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Historic conservation project launched at McIntyre Ranch

Posted on June 30, 2023 by admin
Westwind Weekly News Photo Courtesy of LETA PEZDERIC Rolling grasslands, wildflowers and grazing cattle make for a postcard perfect image at the McIntyre Ranch which is home to an historic conservation effort that has been launched by ranch owners along with Nature Conservancy Canada and Ducks Unlimited Canada.

By Al Beeber
Southern Alberta Newspapers

The McIntyre Ranch south of Lethbridge has joined forces with two leaders in conservation to protect one of the largest remaining tracts of Prairie grasslands and wetlands in the country.

The 22,000 hectare ranch, which was started in 1894, is one of the largest private landholdings in Canada, spanning more than 22,000 hectares.

The conservation easement, a joint project of the Thrall family who owns the ranch and the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Ducks Unlimited Canada will represent the largest conservation agreement in Canadian history.

It will also be the largest private land conservation project achieved thus far on the Canadian Prairies.

An announcement on the easement was made earlier this month via Zoom. In that meeting, the NCC launched a public campaign to raise the remaining $3 million needed to finish the project. The total cost of the project is not being released.

The property was described by meeting host Tom Lynch-Staunton, Alberta vice-president of NCC, as a “storied, iconic and sprawling ranch in the southern Alberta Prairie grasslands” where “birdsong fills the air, grazing mammals roam the landscape and deep grass roots anchor the ecosystem in the earth.” 

The ranch is “a prime, living example of the rich ecosystems that once stretched across the Great Plains,” which is why the project will be of global significance when it’s finished.

The ranch features fescue and mixed grasslands which have benefits including the fact they absorb large amounts of carbon. 

Unlike forests, however, grasslands store carbon underground in roots and organic matter.

 The grasslands of the McIntyre ranch are estimated to hold more than 3.8 million tonnes of carbon.

Intact grasslands also play a key role in filtering runoff before the water enters groundwater and bodies of water.

“Because of this, conserving grasslands helps maintain clean drinking water for communities,” media heard.

The ranch has 3,600 wetlands basins which span more than 1,050 hectares ranging from small seasonal wetlands to larger lakes.

More than 70 per cent of Prairie wetlands have been lost in the past century and maintaining such features on the ranch will benefit wildlife, ecosystems and people. Only about 26 per cent of native grasslands remain in this province which has caused the imperilment of grassland species, many of which are declining.

The ranch size is about nine miles by 10 miles in size.

Catherine Grenier, president and CEO of the NCC, said “we’re celebrating history on many fronts. Canada’s two largest conservation organizations have come together to launch the biggest private conversation project ever undertaken in the Canadian Prairies.

“Thanks to a landmark agreement between the owners of McIntyre ranch, the Thrall family, NCC and Ducks Unlimited Canada, one of the last privately held tracts of temperate grasslands in North America will be conserved forever, for nature and for people,” said Grenier.

Michael Nadler of DUC said “the Prairie wetlands of McIntyre Ranch sustain countless waterfowl as well as populations of other migratory birds that travel across the entire continent each year in the spring and the fall.

“These wetlands also play an important role for clean water and for mitigating severe weather. Because grasslands and wetlands are ecosystems that work together, the combination of habitats found at McIntyre Ranch form an ecological powerhouse and we are deeply grateful to be protecting these habitats through the historic conservation partnership being announced today,” he said.

Ralph Thrall III, the ranch CEO, said “I know there have been many special occasions in the 129-year history of the McIntyre Ranch and surely this must be one of the most momentous ones.

“In 1894 Billy McIntyre began the legacy to conserve grassland in a sustainable manner and the McIntyre family maintained that approach for their 53 years of ownership. When our grandfather Ralph Thrall purchased the property 76 years ago from Billy McIntyre’s estate, he adopted that balance with nature philosophy and that legacy has continued through four generations in the Thrall family,” he said.

Thrall III said he grew up believing Ralph Thrall is a person who takes care of the ranch and has resulted in him doing so for the last 36 years.

“It’s been a privilege, an honour and an amazing journey to play the lead role for caring for the ranch for our family and the environment. The idea of a conservation easement on the ranch started with Nature Conservancy Canada over 30 years ago and three years ago in the spring of 2020 we dedicated our efforts to making it happen.

“The easement presented by NCC was unique and it required considerable time and effort from everyone involved to get it right. Our dad taught us that things worthwhile are done neither quickly nor easily. And in consideration of this, we know this accomplishment is worthwhile,” he said.

“Our dad also taught us that to whom much is given much is expected. I know that the McIntyres, our grandparents, our parents would be very proud of us,” he added.

He said the family “is very proud of the collaborative effort between NCC, DUC and our family to establish a conservation easement on the McIntyre Ranch that will conserve it forever. The process has been very rewarding and has resulted in a win-win agreement that will have very little impact on how the ranch has historically operated.”

“The process has been very rewarding and has resulted in a win-win agreement that will have very little impact on how the ranch has historically operated.”

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