Conservation projects to receive $9 million

Three large ranches and three other conservation projects were partially funded last week through $9 million provided by the Alberta government.

The Southern Alberta Land Trust Society (SALTS) will use $3.2 million of that total for three projects, including protection of the historic D Ranch, owned by Wendy and Gordon Cartwright.

The SALTS arrangement comprises 3,995 acres of the ranch in the Pekisko Valley near Longview, Alta.

“It’s just west of the Bar U National Historic site and it’s actually in the middle of the new heritage rangeland that the government announced and is working with the local community to create,” said SALTS executive director Justin Thompson.

The heritage rangeland extends from south of Longview to south of Chain Lakes and is one of the largest blocks of intact, unfragmented grassland on the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

SALTS will also use some of the grant funds to protect 907 acres of wildlife habitat in the Porcupine Hills and another site near Waterton Lakes National Park.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada will use $5.1 million to finalize a deal with one ranch in the Castle River and Crowsnest River watershed and another ranch in the Bow River watershed. Locations of the ranches and their ownership were not revealed.

“The first one is along the Castle River and the second one touches the Sheep River in the Bow River watershed,” said NCC regional vice-president Larry Simpson.

“Both are significant and important but just out of respect for the families that we’re working with, we don’t want to get in front of them.”

The Foothills Land Trust, another recipient of funding, will use $478,000 for a conservation easement of 260 to 320 acres of river valley along Fish Creek, north of Priddis, Alta.

The funding announcement was made March 27 in Lethbridge by Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips.

She said it is important to protect land “that fuels us and feeds us,” and noted the importance of ranching in land conservation.

“Through collaboration and a shared goal of conservation, we can preserve more and more of Alberta’s natural beauty,” said Phillips.

“We can also protect our ranching and beef industry by keeping these lands working efficiently.”

John Cross, an Alberta rancher and SALTS treasurer, said grants “make a huge difference to the work that we do” in preserving natural grasslands and wildlife habitat.

Sandy Bruce, treasurer of the Foothills Land Trust, said increasing development pressure around Calgary has lent greater importance to conservation. The FLT operates within the Municipal District of Foothills in an area west of Calgary as far as Kananaskis Country.

“This is indeed very great value for the money invested,” said Bruce.

For every dollar that government provides to such projects, applicants have to provide $2 in value.

According to the government news release, some $48 million worth of grants have been used in the last six years for nine land trusts, which have made conservation deals that affect 93,900 acres.

Simpson noted that most grants provided by the government affect properties along the eastern slopes that make up one percent of the northern plains.

It is one area “that still is big enough and intact enough, because of the ranching economic model, to have the space so that large wild things like bears and wolves and cougars might exist. Yes, there’s conflict from time to time but the reality is, without that space they’re not there.”

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