The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) are working together to conserve one of the largest remaining tracts of intact Prairie grasslands and wetlands in Canada.
McIntyre Ranch, located south of Lethbridge, will be conserved through an agreement (conservation easement) between the landowners and the two organizations. This 130-year-old ranch is one of the largest private landholdings in Canada, and spans over 22,000 hectares — an area more than a quarter the size of Calgary.
Upon completion, this monumental undertaking will represent the largest private land conservation project achieved to date across the Canadian Prairies and the largest conservation agreement in Canadian history.
Today, NCC launches a public campaign to raise the remaining $3 million needed to complete the project. NCC invites all nature lovers to donate, help make history and to learn more online at conservemcintyreranch.ca.
The Thrall family, owners of the ranch, have worked closely with NCC and DUC to set in place provisions to protect the natural integrity of McIntyre’s grasslands and wetlands. This will ensure McIntyre Ranch stays a breathtaking and vital landscape in perpetuity, while remaining a working cattle ranch owned by the Thralls.
“Since 1894, the stewardship of McIntyre Ranch has been on the shoulders of two generations of McIntyres and three generations of the Thrall family (on the cusp of a fourth)," sys Ralph A. Thrall III, President & CEO, McIntyre Ranching Co. Ltd. "We are grateful to be partnering with NCC and DUC as we work together and share the responsibility to conserve Prairie grasslands. 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.”
Like the McIntyre family before them, the Thralls’ dedication to sustainable stewardship practices has maintained the natural value of McIntyre Ranch, ensuring that its conservation is possible. The Thralls recognize how rare and valuable this habitat has become and want to ensure McIntyre Ranch is protected in its current state forever. Their commitment to conservation is further demonstrated by their decision to donate a substantial proportion of the agreement.
"Prairie grasslands feed us, filter our water, clean our air — and they are rapidly vanishing. But conservation projects like the McIntyre Ranch give me hope," says Catherine Grenier, President & CEO, Nature Conservancy of Canada. "Each swaying blade of grass and drop of water, every at-risk animal nurtured by this vast landscape, is now protected. That’s testament to the strength of the partnerships that make it possible. Drawing together the commitments of governments, individuals, companies, NGOs and, of course, the Thrall family, we are taking a massive and critical leap toward slowing grasslands loss. By conserving the McIntyre’s cultural and natural history today we are securing a nature-positive future for us all.”
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. 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 imperilled in Canada and many are rapidly declining.
But hope remains for prairie ecosystems — if we act now to conserve and care for what remains.
“Ducks Unlimited Canada is proud to be part of the long and rich history of conservation at McIntyre Ranch," says Michael Nadler, Chief Executive Officer, Ducks Unlimited Canada. "We are grateful to work alongside the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Thrall family, and our conservation partners and donors on this important partnership to safeguard the grassland and wetland habitats at McIntyre Ranch and the hundreds of different species they support. 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. We are grateful to them for their stewardship and to all partners in wetland conservation in the Prairies and across Canada.”
McIntyre Ranch is a prime, living example of the rich ecosystems that once stretched across the Great Plains. That is why this project, once completed, will be of global significance.
McIntyre Ranch features both fescue and mixed grasslands, providing a vast array of often-overlooked benefits. Like forests, grasslands absorb large amounts of carbon. But unlike forests, grasslands store most of their carbon underground, in roots and accumulated organic matter. McIntyre’s grasslands are estimated to hold over 3.8 million tonnes of carbon.
Intact, natural grasslands also play a key role in filtering runoff before it enters groundwater and waterbodies. Because of this, conserving grasslands helps maintain clean drinking water for communities.
The ranch also features 3,600 wetland basins, spanning over 1,050 hectares. These range in size from small seasonal wetlands to large lakes. Along with providing habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife, these remarkable ecosystems offer numerous benefits, such as lessening floods and droughts, filtering pollutants from water and storing carbon. Over the past century, more than 70 per cent of wetlands across the Prairies have been lost. Maintaining these features on McIntyre Ranch will benefit ecosystems, wildlife and people.
Numerous individuals, organizations and corporations have already supported this effort to conserve McIntyre Ranch. Cenovus Energy, the Weston Family Foundation, the Gerald A. Cooper Key Foundation, Plains Midstream and Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s have all made impactful contributions toward making this project a reality.
Thanks to generous donors, the project will also receive matched funding under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant program.
This project is supported by the Government of Alberta’s Land Trust Grant Program, part of the Land Stewardship Fund, and the Government of Canada, through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of the Canada Nature Fund.
A portion of this project was donated by McIntyre Ranching Co. Ltd. to the Nature Conservancy of Canada under the Government of Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program. This program provides enhanced tax incentives for individuals or corporations who donate ecologically significant land.
Together, through projects like McIntyre Ranch, NCC and DUC are delivering impact and accelerating conservation across the country.