and forth freely.”

Restrictions resulting from the easement will prevent subdivision, wetland drainage and cultivation of existing native grassland. The money the Hansens received from the NCC for imposing an easement will allow them to pay some bills and be in a better position to buy more property if it comes available, Hansen said.

Funding for this project came from the Alberta government’s Land Stewardship Grant and the federal Natural Areas Conservation Program, as well as the federal Ecological Gifts Program that provides tax incentives to those who donate ecologically significant land.

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