Nature Conservancy of Canada signs agreement to protect Southern Alberta Ranch

By Dori Modney (@Dori_Modney on Twitter) with files from NCC
February 4, 2019 - 8:25pm

LETHBRIDGE --  The owners of an environmentally important tract of Southern Alberta land have signed a protection agreement with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

It was announced on Friday, Feb 1, that the 3,950-acre Riverside Ranch had entered into the agreement, which will restrict development on the property and ensure the land remains intact into the future.

The owners will continue to operate their cattle ranch, while maintaining the landscape and the Castle River in a natural and un-fragmented state.

Situated along the Castle River, between Lundbreck and Beaver Mines in the southwest corner of the province, Riverside Ranch was established in 1914 by Peter Zoratti, who immigrated to Canada from Coderno, Italy.

The Zoratti family has owned and cared for the century-old ranch, gradually expanding the property.  Berny Zoratti, landowner and grandson of ranch founder Peter Zoratti, says they now want to ensure the ranch and natural landscape is conserved, to honour past generations who were dedicated to preserving the ranching heritage.

“Every generation in my family had a hand in expanding and improving Riverside Ranch. I saw the need to protect our heritage and preserve the ranch that our past generations developed and that our future generations will inherit. Partnering with NCC will do that: preserve our ranch, the natural landscape and our grasslands.” 

Mark Zoratti, also a landowner and great-grandson or Peter Zoratti, says his family is very fortunate to be able to make a living on the ranch, but also go out on the ranch to camp, hike, fish and create beautiful memories.

"As kids, including mine at present, we enjoy the land for all it offers which I believe carries over to being adults.  As adults we recognize the tremendous value in land conservation for all future generations to come, not only for the sustainability of the ranch but also so they may get a chance to experience the ranch lands as they have always been."

A news release from NCC noted the attributes off this tract of land:

--  The Castle River is a source of clean, fresh water and provides habitat for several provincially significant populations of species at risk, including westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout. Both of these species are designated as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The river also supports forests of poplar and white spruce trees, which are habitat for a high diversity of breeding birds, like ruffled and sharp-tailed grouse and wild turkey.

-- Forests on the property contain limber pine, which is designated as endangered by COSEWIC. Limber pine is a five-needled pine that can live up to 1,000 years, and its seeds provide important food for bears, small mammals and birds. Some of these trees on Riverside Ranch are more than 500 years old.

-- The property is home to grizzly bear, which are listed as a special concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Other species on the property include cougar, wolf, elk, deer and other grazing mammals.

-- Native habitat in the foothills retains water from rainfall and snow-melt, which helps mitigate flooding, both locally and further downstream. The foothills along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains make up an important part of the headwaters of the South Saskatchewan River. The headwaters region makes up only four per cent of the province of Alberta by area, but these headwaters are the source of fresh drinking water for 45 per cent of Alberta’s population.

-- Ranchlands located in the foothills of Alberta contain large expanses of foothills parkland and rough fescue grasslands, montane forest and important watershed and riparian (waterside) areas.

The conservation agreement provides substantial investment that NCC and ranchers have already made along Alberta’s eastern slopes to conserve one of the largest remaining intact blocks of native grassland in North America.

Supporters of this project include the Government of Alberta’s Land Trust Grant Program, and the Government of Canada, through the Natural Areas Conservation Program. A portion of this project was donated to NCC under the Government of Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program, which provides enhanced tax incentives for individuals or corporations who donate ecologically significant land.



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