PF Calgary Celebrates 25 Years of Conservation Success

In 1992 a group of concerned Calgary sportsmen founded the Alberta Upland Bird Association. The seven charter members included Gregg Norman, Jim McLennan, Vince Campbell, Bill Partridge, Bill Bruce, Glenn Webber and Howard Coneybeare. Recognizing that an established and growing continental force was addressing the needs of upland birds and their habitat, in 1993 the group changed its name to PF Calgary and Canada’s third Pheasants Forever chapter was born.  The following spring, the Chapter held its first fundraising event.

Pheasants Forever (PF) was established in 1982 in St. Paul Minnesota by a group of pheasant hunters that believed habitat loss was responsible for declining pheasant populations.  They introduced a unique model whereby regional chapters could spend the funds they raised on local habitat projects. They quickly became known as the “The Habitat Organization,” a tagline used to this day.

Regina, SK formed the first Canadian PF chapter in 1990.   Two years later Pheasants Forever Canada was established and a group from Medicine Hat founded the second chapter, the Chinook Chapter.

In its early years PF Calgary primarily focussed on improving habitat around the City of Calgary and within the Western Irrigation District, specifically around Crowfoot Creek and Par Flesch Creek. Partnering with several NGOs, including ACA, NCC and the Chinook Chapter, PF Calgary’s first land purchase was along Peigan Creek near Seven Persons, Alberta, west of Medicine Hat. In 1998 PF Calgary approached the Eastern Irrigation District (EID) to initiate The Partners in Habitat Development Program (PHD).  The intent was to create, preserve and restore wildlife habitat within southern Alberta while increasing the potential of the agricultural landscape to sustain itself over the long term.  Partners included irrigation districts, governments, conservation organizations, corporations and private individuals.

One of the first projects under the PHD banner was a demonstration property, the Langdon Habitat Demonstration Site, adjacent to Glenmore Trail between Calgary and Langdon. To this day it serves as an outreach platform demonstrating what quality habitat looks like and supports healthy populations of upland birds and other wildlife.

Another key project developed under the PHD program is the Delacour Lease, a 320-acre parcel with abundant cattails just north and east of Chestermere. PF Calgary has held a long-term lease on this land with the WID that is currently being renegotiated.

PF Calgary supported the PHD program until 2010. Through that period over 858,000 trees and shrubs were planted as multi-row shelterbelts, in block plantings and in riparian buffer strips. These projects provide food and security cover for a variety of wildlife species. Additionally, a total of 870 acres of land was seeded to permanent grass cover, providing nesting and security cover for a variety of bird species. The PHD program also installed almost 162 kilometres of fencing to protect new and existing habitat from livestock access, installed 43 water delivery systems to habitat sites, and helped create and enhance 14 wetland basins.

In 2010 The Habitat Legacy Partnership (HLP) was launched by Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) in conjunction with PF Calgary. This program works collaboratively with conservation groups, private landowners, irrigation districts and municipal districts to facilitate habitat improvements supporting upland bird nesting, brood rearing, winter protection and connectivity.  The program’s focus area is the Lethbridge to Medicine Hat corridor south to the Montana border. Since its inception, the list of partners has expanded to include the Chinook PF Chapter, a number of Alberta Fish and Game Association clubs, several municipalities and the government of Alberta.

The HLP has resulted in the securement of many well-known conservation sites across southern Alberta, including East Hays, Legacy, Silver Sage, Ross Creek and Bull Trail, totalling over 4000 acres of conserved upland bird habitat.  Several properties were enhanced with the construction of wetlands and the seeding of cover and food plots.

Partnerships are key to maximizing success in conservation and one of PF Calgary’s primary partners is Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC).  We initially worked together through the PHD program.  More recently, PF Calgary contributed funds to DUC to upgrade ditches, dykes and dams on the Circle E Grazing Reserve, a 10,000-acre contiguous block of grass between Bow City and Enchant.  This parcel features several miles of canals feeding 32 basins that comprise over 2,000 acres of wetland habitat.

PF Calgary also supported DUC in the construction of a winter watering facility at Hopewell, the busiest pheasant release site in Alberta. This project facilitates cattle grazing during the winter, allowing the vegetation to grow through the spring and summer.  By fall, the stand is mature and provides superb hunting conditions for the release program.

Our most recent focus under the HLP banner has been a partnership with Alberta Environment and Parks, regional municipalities, irrigation districts and other conservation organizations to enhance riparian habitat around all irrigation features in southern Alberta between Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.  Designed to enhance water quality, some refer to it as the Connectivity Project.

The first HLP project under this partnership was initiated by the County of Warner in response to the degradation of water quality in the Milk River Ridge Reservoir, 50 kms south of Lethbridge. Due in part to trespass grazing and farming along the shoreline of the lake, the natural ability of riparian vegetation to filter nutrients from adjacent farmland was being severely impacted. Concurrently, critical upland bird habitat was being lost.

Crown lands, under the jurisdiction of Alberta Environment and Parks, exist around the entire periphery of the reservoir and along the canals leading into and out of the reservoir.  Since the project’s beginnings in 2014, it’s been on these crown lands that efforts are focussed to restore and enhance upland bird habitat while re-establishing the riparian nutrient filtration capacity. When completed in 2019, we will have conserved 550 acres of native prairie and restored an additional 550 acres of land to perennial cover.

Since its inception in 1993, Pheasants Forever Calgary has contributed to the purchase of over 4000 acres of critical upland bird habitat across southern Alberta and to the restoration and enhancement of an additional 11,500 acres, all on lands open to the public for hunting.  Thanks to those who supported Pheasants Forever Calgary over these past 25 years, all Albertans can enjoy these special places for many years to come.