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NCC's Chapel Rock property is located in the Waterton Park Front, in southwest Alberta. (Photo by Brent Calver)

NCC's Chapel Rock property is located in the Waterton Park Front, in southwest Alberta. (Photo by Brent Calver)

Southwest Alberta rancher protects provincially rare habitat

February 22, 2022
Lethbridge, AB

 

New conservation site stewarded by five generations of ranchers

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is announcing a new conservation site in southwest Alberta. This 879-hectare property, dubbed Chapel Rock, boasts coniferous forests, grasslands, and vital riparian zones — one of the rarest habitats in Alberta.

Chapel Rock is located in the Castle-Crowsnest Watershed Natural Area and was first homesteaded by Joseph Pisony in 1912. The land has since been passed down through five generations, each one acquiring more land around the original homestead to grow the ranch. Now, the Pisony family, which still owns the property, has decided to place a conservation easement on a portion of the land.

This new agreement between NCC and the Pisony family voluntarily restricts development rights on the land. The legal contract will ensure that the property can continue operating as a working cattle ranch, while maintaining the landscape in a natural, healthy, unfragmented state.

Each working ranch conserved in this region benefits the ranching community and native wildlife, and the waters flowing into the Oldman River. NCC’s conservation of this significant stretch of working rangeland will assist in conserving water quality, flood mitigation and the maintenance of an important watershed along Alberta’s southern foothills.

Wetlands like those found at Chapel Rock are directly linked to the survival of many species, as they provide nesting, breeding and feeding opportunities while also playing an important role in maintaining water quality for people and species.

The Chapel Rock property is also part of a natural corridor where mammals move through the foothills along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. It offers important habitat to mammals like elk, bighorn sheep, moose and mule deer. Grizzly bears, listed as a species of special concern under Canada’s Species At Risk Act, have also been spotted ambling across this property. Sharp-tailed grouse have also been seen on the property. This bird is designated as sensitive provincially and is found only in native grasslands and shrublands, both of which are in decline in Alberta.

This project is within an Environmentally Significant Area, meaning it plays a key role in the long-term health of the natural habitat, landscape features and natural processes, as defined by Alberta Parks. The conservation site is also close to other protected areas, including the Oldman River Provincial Recreation Area, Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park.

This conservation project was made possible with funding from the Government of Canada’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of Canada’s Nature Fund, and the Government of Alberta’s Land Trust Grant Program. A portion of this project was donated to NCC under the Government of Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program, which provides enhanced tax incentives for individuals or corporations who donate ecologically significant land.

High quality photos, video B-roll and maps of the area are available for your use here. (Photos and video by Brent Calver)

Quotes

“My grandfather homesteaded this land in 1912. In 1950, a neighbour sold my dad five quarters and it was probably the biggest purchase of his lifetime. The ranch grew from there. We shared the land and worked it together. Now my grandson rents some of the land and puts his cattle on there and he works it a bit with his parents. We’re going on five generations. Time goes on and things keep changing and I just hope that whoever else runs the land in the future, we want to see them honour the use of the land and take care of it.” – Berwyn Pisony, landowner

“Projects like Chapel Rock show nature conservation at its best. Vast spaces like this property and its adjacent protected areas allow the many species of plants and animals that live here to eat, sleep, mate and travel, with relatively few barriers. Wetlands can do the work of storing great amounts of water, buffering against droughts and moderating heavy rain runoff. Grasslands and forests can store carbon and help clean the air at a massive scale. When nature is allowed to thrive like this, we all thrive.” – Tom Lynch-Staunton, Regional Vice-President, Nature Conservancy of Canada

“The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are two sides of the same coin, and we must tackle them together. By working with partners such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada and landowners, we are helping to protect the natural environment in Alberta and build a healthier and more resilient future for our children and grandchildren. Programs like the Canada Nature Fund’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program and Ecological Gifts Program are helping us progress toward conserving a quarter of lands and oceans in Canada by 2025.” – The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

“I am always excited to see conservation announcements like the Chapel Rock site in southern Alberta. The conservation of species and the protection of wildlands is very important to the Government of Alberta. I’m glad the Alberta Land Trust Grant program was able to support this great initiative.” – Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks 

Facts

  • When managed appropriately, grazing animals are an important tool in maintaining healthy, functioning grassland ecosystems. A grazing strategy designed for the species present will increase biodiversity and the resiliency of the grasslands to drought, fire and other disturbances. A healthy system will cycle nutrients, energy and water with the greatest efficiency, and invasive species will have a more difficult time getting established when things are functioning properly. A healthy, functioning system will also provide quality habitat for many species of wildlife.  
  • This conservation site is also close to other protected areas, including the Oldman River Provincial Recreation Area, the Castle Provincial Park and the Castle Wildland Provincial Park.
  • Public access on this property has not yet been determined. People wishing to visit conservation lands in this area can visit connect2nature.ca to find sites open for foot access.

About

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the country’s unifying force for nature. NCC seeks solutions to the twin crises of rapid biodiversity loss and climate change through large-scale, permanent land conservation. As a trusted partner NCC works with people, communities, businesses and government to protect and care for our country’s most important natural areas. Since 1962, NCC has brought Canadians together to conserve and restore more than 15 million hectares.

The Government of Canada’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program (NHCP) is a unique public-private partnership to support new protected and conserved areas by securing private lands and private interests in lands. The program is managed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). Federal funds invested in the program come from the Canada Nature Fund and are matched with contributions raised by NCC and its partners, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the country’s land trust community.

The Government of Alberta created the Alberta Land Trust Grant program in 2011 — a program designed to support land trusts such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada to assist in the purchase of conservation agreements on ecologically significant landscapes and donations of land with high conservation value.

To learn more about the Ecological Gifts Program, please visit https://www.canada.ca/ecological-gifts.

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