Wildlife corridors in Waterton Park Front now better protected
New conservation project in southwestern Alberta will help ensure globally significant ecosystem stays connected for wildlife.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is announcing a new conservation site outside Waterton Lakes National Park that will benefit the area’s wildlife, including at-risk species.
This 255-hectare project is located about 10 kilometres south of Twin Butte, in the Municipal District of Pincher Creek and Cardston County. It builds on over 13,000 hectares of private conservation lands surrounding Waterton Park, known as the Waterton Park Front (of which 75 per cent is now conserved).
Land conservation in this part of Alberta is important, as this area, which is under threat, features a unique and relatively intact ecosystem supporting high biodiversity. While cattle ranching has maintained the natural state of this landscape to date, shifting economics have caused some landowners to look toward other land uses to sustain their livelihoods. These include annual cropping, and residential and recreational development, which, if pursued, result in land conversion and fragmentation, often to the detriment of nature.
While this new conservation project may seem like a relatively small addition to the amount of land already conserved in the Waterton Park Front, it will result in a large benefit for nature. This is because this newly conserved area acts as an important corridor, or movement pathway, for wildlife in the area. Ensuring natural areas in the Waterton Park Front remain connected and intact ensures wildlife will continue to be able to move throughout this incredible landscape.
These corridors are important for wide-ranging animals to access different habitats throughout the year. For example, elk in the summer spread out to access high-elevation habitats within the mountains. Then in the fall and winter, they congregate into large herds and move into low-elevation regions to breed and access winter forage. Providing elk and other wildlife a safe route to move between these habitats will ensure the long-term survival of their populations in the area, to the benefit of the ecosystem and the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike.
This new project is comprised of two separate land parcels. Each parcel supports important habitats, including fescue grasslands, forests, wetlands and riparian (riverside) ecosystems along the Waterton River. These are important habitats for many wildlife, including species at risk such as American badger (special concern), bobolink (special concern) and horned grebe (special concern), all of which have been previously documented nearby.
Fescue grasslands are a priority for conservation, as they are sensitive to disturbances, outcompeted by introduced plant species and slow to regenerate. They provide important habitat for grassland birds, sequester carbon and provide forage for grazing wildlife and livestock.
The riparian habitats on the project are also significant, as they support high biodiversity, help protect water quality and have received some of the least protection throughout Alberta. Riverside areas face considerable threats, as they are coveted for residential development and other land uses.
Cattle ranching has sustained the natural value of this project. It will remain a working landscape for local ranchers, to the benefit of both nature and the economy. A grazing management plan will be developed to ensure this is done sustainably.
This project showcases how NCC is accelerating the pace of conservation in Canada. In the past two years alone, NCC has influenced the protection of more than 1 million hectares (almost twice the size of Banff National Park), coast to coast to coast. Over the next few years, the organization will double its impact by mobilizing Canadians and delivering permanent, large-scale conservation.
Cenovus Energy Inc. previously announced a US$3 million (~CAD$3.7 million) donation to NCC. Portions of the investment will be allocated toward this project. The donation was made as part of the company’s commitment to protecting the planet for future generations.
Thanks to our generous donors, NCC was able to access funding under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant program.
This project was made possible by funding from the Government of Canada, through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of Canada’s Nature Fund.
In the face of rapid biodiversity loss and climate change, nature is our ally. There is no solution to either without nature conservation. When nature thrives, we all thrive.
"Waterton Lakes National Park is renowned for its incredible wildlife, but these species rely on an area much larger than that park itself throughout the year. By conserving this property, we are ensuring it will continue to offer habitat and safe movement routes for these incredible animals, while also being available to the livestock of local ranchers for grazing."” – Tom Lynch-Staunton, Regional Vice-President, Nature Conservancy of Canada
“This recent addition to the Waterton Park Front epitomizes the importance of the area to both ranchers and wildlife. Boasting resilient productive grasslands, sheltering mixed forests and abundant water sources, this landscape demonstrates why NCC's collaborative approach to conservation is beneficial to both nature and the local community.” – Lindsey Davidson, Natural Area Manager, 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 their generous donors, we are helping to protect the natural environment in Alberta and across the country. Protecting land plays a vital role in helping to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and contributes to the recovery of species at risk. Through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, the Government of Canada is making progress toward its goal of conserving a quarter of land and water in Canada by 2025, working toward 30 percent of each by 2030.” – The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
- The project falls within the Buffer Area of the Waterton Biosphere Reserve, one of 19 UNESCO biosphere reserves in Canada.
- The project falls within a provincial Key Wildlife and Biodiversity Zone, which are important winter ungulate ranges, wildlife movement corridors and habitat for many species.
- This project is within a provincial 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 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. To learn more, visit natureconservancy.ca.
The Government of Canada’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program (NHCP) 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.
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