Nature Conservancy of Canada works on large-scale, permanent land conservation to protect the country’s most important natural areas.
The latest project involves a critical grassland area on a massive tract of land in the Interlake area of Manitoba.
The Lake Ranch project involves nearly 2,700 hectares and is home to a number of Canada's Species at Risk such as the Sprague’s pipit and bobolink which breed in the large expanses of grasslands. While the project wetlands attract migratory wetland birds like western grebes.
NCC's Cary Hamel, Manitoba director of conservation says grasslands are important to us as prairie people, as rangelands, for farming, as places to connect with nature.
He notes they sequester carbon, they slow down flooding, they provide habitat for pollinators and they're also really important in terms of biodiversity and endangered species as grasslands decline, and the habitat disappears.
Hamel says the Lake Ranch is really special and incredibly diverse.
"It's on a lake shore, it has wetland, it has forest. One of the most special things about it, is it has over 500 hectares of tall grass prairie. That's the most endangered of the endangered grassland types. Tall grass prairie used to extend across the Red River Valley down to Texas. Now in Manitoba, at least less than 1% of it is left. So all of this in one large block, that's big enough to allow those natural ecosystem functions that prairies need, like grazing, and maybe fire and things like that to continue to really kind of sustain this place is an example of what once was."
The previous owners, The Lake Ranch Ltd. Group out of Germany, recognized the global importance of these grasslands and had a vision of creating an ecological preserve and eco-lifestyle area. While past flood events in the area prohibited use of the property as a ‘natural neighbourhood’ they recognized NCC as the group who could bring to life their vision wherein ‘nourishing and caring for nature is as important as nourishing and caring for the soul’.
NCC says the previous owners also wanted to support local economy through Lake Ranch’s continued agricultural use. The property has been managed as a livestock operation for nearly 100 years. Grasslands still exist on the property because of the relationship between compatible livestock grazing and healthy grasslands.
With the close connection to the nearby Woodlands Community Pasture, there’s an even greater understanding of the importance that healthy grasslands provide to economic security, biodiversity and a connection to past and future generations living in these iconic landscapes. Community Pastures are community-owned or government lands which have a long history of supporting livestock farmers by providing high quality grazing in balance with biodiversity and other ecosystem services.
The property will serve as an accessible conservation area for engaging local residents, providing ecotourism opportunities, and connecting visitors to nature. The conservation of this project also provides opportunities to foster and steward a relationship with Manitobans and raise awareness that temperate grasslands are the most endangered terrestrial ecosystem on the planet, and of the important role that a grazing-based economy plays in maintaining this ecosystem.
This project was made possible by the Government of Canada through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program, part of Canada’s Nature Fund. NCC also thanks Lake Ranch Ltd. who donated over 20 per cent the value of the Lake Ranch property, MapleCross Fund who made a lead gift to the project, and others who contributed to conserve these lands, including the Richardson Foundation and Jim and Leney Richardson.
The Lake Ranch project marks the start of NCC’s grasslands campaign in Manitoba.
More information on the project is available on their website at www.natureconservancy.ca
You can hear Glenda-Lee's conversation with NCC's Manitoba director of conservation Cary Hamel by clicking on the link below.