Waldron, Whaleback, Porcupine & King

Map courtesy of Conservancy of Canada/Darren Francey.

Another chunk of increasingly rare native grasslands in southwestern Alberta has been protected, thanks to the Waldron Grazing Cooperative (Waldron), a group of local ranchers who share the land to graze their cattle and the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

In 2013, the NCC struck an agreement with the Waldron, covering 30,535 acres of privately owned lands located along Highway 22. The conservation agreement includes the headwaters of the South Saskatchewan drainage basin and the largest intact native fescue grassland remaining on the eastern slopes of the Alberta Rocky Mountains. The Waldron continues to own the property and the rangeland will remain a working ranch.

In 2014 the Waldron bought the King Ranch for $11.25 million with funds received from a conservation easement the NCC purchased by the Waldron the year prior. Once again in partnership with the Waldron shareholders, NCC has established a conservation agreement on the King Ranch. This brings the total protected area in and around the Waldron to 34,743 acres (14,059 hectares), now the largest conservation easement in Canadian history.

Both the provincial ($1.8 million) and federal governments contributed funding to the conservation project, along with private donors and the Waldron shareholders.

“The purpose of the grazing co-op at its inception in 1962 was to provide more grass to benefit shareholders’ existing ranches. Our founders would be proud of the way Waldron is protecting the watershed and utilizing better grazing practices,” said Gerald Vandervalk, chair of the Waldron board.

The Waldron and King are linked to other protected lands in the area, including the 28,000-hectare Bob Creek Wildland Park (known as the Whaleback) and the 39,000-hectare Porcupine Hills Forest Reserve.

“The King Ranch has been sold twice since the original owners passed away. Each time it was sold, there was the potential someone would buy the property and cultivate the fescue grasslands or allow country residential homes to be built,” said Larry Simpson, associate regional vice-president for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

“With the Waldron Grazing Co-op being the new owners has come a commitment to keep the land healthy and intact.”