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McIntyre Ranch conservation project meets campaign goal

Posted on April 25, 2024 by admin

Southern Alberta Newspapers

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has successfully completed its fundraising campaign to conserve the McIntyre Ranch.

This conservation agreement project, located on the Milk River Ridge south of the community of Magrath is a testament to the power of collaboration and community engagement in conserving one of the planet’s most endangered ecosystems, Canada’s Prairie grasslands, says the NCC.

Conservation easements are legal mechanisms that protect the natural value of land through a voluntary agreement restricting land use change in perpetuity.

McIntyre Ranch, a historic and internationally renowned property started in 1894 and spanning over 22,000 hectares, features extensive grasslands and wetlands. Its large size, diverse landforms, remarkable biodiversity and history of sustainable land management make this achievement a significant conservation milestone.

This property, alongside the adjacent Ross Lake Natural Area and NCC’s Sandstone Ranch, forms part of a contiguous area of conserved grasslands covering over 26,000 hectares – an invaluable sanctuary for many imperilled grassland species.

McIntyre Ranch represents a commitment to sustainable range management by multiple generations of landowners, including the Thralls, who remain owners and operators of the ranch.

This achievement is the result of a strategic partnership between the Thralls, NCC and Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), demonstrating how collaboration leads to impactful conservation outcomes.

Last summer, NCC launched a public campaign to raise the remaining $3 million needed to finish the project.

McIntyre Ranch contains some of Canada’s most significant uninterrupted blocks of rough fescue grasslands and over 1,000 hectares of wetlands. These crucial habitats are home to an abundance of wildlife and support under-recognized ecosystem services, including carbon storage and water filtration.

The property is home to over 150 species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish. Recent wildlife surveys have revealed 27 species of concern living there, including ferruginous hawk (threatened), chestnut-collared longspur (threatened) and American badger (special concern).

The agreement was made possible by the dedication and stewardship of the Thrall family. Their commitment and willingness to partner with NCC and DUC showcases a profound understanding of the importance of conserving our Prairie grasslands for future generations, says the NCC.

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

Contributions were made by hundreds of individual donors as well as the Government of Alberta through the Alberta Land Trust Grant Program, by the Government of Canada through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of Canada’s Nature Fund, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and by private contributors.

The project was also supported by the Government of Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program, which provides significant tax benefits for individuals or corporations who donate ecologically sensitive land.

The creation of the McIntyre Ranch conservation agreement and securing its funding is just the first chapter of this project. NCC, DUC and McIntyre Ranching Ltd. will be working in partnership to ensure the nature on the ranch lasts for generations, carrying on the legacy of both the McIntyres, the original owners of the ranch, and the Thralls.

The property will continue to be sustainably grazed by cattle under the management of McIntyre Ranching Co. Ltd. Cattle are important to grassland health. When properly managed, their grazing behaviour approximates the historic actions of bison.

Many species need shorter grass to survive, while others need longer grass. This disturbance, along with fire, helps maintain grassland health and creates diverse habitats for many plants and animals.

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