Two Alberta Chapters of Pheasants Forever have pooled the money needed to help Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) secure 3 quarter sections of land in southeast Alberta. The Chinook Conservation Site is located southeast of Medicine Hat, Alberta along Ross Creek.
The power of partnerships may be an overused phrase these days, however, there may be no better example of what that power can result in than the recent purchase of the Chinook Conservation Site by Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) with its partners.
Many folks look at a field of wind turbines and see beauty, same for solar panels. They see green. I on the other hand see the potential for a limiting factor for prairie wildlife populations, particularly birds and the habitat they depend upon.
Milk River Ridge Reservoir Water Quality Stewardship Initiative
The Milk River Ridge Reservoir Water Quality Stewardship Initiative (MRRRWQSI) is a multi-year collaborative initiative of the County of Warner and Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD). In 2014 several conservation organizations agreed to partner with ESRD and the County; their involvement will be focused on securing and enhancing wildlife habitat within individual stewardship project areas.
The MRRRWQSI initiative consists of 9 separate projects around the Waterton-St. Mary Headworks inlet canal and the shorelands of Milk River Ridge Reservoir. The lands in question are predominantly Provincial Crown land (which are sometimes referred to as “public land”). In the past these lands were often called “right-of-way” lands, but today they are referred to as the “provincial land corridor”.
The Stewardship Initiative has as its overall aim the improvement of water quality within ESRD’s headwork canal and Milk River Ridge Reservoir through the restoration of impacted shorelands and riparian areas. Water quality declines in previous years are attributed in part to a significant degradation of the provincial land corridor which surrounds the Reservoir and the headwork canal that enters into the reservoir inlet. By returning ecological function to compromised corridor lands they will be able to function as environmental buffers to intercept and slow runoff from the Milk River Ridge, and better anchor riparian areas and shore lands with desired vegetation communities.
County of Warner representatives approached ESRD staff in the spring of 2013 to discuss the need to more effectively manage the provincial land corridor along ESRD’s water management headwork canals and Ridge Reservoir. Numerous impacts, unauthorized activities and encroachments have occurred on the provincial land corridor over a period of several decades, in some cases preventing these shorelands from functioning as ecological buffers. Shoreland degradation and poor land use practices are contributing to a diminishment of water quality in Ridge Reservoir. Restoration actions and better stewardship actions (both on provincial Crown land and adjacent private land) will help in minimizing water quality declines that have resulted from poor land use practices.
Agreement was reached that a collaborative partnership should be formed between the County and the Department and that a stewardship initiative should be undertaken to: a) identify the provincial land corridor boundary for the benefit of adjacent landowners and the public, b) systematically address wide-ranging provincial land corridor impacts, and c) undertake habitat enhancements wherever opportunities exist to do so with the involvement of conservation partners.
- The Alberta Conservation Association has agreed to coordinate the involvement of participating conservation partners:
- Pheasants Forever – Calgary
- Pheasants Forever – Lethbridge
- Lethbridge Fish and Game club
- Alberta Fish and Game Association
These partners would undertake on-the-ground activities to achieve wildlife habitat objectives within individual project areas on behalf of participating conservation partners, and receive and disburse partner funding. Conservation partners expressed an interest in funding and supporting the following activities on the provincial land corridor to benefit wildlife:
- establish permanent cover on exposed soil using a native seed mixture
- manage weeds in newly seeded areas
- develop an artificial wetland in project “B”
- develop MRRRWQSI project specific signage
2014 has been a productive year, ESRD has completed approximately 3 miles of fencing along the south shore of Milk River Ridge Reservoir and the canal system to the west of the reservoir. This has secured over 150 acres for wildlife habitat. All partners contributed to the purchase of grass seed to put approximately 90 acres of previously cultivated lands within the fenced areas back into permanent cover. ESRD is already taking action on activities for the 2015 season, which include further boundary surveys and fencing projects along the south and north shores of the reservoir. There will be ample opportunity for conservation groups to continue with this partnership in helping to re-establish vegetative buffers and create wildlife habitat in the upcoming years.
Wetlands benefit far more than ducks
Ducks aren’t the only feathered friends benefitting from conservation partnerships in Alberta.
Recent collaborative efforts between Pheasants Forever Calgary and Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) are resulting in the continuation of the conservation of pheasant habitat which is also home to waterfowl and other wildlife in southeastern Alberta.
Southeastern Alberta is home to several DUC projects built in the 1950s and ’60s when the organization worked with irrigation districts to drought-proof the prairies by putting water on the land. Many of these projects now require extensive work to be maintained and operated.
In the last year, Pheasants Forever Calgary and DUC cost-shared the re-construction of three of the segments of the Circle E project, located 15 miles southwest of Bow City, Alta. This project, originally constructed in 1954, includes 32 wetland basins or 2,000 acres of wetlands situated on more than 10,000 acres of native grasslands that are surrounded by intensive irrigated cropland.
DUC and Pheasants Forever Calgary will continue to work together in 2015 to ensure these projects continue to provide productive habitant for pheasants as well as for waterfowl, wildlife and residents of southeastern Alberta.
Companies that participate in this program calculate their fleet mileage in Canada and with a formula applied donate funds to our Habitat program, specifically to the planting of trees, shrubs and grasses in various shelterbelt projects in southern Alberta. This campaign was established to mitigate the pollutants generated from the fleets of participating company vehicles. A shrub, tree and grass planting program is utilized to help capture the CO2 produced by the vehicles.
Doug Ramsay, President and CEO calculates the kilometers driven by his fleet in Canada and multiplies that amount by a tenth of a cent per kilometre for the years donation. To date Calfrac Well Services Inc. have donated over $150,000 to the Branching Out Campaign. Doug is very keen on this project and is committed to expanding its scope.
The Habitat Legacy Partnership was born five years ago with an idea that had at its basis upland wildlife habitat restoration and enhancement in an area that was being ignored for the most part in the far reaches of southern Alberta. Pheasants Forever Calgary approached the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) to see if we could partner in protecting existing habitat as well as enhancing and restoring habitat that was gradually disappearing. PF Calgary would provide funding and ACA would provide the experience from their team of biologists and range management specialists located in the Lethbridge office. The area that would be concentrated on initially would be the Lethbridge to Medicine Hat corridor to the Montana border. Since this partnership was started the group has been expanded to include the Chinook Chapter of Pheasants Forever in Medicine Hat, the Lethbridge PF Chapter and several chapters of the Alberta Fish and Game Association.
PF Calgary has participated in the following conservation sites:
The Peigan Creek Conservation Site
The Peigan Creek Conservation Site, 25 miles southwest of Medicine Hat is comprised of 630 acres of the dry mixedgrass region of southern Alberta. There is also a significant amount of riparian habitat associated with the property. Peigan Creek and a tributary branch flow through the property. The purchase was a joint venture between the Alberta Fish and Game Wildlife Trust Fund, a number of southern Alberta chapters of the AFGA, the Chinook Chapter of PF, the Calgary Chapter of PF, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the ACA.
The East Hays Conservation Site
The East Hays Conservation Site management plan for 2012 included the continued maintenance of 11,000 shrubs on 13 acres that were planted in 2010 and the 13 acres of wetlands constructed in 2009 and 2010. Site preparation for planting an additional 6500 trees and shrubs on 10 acres (including a two-acre food plot) will commence in 2013 with the plantings completed in 2014. Anecdotal reports of pheasant sightings on the property this past fall indicate that this site is responding as hoped.
The Legacy Conservation Site
The Legacy Conservation Site was purchased late in 2010 in collaboration with the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA), PF Calgary and the David and Leslie Bissett Foundation. The site is located near the Bow River east of Vauxhall and northwest of Hays. The goal of this purchase is to enhance habitat for upland game birds and to provide improved access to a large parcel of crown lease land that lies along the Bow River. The majority of the 100 acre site was previously a hay crop that was flood irrigated by the 62 acres of water rights attached to the site. The remaining 38 acres are comprised of a mixture of native and tame grasses and coulee draws that historically received the flood irrigation runoff. A five-cell wetland complex totaling approximately 12 acres was surveyed and constructed in 2011. That same year, 35 cultivated acres were re-seeded to a grass/forb mixture for upland bird nesting and brood cover; site maintenance continued in 2012.
The Silver Sage Conservation Site
The Silver Sage Conservation Site was secured through a combination of two land purchases. In 2010, 312 acres were purchased (Silver Sage 1) and an additional 1,271 acres were purchased in 2011 (Silver Sage 2) by a collaboration of ACA, Alberta Fish and Game Association (Wildlife Trust Fund and Medicine Hat Fish and Game), Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk, PF Calgary, PF Chinook Chapter and a private donor. The site is located in the heart of Greater Sage Grouse range south of the village of Manyberries. The 1,583 acre site is also part of the County of Forty Mile within an hour’s drive of Medicine Hat. The parcel represents an opportunity for native prairie restoration and enhancement activities as it is dominated by cultivated croplands, but surrounded by a larger patch of contiguous native prairie. The majority of the 1,583 acre site was previously seeded to annual crops. The remaining 623 acres are made up of a mix of native and tame grasses and ephemeral wetlands. The intent of this purchase is to restore habitat for grassland birds, particularly Greater Sage Grouse and Sprague’s Pipit and to provide benefits to other grassland species such as Ferruginous Hawk, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Swift Fox, and Pronghorn. This project will also enable sustainable recreation opportunities.
The Ross Creek Conservation Site
The Ross Creek Conservation Site is a 937 acre site that was purchased in 2012 by funding from ACA, Alberta Fish and Game Association (Wildlife Trust Fund and Medicine Hat Fish and Game), Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk, La Terra Ventures, PF Calgary and PF Chinook Chapter (Medicine Hat). The site is located approximately 15 km east of Medicine Hat along the Trans-Canada Highway. This parcel represents an opportunity for native prairie conservation as well as enhancement activities for upland birds, ungulates, and species at risk.
The Bull Trail Conservation Site
The Bull Trail Conservation Site is a 529 acre site that was purchased in 2013 with funding from ACA, Alberta Fish and Game Association, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk, PF Calgary, PF Chinook (Medicine Hat) and the Wild Elk Federation. The site includes native grassland, wetland areas and a spring fed tributary to Ross Creek and is located 1.5 miles north of Cypress Hills Provincial Park. Wildlife on the site include sharp-tailed grouse, deer, elk, waterfowl, and potentially several species at risk. Management on the site will include activities to maintain or improve natural habitats and restore wetlands.
Upland wildlife habitat enhancement and restoration is accomplished by employing a number of methods including:
- Planting trees, shrubs and grasses to create shelterbelts and protective cover.
- Purchase and installation of fencing and fence materials for projects to keep cattle from overgrazing established shelterbelts and riparian areas
- Planting good quality nesting cover
- Setting up winter food plots and emergency feeding stations
- Planting grass seed
- Acquiring and installing drip irrigation systems
- Creation of wetlands
- Purchasing equipment such as mulch applicators, tree planters, tillage equipment, heavy disc cultivators, seeders etc.
- Purchasing herbicides and various chemical applications
- Materials for developing off-site watering units for cattle
- Providing funds for building turnouts on underground irrigation projects
Without partners, very little in wildlife conservation would be accomplished.
We believe that one of the key elements in developing more effective and efficient habitat plans is the presence of partnerships. By integrating resources and expertise wherever possible we are able to save time, money and energy. We continue to partner with new organizations interested in contributing to projects that positively impact the creation of pheasants and other wildlife habitat in southern Alberta.
Equally important, we work to enhance public knowledge of wildlife and the environment. PF habitat projects benefit a wide range of wildlife including upland game birds such as ring-necked pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, Hungarian partridge, large and small mammals, waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds.
The following is a partial list of partners that have helped in habitat restoration and land acquisitions over the past 20 years:
- PF Chinook Chapter (Medicine Hat)
- PF Lethbridge Chapter
- The Alberta Conservation Association
- The Alberta Fish And Game Association (various chapters)
- The Alberta Fish and Game Wildlife Trust Fund
- The Nature Conservancy of Canada
- Ducks Unlimited Canada
- Private Donors
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