Conservation leaders join forces on largest private grassland project in Canadian history
Vast, globally rare grasslands to be protected
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) are working together to conserve one of the largest remaining tracts of intact Prairie grasslands and wetlands in Canada.
McIntyre Ranch, located south of Lethbridge, will be conserved through an agreement (conservation easement) between the landowners and the two organizations. This 130-year-old ranch is one of the largest private landholdings in Canada, and spans over 22,000 hectares — an area more than a quarter the size of Calgary.
Upon completion, this monumental undertaking will represent the largest private land conservation project achieved to date across the Canadian Prairies and the largest conservation agreement in Canadian history.
Today, NCC launches a public campaign to raise the remaining $3 million needed to complete the project. NCC invites all nature lovers to donate, help make history and to learn more online at conservemcintyreranch.ca.
The Thrall family, owners of the ranch, have worked closely with NCC and DUC to set in place provisions to protect the natural integrity of McIntyre’s grasslands and wetlands. This will ensure McIntyre Ranch stays a breathtaking and vital landscape in perpetuity, while remaining a working cattle ranch owned by the Thralls.
Like the McIntyre family before them, the Thralls’ dedication to sustainable stewardship practices has maintained the natural value of McIntyre Ranch, ensuring that its conservation is possible. The Thralls recognize how rare and valuable this habitat has become and want to ensure McIntyre Ranch is protected in its current state forever. Their commitment to conservation is further demonstrated by their decision to donate a substantial proportion of the agreement.
Grasslands are one of the most threatened and least protected ecosystems worldwide. Canada’s iconic grasslands continue to disappear due to land conversion, with nearly 60,000 hectares lost every year, including an estimated 10,000 hectares annually in Alberta. Today, only about 26 per cent of native Prairie grasslands remain in Alberta. As a result of this massive alteration on the land, grassland species are some of the most imperilled in Canada and many are rapidly declining.
But hope remains for prairie ecosystems — if we act now to conserve and care for what remains.
McIntyre Ranch is a prime, living example of the rich ecosystems that once stretched across the Great Plains. That is why this project, once completed, will be of global significance.
McIntyre Ranch features both fescue and mixed grasslands, providing a vast array of often-overlooked benefits. Like forests, grasslands absorb large amounts of carbon. But unlike forests, grasslands store most of their carbon underground, in roots and accumulated organic matter. McIntyre’s grasslands are estimated to hold over 3.8 million tonnes of carbon.
Intact, natural grasslands also play a key role in filtering runoff before it enters groundwater and waterbodies. Because of this, conserving grasslands helps maintain clean drinking water for communities.
The ranch also features 3,600 wetland basins, spanning over 1,050 hectares. These range in size from small seasonal wetlands to large lakes. Along with providing habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife, these remarkable ecosystems offer numerous benefits, such as lessening floods and droughts, filtering pollutants from water and storing carbon. Over the past century, more than 70 per cent of wetlands across the Prairies have been lost. Maintaining these features on McIntyre Ranch will benefit ecosystems, wildlife and people.
Numerous individuals, organizations and corporations have already supported this effort to conserve McIntyre Ranch. Cenovus Energy, the Weston Family Foundation, the Gerald A. Cooper Key Foundation, Plains Midstream and Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s have all made impactful contributions toward making this project a reality.
Thanks to generous donors, the project will also receive matched funding under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant program.
This project is supported by the Government of Alberta’s Land Trust Grant Program, part of the Land Stewardship Fund, and the Government of Canada, through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of the Canada Nature Fund.
A portion of this project was donated by McIntyre Ranching Co. Ltd. to the Nature Conservancy of Canada under the Government of Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program. This program provides enhanced tax incentives for individuals or corporations who donate ecologically significant land.
Together, through projects like McIntyre Ranch, NCC and DUC are delivering impact and accelerating conservation across the country.
“Since 1894, the stewardship of McIntyre Ranch has been on the shoulders of two generations of McIntyres and three generations of the Thrall family (on the cusp of a fourth). We are grateful to be partnering with NCC and DUC as we work together and share the responsibility to conserve Prairie grasslands. This relationship will help us achieve our sustainable ranching practices in conjunction with our “balance with nature” philosophy. We are proud to play a role in conserving something that is the way that it used to be.” – Ralph A. Thrall III, President & CEO, McIntyre Ranching Co. Ltd
"Prairie grasslands feed us, filter our water, clean our air — and they are rapidly vanishing. But conservation projects like the McIntyre Ranch give me hope. Each swaying blade of grass and drop of water, every at-risk animal nurtured by this vast landscape, is now protected. That’s testament to the strength of the partnerships that make it possible. Drawing together the commitments of governments, individuals, companies, NGOs and, of course, the Thrall family, we are taking a massive and critical leap toward slowing grasslands loss. By conserving the McIntyre’s cultural and natural history today we are securing a nature-positive future for us all.” – Catherine Grenier, President & CEO, Nature Conservancy of Canada
“Ducks Unlimited Canada is proud to be part of the long and rich history of conservation at McIntyre Ranch. We are grateful to work alongside the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Thrall family, and our conservation partners and donors on this important partnership to safeguard the grassland and wetland habitats at McIntyre Ranch and the hundreds of different species they support. The longtime stewardship of these ecosystems by the Thrall and McIntyre families is an inspiring example of the powerful role that can be played by landowners in making a difference for nature conservation. We are grateful to them for their stewardship and to all partners in wetland conservation in the Prairies and across Canada.” – Michael Nadler, Chief Executive Officer, Ducks Unlimited Canada
“Protecting Prairie grasslands won’t just preserve an iconic and defining feature of Western Canada. These grasslands are a globally significant resource that cleans our water, preserves biodiversity, and stores vast amounts of carbon that would otherwise fuel climate change. Working with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Ducks Unlimited Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada is supporting the conservation of one of the largest remaining tracts of intact prairie grasslands in Alberta. Through programs like the Natural Heritage Conservation Program and the Ecological Gifts Program, and thanks to generous landowners such as the Thralls, Canada is making progress toward its goal of conserving a quarter of land and water in Canada by 2025, and 30 percent of each by 2030. When Canadians work together, achieving impactful conservation results, while sustaining our economy becomes more and more possible.”– The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
- For more information about McIntyre Ranch, see project backgrounder.
- A 2003 survey of the McIntyre Ranch (Rangeland Conservation Services Ltd. 2003) reported over 150 plant and wildlife species, including 13 species at risk.
- Species at risk previously documented on the ranch include grassland birds, such as ferruginous hawk (threatened), Sprague's pipit (threatened) and chestnut-collared longspur (threatened). Grassland birds are one of the fastest declining groups of birds in Canada, with nearly 60 per cent having disappeared since 1970.
- Over 80 per cent of the ranch has been designated by Alberta Environment and Protected Areas as a provincial Environmentally Significant Area.
- McIntyre Ranch is identified as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by IBA Canada.
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 governments 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.
Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) is the leader in wetland conservation. A registered charity, DUC uses sound science and partners with government, industry, non-profit organizations, Indigenous Peoples and landowners to conserve wetlands that are critical to waterfowl, wildlife and the environment. To learn more about DUC’s innovative environmental solutions and services, visit ducks.ca.
The Government of Alberta’s Alberta Land Trust Grant Program was created in 2011 to support land trusts in the purchase and stewardship of conservation agreements on ecologically significant landscapes and donations of land with high conservation value. The Government of Alberta has partnered with Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and seven other non-profit conservation organizations in Alberta to deliver the conservation of over 113,000 hectares of private lands of high value for biodiversity and watersheds, and with an investment of $106 million over 11 years.
The Government of Canada’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program is a unique partnership that supports the creation and recognition of protected and conserved areas through the acquisition of private land and private interest in land. To date, the Government of Canada has invested more than $440 million in the program, which has been matched with more than $870 million in contributions raised by Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the country’s land trust community leading to the protection and conservation of more than 700,000 hectares of ecologically sensitive lands.
To learn more about the Ecological Gifts Program, please visit https://www.canada.ca/ecological-gifts.
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