St. Mary River Irrigation District (SMRID) is embarking on an extensive project to improve water quality by enhancing the vegetative buffers surrounding their reservoirs and waterways in southern Alberta. Partnering with many conservation minded stakeholder groups; the Connectivity Project evaluates the range, riparian and wildlife habitat on the 10,000 acres surrounding the 18 reservoirs in the SMRID system. Following the assessments, a multitude of improvement strategies including fencing riparian areas, providing portable watering units, seeding permanent cover, planting shrubs, and devising long-term grazing management plans will result in best management practices that not only improve water quality but increase beneficial wildlife habitat for a number of species such as upland gamebirds, songbirds, waterfowl, amphibians, pollinators, and ungulates.
In 2019, Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) conducted riparian and range health assessments as well as incidental wildlife encounters from May – September of 2019 on four reservoirs within the St Mary River Irrigation District. Among Cross Coulee, Raymond Reservoir, Murray Lake and Stafford Reservoir, a total of 126 range assessments and 103 riparian assessments were completed and 647 unique wildlife encounters were documented. Overall health scores varied from reservoir to reservoir ranging from healthy to low healthy with problems. Currently, SMRID and stakeholder groups are working together to implement the recommendations based upon the assessments of the four reservoirs. In the upcoming years assessments and enhancements will continue for the remaining reservoirs.
In the interim, ACA, Pheasants Forever Chinook and Pheasants Forever Calgary have embarked on enhancing habitat on a peninsula at Rattlesnake Reservoir (aka Sauder Reservoir) located southwest of Medicine Hat, one of the most downstream reservoirs within the SMRID.
The “Connectivity Project” is an excellent example of a comprehensive conservation project that not only enhances biodiversity and species abundance while contributing natural capital for all of society to benefit from.