As grasslands continue to vanish across the Northern Great Plains, a historic conservation partnership aims to protect a vast swath of intact native prairie on a well-known Southern Alberta ranch.
The McIntyre Ranch, established 130 years ago south of Lethbridge, has entered into a conservation easement with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC). Covering a land base of more than 22,000 hectares, this is the largest private conservation agreement to date in Canada.
“We are grateful to be partnering with NCC and DUC as we work together and share the responsibility to conserve prairie grasslands,” said Ralph A. Thrall III, president and CEO of the McIntyre Ranching Co. Ltd.
“This relationship will help us achieve our sustainable ranching practices in conjunction with our ‘balance with nature’ philosophy. We are proud to play a role in conserving something that is the way that it used to be.”
McIntyre Ranch encompasses a special landscape of mixed and fescue grasslands, with an estimated 3.8 million tonnes of carbon held below the surface. The province has designated more than 80 per cent of the ranch as an Environmentally Significant Area, with 3,600 wetland basins and more than 150 plant and wildlife species. Thirteen species at risk call the McIntyre home, including Sprague’s pipit, ferruginous hawk, and chestnut-collared longspur.
“Grasslands are one of the most threatened and least protected ecosystems worldwide. Canada’s iconic grasslands continue to disappear due to land conversion, with nearly 60,000 hectares lost every year, including an estimated 10,000 hectares annually in Alberta,” as stated in a joint press release from NCC and DUC.
“Today, only about 26 per cent of native Prairie grasslands remain in Alberta. As a result of this massive alteration on the land, grassland species are some of the most imperiled in Canada and many are rapidly declining.”
The Thrall family worked with their conservation partners to create provisions that will ensure the ranch is conserved in perpetuity while still being owned by the Thralls and run as a working beef operation.
“The longtime stewardship of these ecosystems by the Thrall and McIntyre families is an inspiring example of the powerful role that can be played by landowners in making a difference for nature conservation,” said DUC CEO Michael Nadler.
“We are grateful to them for their stewardship and to all partners in wetland conservation in the Prairies and across Canada.”
Supporters of this project include the Government of Canada’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program, the Government of Alberta’s Land Trust Grant Program, and many other groups and individuals, with matched funding provided by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act program.
In June, NCC launched a fundraising campaign to complete the project, which will require an additional $3 million.