Sanderling at Mackie Ranch (Photo by Jason Bantle)

Sanderling at Mackie Ranch (Photo by Jason Bantle)

Prairie hot spot for shorebirds now conserved

November 24, 2021


A large section of native grassland and part of an important shoreline a few kilometres off the Trans-Canada Highway, between Moose Jaw and Swift Current, are now protected.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) Mackie Ranch conservation project is located along the eastern shoreline of Chaplin Lake, the second largest saline lake in Canada. The area is within the boundaries of the Chaplin-Old Wives-Reed Lakes Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. This site is one of only three in Canada with the designation of hemispheric importance to shorebirds, and the only site that is located inland.

Chaplin Lake is known for its remarkable birdwatching opportunities. Over half of the world’s population of sanderlings stop to rest and feed here during their spring migration. Many other migratory shorebirds also visit the lake, such as semipalmated sandpiper, Baird’s sandpiper, red knot and piping plover.

NCC’s Mackie Ranch property contains 646 hectares (1,598 acres) of grasslands and wetlands. Temperate grasslands are one of the rarest and most at-risk ecosystems in the world and are a critical part of Saskatchewan. They filter our water, help prevent flooding and droughts, sequester carbon and, for thousands of years, have provided sustenance for humans.

The property and surrounding area are home to many plants and animals, including sharp-tailed grouse — Saskatchewan’s provincial bird. There are at least two active mating leks on the ranch. 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). Birds are important for people in terms of health and well-being, as well as economically, through birding, pest control, cleanup and seed dispersal.

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

This conservation project was made possible due to the generous financial support of our donors and partners. The Government of Canada is a major contributor through its Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of Canada’s Nature Fund.


“One of the things I love about Mackie Ranch is how remote it feels when you are walking along the property. All you see when you look to the west and south is water and grass. It’s a beautiful natural area with an incredible diversity of wildlife. Many of these species are under significant threat. Conserving grasslands is important for our health and the wildlife they sustain.” – Michael Burak, Program Director in southwest Saskatchewan for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

“The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are two sides of the same coin, and we must tackle both crises together. By working with partners like the Nature Conservancy of Canada, we are protecting Saskatchewan’s natural environment and building a healthier and more resilient future for our children and grandchildren. Programs like the Canada Nature Fund’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program are helping us progress toward conserving a quarter of Canada’s land and a quarter of its oceans by 2025.”The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change


  • Over the past 25 years, Saskatchewan has lost more than 809,000 hectares (2 million acres) of native grassland and now less than 20 per cent remains intact. 
  • People can support the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s work in Saskatchewan in protecting endangered grasslands, wetlands and the at-risk species that live there. Visit conservegrasslands.ca.


The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the nation's leading not-for-profit, private land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect 14 million hectares (35 million acres), coast to coast to coast. In Saskatchewan, NCC has protected 198,219 hectares (489,810 acres) of ecologically sensitive lands and waters. To learn more, visit natureconservancy.ca.

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 are matched with contributions raised by NCC and its partners, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the country’s land trust community.

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Daphne May
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