June 28, 2004

Waterton Lakes conservation project balances habitat protection, production

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and the W Garfield Weston Foundation, together with John and Barbara Poole of Alberta, and Waterton area landowners, last week completed the single largest private conservation initiative in Canadian history. The seven-year project, involving more than 25 different landowners, has resulted in the protection of more than 100 square kilometres (27,000 acres) of key conservation and ranching lands adjacent to Waterton Lakes National Park in the southwest corner of Alberta, without taking the land out of production.

"This incredible accomplishment leaves a lasting natural legacy and represents a unique Canada Day gift to all Canadians," said NCC president John Lounds. "Working with local ranchers and landowners we have ensured the protection of a large and very significant Canadian landscape for the long term while also supporting ongoing ranching activities."

Waterton Lakes National Park - opened in 1911 and declared a World Heritage Site in 1995 - is renowned for its spectacular scenic beauty and biological diversity. While the park itself is protected, the private lands bordering it are not, and are prime targets for development. Since 1997, NCC and its partners have been working with area landowners to preserve these lands, which provide habitat for a number of species considered to be at risk on a provincial or national basis, among them the grizzly bear, the trumpeter swan, the sandhill crane, and other plant and animal species. Under the "Conserving Working Landscapes" approach used by NCC, ranchers can conserve their ranch lands by either donating or selling a conservation easement. In other cases in the Waterton area, NCC purchased properties from ranchers and leased the lands back to them so that they and their families can continue to practice ecologically sustainable ranching.

"Our agreement with the Nature Conservancy of Canada has helped us continue with the way of life we enjoy, while also ensuring the protection of this great landscape," said Blaine Marr, a rancher from the Waterton area who has both donated and sold easements on his 574-acre property to NCC.

The Waterton announcement is the highlight of NCC's third annual Gifts to Canadians, part of its ongoing efforts to celebrate and conserve Canada's biodiversity from coast to coast and leave a lasting natural legacy for Canadians. In the lead-up to Canada Day, NCC is announcing a total of 10 Gifts to Canadians across the country. Since 1962, NCC and its supporters have protected more than 7,300 square kilometres (1.8 million acres) of ecologically significant land nationwide.

More information is available from Larry Simpson, Alberta regional director for the NCC, 403/262-1951, or on the NCC Web site, www.natureconservancy.ca.

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