Ranching

Waldron Ranch, AB protected for future generations

Posted by on 28. December 2014 in Blog / Journal, Conservation, Ranching | Comments Off on Waldron Ranch, AB protected for future generations

Waldron Ranch, AB protected for future generations

Earlier this fall, Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) secured the largest conservation easement in Canadian history. This outstanding agreement between the NCC and Waldron Grazing Co-operative Ltd. will protect over 12,357 hectares (30,535 acres) of native grasslands and forested foothills on Waldron Ranch in southwestern Alberta. This spectacular property is located northwest of Lethbridge, along the famed ‘Cowboy Trail’ (Highway 22) between Longview and Lundbreck. The ranch contains large tracts of native fescue prairie, rich history and spectacular scenery. Situated in a broad valley, Waldron connects the 28,000 hectare Bob Creek Wildland Park (the Whaleback) to the west with the 39,000 hectare Porcupine Hills Forest Preserve to the east. The three conservation areas will protect the critical headwaters of streams and rivers flowing east through the Canadian Prairies, and provide habitat and critical movement corridors for local wildlife such as grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, moose and elk.     By securing the conservation easement with the Waldron Grazing Co-operative, NCC will work with the partners to ensure the property’s natural features are preserved for the benefit of wildlife and future generations. Waldron’s diverse habitats will remain preserved, and the lands will be protected from development, subdivision, cultivation or drainage. Seventy-two members of the Waldron Co-op will continue to own and raise livestock on the working ranch. Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements between a grantor (landowner) and a holder (in this case the NCC) that is registered against the title and binds all future owners. Terms of the agreement are negotiated between the interested parties, to meet the conservation objectives of the owner and goals of the holder. The main objective is protection of biological, physical or cultural features of the land. Conservation easements are usually initiated by a current landowner, who wants to make sure that the land will continue to have careful stewardship by the future owners. The Waldron Cattle Ranch Ltd. was established in 1883 by Duncan McNab McEachran of Montreal, with financial backing by Sir John Waldron of England. The original ranch was a giant of ranching industry, spanning 260,000 acres of land between Oldman River and Porcupine Hills. At times, more than 20,000 head of cattle and hundreds of horses were raised on the ranch. After changing owners several times, a much smaller holding was purchased in 1962 by a newly formed co-operative. More than 50 years later, members of the Waldron Grazing Co-operative manage the land with a primary goal of maintaining health of the rangeland under their care. The Waldron Co-operative received the 2010 Alberta Beef Producers’ Environmental Stewardship Award and the Environmental Stewardship Award from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association in recognition of management practices that ensure a sustainable use of resources, rangeland health and wildlife management. I had an opportunity to visit Waldron twice: in the summer of 2009 and again in 2010. I was thrilled by the beauty of landscape and incredible ecological diversity. Gently rolling hills, lush fescue grasslands, dense carpets of blooming prairie wildflowers and abundant wildlife just called for happy snaps. Here is a small gallery of images captured during those two trips. I owe gratitude to Mike Roberts, General Manager of the Waldron Ranch for outstanding hospitality, and for enabling me to explore and photograph on the land.   Misty morning over pasture at sunrise. Waldron Grazing Cooperative, Lundbreck, Alberta Pasture with prairie lillies. Prairie vegetation changes with the elevation – there are areas on Waldron Ranch where one can see spruce and fir trees. Waldron Grazing Coopeative, Lundbreck, Alberta Pasture at sunrise. Waldron Grazing Cooperative, Lundbreck, Alberta Pasture with wildflowers in bloom. This prairie...

Read More

The Last Cowboy – a short documentary film about the human cost of PFRA pasture closures

Posted by on 5. December 2014 in Blog / Journal, Ranching | 4 comments

The Last Cowboy – a short documentary film about the human cost of PFRA pasture closures

A few days ago a friend alerted me to a marvelous and touching documentary film about Jim Commodore, a retired cowboy at the Val Marie PFRA Community Pasture. This 6-minute documentary conveys a message about the human cost of the Community Pasture System closure, told through the eyes of a long time cowboy Jim Commodore. The Last Cowboy was produced by Megan Lacelle and Kaitlyn Van de Woestyne, journalism students at the University of Regina. Jim Commodore was born at the Val Marie PFRA pasture in 1941 and spent his working career as a cowboy on the federally run community pasture. In a very humble and personal way, Jim conveys a message about the importance of maintaining healthy prairie environments for the benefit of rural communities, everyday people and the ranching culture of southwest Saskatchewan. Jim talks about the need to care for the livestock, for the grass and water, and the need to “always hold the balance”. The Community Pasture Program was initiated after the Great Depression in the 1930s, with a goal of stabilizing the drought-ravaged land and assisting small to medium-size mixed farm operations. After the federal government pulled out of the Community Pasture Program in 2012, Jim, like many other Saskatchewan residents, did not expect that politicians would shut down “probably one of the most successful programs the federal government has ever conducted”. Here is the mini documentary The Last Cowboy by Megan Lacelle and Kaitlyn Van de Woestyne, posted here with permission.   The Last Cowboy from Megan Lacelle on Vimeo.  Val Marie PFRA Community Pasture is located northwest of Grasslands National Park. It is the largest community pasture in Saskatchewan, with over 41,256 hectares (101,946 acres) of strikingly beautiful native prairie. The Frenchman River slowly meanders through the pasture, with rugged valley slopes adding to its appeal. Home to several species at risk, the Val Marie PFRA community pasture is a national treasure, and needs to be safeguarded and sustained for the benefit of future generations. This federally managed pasture is set to close in 2017. It will be transferred to the province of Saskatchewan, which plans to either sell the land or lease it to a yet-to-be-formed pasture patron association. The most poignant moment in the documentary is when Jim laments that the Val Marie community pasture might share the same destiny with him: “I am closing down too. I am at that stage in my life, so I guess, we are closing down together”   I have put together a photography tribute to the life of cowboys on PFRA community pastures, hard-working people who have been looking after the federal community pastures in the Prairie Provinces for over 75 years. At the end of that post, I included a few links to articles about the impact of federal Community Pasture Program closures on small rural communities. I would also recommend a recent article by Andrea Hill published in The Star Phoenix, Still at home on the range. Andrea writes about the impact of federal pasture closures on pasture managers and riders, and how they are adjusting to the change....

Read More

Saskatchewan grasslands: a place like no other

Posted by on 12. September 2014 in Blog / Journal, News & Events, Ranching | Comments Off on Saskatchewan grasslands: a place like no other

Saskatchewan grasslands: a place like no other

I will be presenting an illustrated talk at the Lifelong Learning Centre, University of Regina on Friday, October 31, 2014 (1:30 p.m.): Saskatchewan grasslands: a place like no other Saskatchewan grasslands are magical, wide open spaces that support an incredible diversity of life; from the iconic plains bison and pronghorn antelope, to rare and endangered species such as Black-footed Ferrets and Greater Sage Grouse. Grasslands are also home to ranchers who depend on healthy grasslands to sustain their livelihoods. With less than a quarter of Saskatchewan’s original grasslands still remaining, there is a growing sense of appreciation for the beauty and benefits that grasslands provide to rural communities. In this beautifully illustrated presentation, I will take the audience on a journey of discovery through our unique prairie landscapes. Date: Friday, October 31, 2014 Time: 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. Location: Gallery Building Room 106, Centre for Continuing Education – Lifelong Learning Centre, 2155 College Avenue beside Darke Hall, University of Regina, Saskatchewan Course fee: $10 (includes coffee). To register for this non-credit course, visit the CCE web site     Non-credit courses at the Lifelong Learning Centre are designed to be taken for personal interest and to realize the joy of learning. They are creative and intellectual, with no formal education required. Realize the joy of learning at the Centre for Continuing Education and its Lifelong Learning Centre!  ...

Read More

A tribute to the cowboys on PFRA community pastures

Posted by on 21. November 2013 in Blog / Journal, Conservation, Ranching | 3 comments

A tribute to the cowboys on PFRA community pastures

This photo essay is a tribute to the life of cowboys serving as managers and riders on the PFRA community pastures. A tribute to the hard-working people who have been looking after the federal community pastures in Prairie Provinces for over 75 years. Last October I visited the Wolverine Community Pasture north-east of Lanigan, one of the first five PFRA pastures to be transferred from federal control to the province of Saskatchewan. In turn, the pastures will be leased out to the current pasture users. The pasture patrons will pay a fee for the right to graze their herds on the public pastures, and get their cows bred by resident bulls. Each fall, PFRA pasture managers work with hired riders to sort out cattle for delivery to patrons at the end of the grazing season. These men (and sometimes women) manage the cattle according to a well-established grazing system, making sure that the cattle under their care are safe, healthy and well taken care off. These federal cowboys are crucial in maintaining a proper management of the pastures, for the benefit of pasture users as well as plants and animals that rely on a healthy prairie ecosystem. They make sure that the grazing resource is manager effectively, sustainably and not degraded from over-use. A healthy and well-managed pasture is also crucial for all the creatures and species at risk that rely and depend on these large tracts of native prairie that we still have left in the province. With a photography trip to the Wolverine pasture, my goal was to document the cowboy life, part of our cultural heritage and the tradition that is slowly disappearing from the western grasslands. Grasslands that are under constant threat from encroaching industrial and agricultural development. To ensure that these cowboys continue playing a role in a sustainable management of our community pastures, both federal and provincial governments have to invest enough funds to allow for smooth transition from federal to provincial oversight. We do not need to dedicate new money for this purpose – sufficient funds will be available from the patron user fees and oil and gas revenues coming from some the pastures. We need to keep sustainable management of the 1.8 million acres of former PFRA community pastures to support small to medium-sized cattle producers in rural Saskatchewan, while protecting prairie plant and animal species living on the rapidly shrinking natural prairie habitat we have left in Canada. On Thursday, November 21 at 7:30 pm Dr. Joe Schmutz from the University of Saskatchewan will give a presentation titled “Community Pastures: Why do grass and birds need cowboys?” Details after the link. If you would like to hear about the history of PFRA community pastures and learn about the importance of the contribution of our cowboys to sustaining the healthy prairie habitat and critters that rely on it, come to this free public presentation. If you wish to read more about the PFRA community pasture managers & riders and their contribution to the communities that rely on their work, check out the feature articles published in the Western Producer and Canadian Cowboy Country Magazine, or this blog post by a Saskatchewan writer Trevor Herriot. Cowboys sort cattle at Wolverine community pasture, Lanigan ‘Paws & boots’ at Wolverine PFRA community pasture, Lanigan...

Read More

Saskatchewan Community Pastures video

Posted by on 7. July 2013 in Blog / Journal, Conservation, Ranching | Comments Off on Saskatchewan Community Pastures video

Saskatchewan Community Pastures video

Here is a short video that I prepared for the Public Pastures – Public Interest group, a citizen-based organization devoted to maintaining Saskatchewan’s public grasslands as healthy prairie ecosystems and working landscapes. The idea was to raise awareness about the plight of former PFRA community pastures that will no longer be manged through the 70-year old Community Pasture Program, and transferred from federal control to the prairie provinces. The Saskatchewan government is not interested in managing these large  tracts of native prairie and plans to sell or lase the land. The PFRA pastures, more than one and a half million acres of public land in Saskatchewan, are some of the largest remnants of native prairie and sustainably grazed pasture in Canada. Learn more about the issue in the post that I wrote in April, A Vision for the Future of PFRA community pastures.     Saskatchewan photographer Hamilton Greenwood provided the deer image and Dave Cyca generously allowed us to use his song “Hang my Hat” to supplement the...

Read More