For the love of the land: Alberta ranch donates conservation easement for conservation efforts
Editor’s note: This story originally stated WineGlass Ranch donated part of its land to the province. The story has been updated to state the ranch donated a conservation easement rather than a piece of its land.
A rural Alberta family is planning to donate a conservation easement on 1,247 acres of their land near Cochrane to the Southern Alberta Land Trust Society (SALTS) with the goal of water conservation in mind.
What the Alberta government calls “ecologically valuable land” at the WineGlass Ranch surrounds Jumpingpound Creek — a source of Calgary’s drinking water — and is part of the province’s grant to protect watersheds and wildlife habitats on private land.
The province is providing funding to conservation organizations to conserve 13,000 acres of private land to maintain water quality and keep grasslands healthy.
With the conservation easement, the lands continue to be owned and managed by the landowner but restrictions are placed on future development. For example, the easement will restrict housing development but allow ranching and other activities that will maintain the health of the landscape.
From 2017 to 2018, the Alberta Land Trust Grant Program approved more than $7 million to support 24 different projects to keep ranchlands intact.
“These are landowners who want to place a conservation easement on their private land, so that for future generations, this area will be kept free from development and it will be kept as you see it here today,” said Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.
“Even if a couple generations from now, kids choose to sell it, it will still have a conservation easement on it, which means it is part of our natural heritage as Albertans.”
People can’t live, work or play without water, so it’s crucial to celebrate conservation efforts, Phillips said.
“Often times we talk about parks, we talk about the mountains but our ranchlands are just as important for managing water, ensuring we’ve got a great biodiversity of wildlife, great hunting and fishing opportunities across the province and, of course, our drinking water supply.”
‘Not just the rancher’s wife’
SALTS received about $2.6 million for five different projects including the WineGlass Ranch which the province said is home to many elk, deer and large carnivores and is under pressure from “encroaching residential development.”
The land has been in the same family for 133 years and six generations.
“When I became the rancher here, not just the rancher’s wife or daughter, I realized the value of this,” said Edith Wearmouth, owner of the WineGlass Ranch.
At one point, Cochrane — which borders Wearmouth’s land on her east boundary — wanted to annex her land but eventually backed off.
After the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society, also known as Cows and Fish, reached out, Wearmouth set property goals.
In 1997, she started working with the group, digging spawning pools and setting up rocks to divert water and silt from those pools so fish could have somewhere deep to hide from the raptors.
“We’ve got many species of animals that call this home,” she said. “We want it to be their home. We want to keep that as their home. We want to keep this productive and sustainable.”
The WineGlass Ranch has won several awards — like the 1989 Rocky View Master Farm Family Award and the 2004 Environmental Stewardship Award from Alberta Beef Producers — for environmental conservation, including the work they’ve done on spawning grounds to keep the land viable.
“It was to have a healthy creek and riparian system as it went through our ranch, healthy grasslands and to be proactive. And that’s something that myself and now my son Travis and his wife, who are taking over, have continued to do.”
She said conservation easement has been on her mind for a long time, prompting the deal with SALTS.
“We are very excited about it,” she said. “It’s also a little scary to think you’re putting something into the future — you hope you get it right. But we want to keep the story of this and the story that’s yet to come.”
Love of the land
The ranch is getting a lot of pressure and provides a lot of benefits for a lot of people, but they need to manage the impacts of this pressure.
“It’s for hunting, fishing, doing photo shoots, doing movies, gopher shooting, thinking, meditating, poets, artists — everything. We also have lots of people wanting to buy this. Now, we could certainly do that and go that way and we have opted not to… because we want to be here. We love this. We are the experts, we feel, on this land.”
For the family, it comes down to the health and history of the ranch.
“The big thing is the love of the land,” she said. “When you grow up here and you hear the stories, there’s this love and this knowledge and wanting to protect it.”
“This land has many more stories to tell as we keep uncovering what lived here and who lived here before us and it still has many more stories to tell.”
In addition to SALTS, grants will support projects by the Alberta Conservation Association, Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Legacy Land Trust Society, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Western Sky Land Trust.
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