Moose in prairie grasslands (Photo by Jason Bantle)

Moose in prairie grasslands (Photo by Jason Bantle)

Promising news for a globally important migratory stopover in Saskatchewan

February 13, 2024


Thousands of shorebirds, including over half of the world’s population of sanderlings stop to rest and feed at Chaplin Lake during their spring migration

Efforts to safeguard grasslands surrounding Chaplin Lake have taken a significant leap forward with the support of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). The non-profit conservation group is announcing the expansion of its Mackie Ranch conservation project, located a few kilometres off the Trans-Canada Highway, between Moose Jaw and Swift Current.

Mackie Ranch is situated along the eastern shoreline of Chaplin Lake: the second largest saline lake in Canada. This site is one of only three in Canada with the designation of hemispheric importance to shorebirds, and the only such reserve that is located inland. By adding 640 hectares of grasslands to the project, for a total of 1,286 hectares, this crucial initiative conserves habitat for shorebirds, such as sanderling, semipalmated sandpiper, Baird's sandpiper, red knot and piping plover.

The Mackie Ranch property supports many other species, including the iconic sharp-tailed grouse, Saskatchewan's provincial bird. The area also provides habitat for wildlife listed under Canada's Species at Risk Act, including chestnut-collared longspur (threatened), ferruginous hawk (threatened) and long-billed curlew (special concern).

The conserved area not only serves as a refuge for wildlife, but also plays a pivotal role in ensuring the future of endangered ecosystems. Grasslands filter water, help to mitigate floods and droughts, and store billions of tonnes of carbon. They have historically provided nourishment to communities and continue to be a cornerstone of Saskatchewan’s economy.

The conservation site was named in recognition of the generations of stewardship by the Mackie family. It will continue to be used for cattle grazing to help keep the grasslands healthy and support the local economy.

This important purchase was made possible through the support of generous donors and partners. The Government of Canada is a major contributor, through its Natural Heritage Conservation Program (part of Canada’s Nature Fund).

The Mackie Ranch conservation project exemplifies a dedicated commitment to safeguarding grasslands under NCC’s Prairie Grasslands Action Plan — a comprehensive strategy aimed to conserve more than 500,000 hectares by 2030. This is an area six times the size of Calgary and equivalent to what we will lose if we don’t act now to protect the grasslands that remain. Learn more about how you can take action to care for Canada’s iconic Prairie grasslands at prairiegrasslands.ca.


“Mackie Ranch is a testament to the beauty of vibrant grassland landscapes and the diverse wildlife they nurture. Conserving grasslands is not only crucial for the survival of remarkable Prairie species, but also for the well-being of our communities and the sustainability of our natural areas.” – Michael Burak, Program Director in southwest Saskatchewan, Nature Conservancy of Canada

By working with partners such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada, we are helping to protect the natural environment in Saskatchewan and across the country. Grasslands surrounding Chaplin Lake play a vital role in protecting shorebirds, including species at risk, and help to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. Through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, the Government of Canada is making progress toward its goal of conserving 30 percent of land and water in Canada by 2030.” – The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change


  • The Prairie Grasslands Action Plan is a cross-country, $500-million campaign to conserve 500,000 hectares by the end of 2030.
  • Partnership is at the heart of the plan. Only with a whole-of-society approach can we hope to slow the loss of Prairie grasslands. NCC is working with local communities and in collaboration with Indigenous Nations on a multitude of projects. We are partnering with industry, government and other conservation organizations to complete conservation projects on the ground. And we are advancing stewardship with ranchers, livestock producers and grazing groups to deliver solutions that ensure that grasslands remain a foundation for thriving communities.
  • Grasslands, and the wetlands within them, are important stopover sites for migratory birds. They also provide habitat for waterfowl and imperilled species. The conservation of Canada’s remaining grasslands, is essential to ensuring that at-risk species, including burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk and swift fox, survive.
  • Grasslands’ deep, sprawling root networks store vast amounts of carbon beneath the soil surface. These roots help keep soil in place, enabling grasslands to collect and retain moisture. During rain runoff or snow melt, water is collected and stored in their roots and absorbed into the soil, rather than flowing rapidly into lakes and rivers and causing erosion damage. 
  • The agricultural sector relies on native pollinators to produce nutritional and economic benefits for people. Grasslands provide nesting sites, refuge and food for a diverse community of pollinators.
  • Disturbances, such as grazing and fire, help restore and maintain the health of grasslands. Grazing and fire also create a mosaic of habitats across the grasslands, providing suitable conditions for a greater variety of plants and animals. Some species need shorter grass to survive, while others need longer grass.


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 $470 million in the Program, which has been matched with more than $982 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 nearly 800,000 hectares of ecologically sensitive lands.

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Daphne May
Director of Communications and Engagement

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