King ranch addition makes 34,740 acre easement

The Waldron Grazing Co-op bought the ranch, making it the largest block of deeded land on the eastern slope of the Rockies

There are many in southwestern Alberta who remember the King brothers, Maurice and Harold, who built a ranch north of Lundbreck from nothing but hard work and persistence.

Once met, the two men were rarely forgotten. Despite acquiring wealth and some renown, they lived frugally for most of their lives in a cabin without electricity or running water.

With trousers held up with twine and hair seldom seen by a barber, they were a rare sight in the nearby town of Pincher Creek.

Their pride was tied to their land.

On April 13, the 4,205 acre ranch once owned by the late King brothers became part of a conservation easement connected to the Waldron Grazing Co-operative.

Funding came from Waldron shareholders, private donors and the provincial and federal governments.

The 30,535 acre Waldron co-op bought the King Ranch from ranchers Bill and Cody Bateman in 2014, shortly after the co-op made an $11.25 million deal with Nature Conservancy Canada, which put its holdings into a permanent conservation easement.

Now that easement has been expanded.

“It ties in perfectly,” said NCC associate regional vice-president Larry Simpson.

“When (the Waldron grazing co-op) bought the King ranch … I think there was a slight shortfall in the amount of cash available to complete the purchase and they asked us if we would be willing to take the same terms that were applied to the Waldron … and apply it to King. And we said we would do that.”

Simpson said the agreement allows the co-op to pay off the loan it took to buy the former King ranch and brings much of the basin between the Rocky Mountains and the Porcupine Hills into an easement.

The easement prevents development of the property into cropland and prohibits commercial or residential development or subdivision.

“On the eastern slopes, with big beautiful views and a gurgling creek through the middle of the property, yes, there’s lots of pressure for that,” said Simpson.

The NCC easement is now 34,740 acres with the addition of the former King ranch, which bordered the Waldron ranch, and is the largest block of deeded land on the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

Co-op members use its rough fescue grassland for seasonal cattle grazing, which is organized by a ranch manager and administered by a board.

“It’s quite important to celebrate Waldron shareholders,” said Simpson. “They have more skin in the game than anybody.”

When the co-op bought the former King ranch two years ago, then-chair Tim Nelson said the expansion would allow members to graze more cattle, and he felt that use would have suited the Kings.

“They were ranchers. That was their whole being,” Nelson said at the time.

Current co-op chair Gerald Vandervalk also emphasized rancher use in a news release issued with the NCC announcement.

“The purpose of the grazing co-op at its inception in 1962 was to provide more grass to benefit shareholders’ existing ranches,” he said.

“Our founders would be proud of the way the Waldron is protecting the watershed and utilizing better grazing practices. Future generations will benefit from utilizing the increase of acreage with more opportunities for responsible environmental stewardship.”

Development restrictions will also help preserve the watershed.

Simpson said the Waldron-King property is in the heart of an area that produces four percent of fresh and groundwater recharge, which services 45 percent of Alberta’s population.

The large easement area supports endangered species such as the ferruginous hawk and the limber pine, as well as many other native species.

“The King ranch and the Waldron fit within the last one percent of the northern Great Plains that still has the full complement of wildlife,” said Simpson.

“Granted, bison have been replaced by cattle, but the space that these ranchers use now and occupy are the same spaces that provide a place for elk and deer and grizzly bears and wolves and cougars.

Some co-op members voted against the NCC deal because of the restrictions an easement imposes and concerns about potential interference in ranch operations.

Simpson acknowledged those concerns may still exist.

“People are watching to see what happens on the Waldron,” he said.

“I think there’s a perception that we were going to try and tell producers what to do, and the Waldron guys know more about managing that land base than we do and will probably ever know.

“We want to be a catalyst to conserve important places like this, and we want to be able to show the Waldron shareholders — and the neighbours that will watch — that we’re a good partner.”

The NCC has easements on 234,000 acres in Alberta land and more than 2.8 million acres in Canada.

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