The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s new conservation site housing a wildlife corridor for both elk and deer along with habitat for numerous species at risk. NCC Photo.
Nicholas L. M. Allen
Feb 8, 2023
A new conservation project in southwestern Alberta will work to ensure a globally significant ecosystem stays connected for wildlife.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) announced on January 31 they will have a new conservation site outside of Waterton Lakes National Park that will benefit the area’s wildlife, including at-risk species.
The 255-hectare project is located about 10 kilometres south of Twin Butte, in the Municipal District of Pincher Creek and Cardston County. It builds on over 13,000 hectares of private conservation lands surrounding Waterton Park known as the Waterton Park Front, of which 75 per cent is now conserved.
“Waterton Lakes National Park is renowned for its incredible wildlife, but these species rely on an area much larger than that park itself throughout the year. By conserving this property, we are ensuring it will continue to offer habitat and safe movement routes for these incredible animals, while also being available to the livestock of local ranchers for grazing,” said Tom Lynch-Staunton, the Regional Vice-President for NCC.
According to the NCC, land conservation in this part of Alberta is important as this area features a unique ecosystem supporting high biodiversity. But it is under threat, they claim. While cattle ranching has helped maintain the natural state of the landscape, shifting economics have caused some landowners to look toward other land uses to sustain their livelihoods. This may include annual cropping and development, which, if pursued, result in land conversion and fragmentation.
“The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are two sides of the same coin, and we must tackle them together. By working with partners such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada and their generous donors, we are helping to protect the natural environment in Alberta and across the country. Protecting land plays a vital role in helping to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and contributes to the recovery of species at risk. Through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, the Government of Canada is making progress toward its goal of conserving a quarter of land and water in Canada by 2025, working toward 30 percent of each by 2030,” said Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault.
While this new project may seem relatively small compared to the amount of land already conserved in the Waterton Park Front, the NCC said it will result in a large benefit for nature. This is because this newly conserved area acts as an important wildlife corridor in the area.
These corridors are important for wide-ranging animals to access different habitats throughout the year. For example, elk in the summer spread out to access high-elevation habitats within the mountains. Then in the fall and winter, they congregate into large herds and move into low-elevation regions to breed and access winter forage. Providing elk and other wildlife a safe route to move between these habitats will ensure the long-term survival of their populations in the area.
This new project is comprised of two separate land parcels. Each parcel supports important habitats, including grasslands, forests, wetlands and riverside ecosystems along the Waterton River. These are important habitats for many types of wildlife, including species at risk such as the American badger and horned grebe.
The grasslands in the area are a priority for conservation, as they are sensitive to disturbances. They can become outcompeted by introduced plant species and are slow to regenerate. They provide important habitat for grassland birds and provide forage for grazing wildlife and livestock. The riverside habitats on the project are also significant, as they support high biodiversity and help protect water quality.
Cattle ranching has “sustained the natural value of this project” and the area will remain a working landscape for local ranchers. A grazing management plan will be developed to ensure this is done sustainably, according to the NCC.
This project was made possible by funding from the Government of Canada, through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of Canada’s Nature Fund. More information on the NCC is available at natureconservancy.ca.