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The Nature Conservancy Easement


Conservation Easement Agreement - On April 3, 2013, an important page was written in the book of Alberta ranching history as an option to partner on a conservation easement agreement was signed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and the Waldron Grazing Co-operative Ltd.

The arrangement, the largest of its kind in the province’s history, ensures that the 30,535-acre (12,357-hectare) Waldron lands will be preserved from subdivision and cultivation while at the same time ensuring the protection of the headwaters consisting of critical streams and rivers for the entire Canadian Prairies, which provide water for millions of Canadians and countless wildlife species.

The Waldron’s sixty-five rancher shareholders will retain grazing rights to the land, located along Highway 22 approximately 80 km southwest of Calgary.

The greatest impact of the $37.5 million purchase will be the ability to maintain a wildlife corridor between the Porcupine Hills to its east and the Whaleback region and the Rocky Mountains’ Livingston Range. The conservation easement also protects increasingly rare pockets of fescue grassland and will allow species native to the area, like bear and elk, to move between the habitat. 

The province contributed $12 million and the federal government another $4 million toward the purchase of the easement.

Fescue grassesThe rolling grasslands were transformed into cattle country in the 1880s when Alberta ranching families first settled here. The current Waldron Ranch originally called the Walrond Ranch, was established in 1883. By 1896, homesteading became legally prioritized over large grazing leases. Over the next 30 years the west underwent a major transformation as almost all of the land that was productive and had adequate water was homesteaded and cultivated. The land that was to become the Waldrond was rugged and deemed unsuitable for cultivating, making it ideal for ranch land.

A series of owners and leaseholders followed until 1962 when a group of 116 ranchers headed by Ed Nelson formed a Co-op and bought the ranch for $1 million. People bought shares in the land and the Co-op and they brought their cattle to the Waldron Ranch area to graze.

By about 1990, however, areas with high aesthetic and recreational value like the eastern slopes became highly sought-after commodities by recreation and second-home buyers. This caused land prices to steadily rise to the point where ranch economics could no longer allow ranchers to effectively compete for the purchase of land in an open market.

As a result, a new wave of habitat disintegration began.

And that brings us to today. The NCC easement agreement allows the shareholders no cultivation, no development and no subdivisions, exactly what the Waldron shareholders were looking for—a way to preserve the land so that future generations won’t have the option to develop or rip up native pasture.
Ecological significance

The Waldron is the largest remaining block of deeded (private) land along the eastern slopes of Alberta. The Waldron Conservation Project, comprises primarily native habitat, is an area of incredible diversity, rich ranching history and spectacular scenery. 

Straddling the Montane Natural Subregion and Foothills Fescue Natural Subregion, the property is a mix of extensive and diverse montane ridges, riparian areas and fescue grassland. Those rough fescue grasslands provide essential services, including water filtration, carbon sequestration, soil protection, and forage for both domestic and wild animals. Forests are primarily made up of Douglas-fir and Lodgepole Pine, with aspen woodland. Endangered Limber Pine is also found on exposed ridges throughout the property.

The property is located in the headwaters of the South Saskatchewan drainage basin, with numerous creeks and rivers such as the Oldman River flowing through it. This area provides habitat for many fish and wildlife species, water for communities downstream as well as recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.

The ranch provides important habitat for species such as:
* elk
* grizzly and black bear
* moose
* white-tailed deer
* bald eagle 
* wild turkey

Species at risk observed on the property include: 
* golden eagle
* ferruginous hawk
* limber pine

While the NCC and the Waldron Grazing Cooperative are the central figures in the conservation easement agreement, other individuals and organizations figured in the agreement going forward. Among them: 

Visionaries $500,000 +
* Waldron Grazing Co-op
* Government of Alberta, Alberta Land Stewardship Grant Program
* Government of Canada, Natural Areas Conservation Program
* The Calgary Foundation
* Founders $250,000 - $499,000
* Werklund Foundation
* Trailblazers $100,000 - $249,999
* TransCanada Corporation
* Dale Huntingford and Virginia Dobson
* Gerald A. Cooper Key Foundation
* Soderglen Ranch       
* Ron and Jan Brenneman
* Hal Kvisle
* The Riddell Family
Looking to the Future

The conservation easement agreement between the Waldron shareholders and the Nature Conservancy of Canada is that for coming decades a vast tract of native grassland will be conserved and preserved exactly as it has been for centuries. Grazing will continue in much the same way it has always been. Visitors, hikers and low impact outdoor enthusiast will be welcome at the Waldron Ranch. And motorists traveling Highway 22, also known as the Cowboy Trail will still be captivated by the brilliant and unspoiled landscape unfolding before them.

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