Historic Canadian Grassland Project: Conservation Leaders Unite

McIntyre Ranch’s commitment to sustainable stewardship practices highlight their dedication to conservation

By Jean-Paul MacDonald

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) have joined forces to protect McIntyre Ranch, one of Canada’s largest remaining Prairie grasslands and wetlands. 

This historic conservation easement involves the cooperation of the landowners and the two organizations. Covering over 22,000 hectares, McIntyre Ranch is a stunning landscape comparable to a quarter of the size of Calgary.

Over 80% of the ranch is designated as an Environmentally Significant Area, and it is also recognized as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.  The ranch is home to over 150 plant and wildlife species, including 13 at-risk species and declining grassland birds.  

This groundbreaking project aims to become the most significant private land conservation initiative ever accomplished in the Canadian Prairies and the largest conservation agreement in Canadian history.

However, an additional $3 million is needed to finalize the project, prompting the NCC to launch a public campaign for donations.

The Thrall family, owners of the ranch, have worked closely with the NCC and DUC to establish provisions ensuring the preservation of McIntyre Ranch’s natural integrity. 

“Since 1894, the stewardship of McIntyre Ranch has been on the shoulders of two generations of McIntyres and three generations of the Thrall family (on the cusp of a fourth). We are grateful to be partnering with NCC and DUC as we work together and share the responsibility to conserve Prairie grasslands. This relationship will help us achieve our sustainable ranching practices in conjunction with our “balance with nature” philosophy. We are proud to play a role in conserving something that is the way that it used to be.” – Ralph A. Thrall III, President & CEO, McIntyre Ranching Co. Ltd

Their commitment to sustainable stewardship practices and generous donation highlight their dedication to conservation.

Globally threatened ecosystems, such as grasslands, are disappearing due to land conversion. McIntyre Ranch serves as a remarkable example of the diverse ecosystems that once stretched across the Great Plains. 

By conserving and caring for these remaining grasslands, we can mitigate carbon emissions, protect clean drinking water, and provide habitat for endangered species.

The project’s completion will have global significance, raising awareness and inspiring further efforts to protect and restore grassland ecosystems. 

The collaboration between the NCC and DUC sets a new standard for private land conservation in Canada, showcasing the power of partnerships in preserving our natural heritage.

McIntyre Ranch, a significant conservation project, has received support from Cenovus Energy, the Weston Family Foundation, the Gerald A. Cooper Key Foundation, Plains Midstream, and Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s.  

Matching funding will be provided by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant program. The Government of Alberta’s Land Trust Grant Program and the Government of Canada’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program have also contributed to the project.  

“Prairie grasslands feed us, filter our water, clean our air — and they are rapidly vanishing. But conservation projects like the McIntyre Ranch give me hope. Each swaying blade of grass and drop of water, every at-risk animal nurtured by this vast landscape, is now protected. That’s testament to the strength of the partnerships that make it possible. Drawing together the commitments of governments, individuals, companies, NGOs and, of course, the Thrall family, we are taking a massive and critical leap toward slowing grasslands loss. By conserving the McIntyre’s cultural and natural history today we are securing a nature-positive future for us all.” – Catherine Grenier, President & CEO, Nature Conservancy of Canada 

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