The history of the Great Plains

Waldron, AB (Photo by Kyle Marquardt,

Waldron, AB (Photo by Kyle Marquardt,

The story of the settlement of the Great Plains of North America is interwoven with the rich history and interplay between farming, ranching and conservation.

At one time the Great Plains spanned an area three times the size of the African Serengeti grasslands. But with the settlement of the west, that changed forever.

As settlement occurred, several iconic species were eradicated from the Great Plains. Grizzly bears were removed from the plains. Elk, although common today, were extirpated from Alberta and had to be reintroduced. Bison, once numbering in the millions, were also decimated across their range.

Homesteading and the associated settlement rapidly brought the era of ultra large ranches and the open range in southern Alberta to an end. Today the remaining large blocks of intact healthy native habitat are the last refuge for many species. The health of these landscapes depends on the maintenance of well-managed ranch properties.

This is particularly important in the eastern slopes of southern Alberta, as this tiny area still harbours the complete complement of wildlife species, including large carnivores that once existed throughout the Northern Great Plains of Canada.

First Nations history >

The introduction of ranching to southern Alberta >

Ranching and conservation in southern Alberta in the 1900s >

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Atlantic puffins (Photo by Bill Caulfield-Browne)