Thousands of acres of Alberta’s remaining grasslands will stay that way thanks to a partnership between Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and a rancher who recognizes the importance of legacy. When Gordon (Gordy) Marsh made the decision to retire he knew there wasn’t much untouched land left in the province. As a long-time fixture within the ranching community of southwestern Alberta, it was important for him to preserve his land for future generations of ranchers.
Preserving Native Grasslands for Future Generations
In 2004, Marsh expanded his operation by purchasing a large block of native grass on the adjacent landscape that originally was owned by two longtime local ranch families: the Kings and Willards. Marsh knew the combined three ranches were a perfect fit for his cattle operation. He believed then, and still does today, that cattle and wildlife can co-exist, and that cows and waterfowl work well together. It was this conviction that led him to sell his ranch to DUC in 2012.
At that time, the Marsh purchase represented the largest and most ecologically important land deal in DUC history. DUC’s motivation to secure this massive plot of land was to preserve the large tract of unbroken native prairie grass and its 1,200 productive wetland basins. The Government of Alberta declared 75-to-80 per cent of the species dependent on this type of habitat “at risk” due to the significant loss of Alberta native grasslands.
An Exceptional Prairie Pothole Habitat
The Marsh Project was renamed The Shell Buffalo Hills Conservation Area (SBHCA). Representing an outstanding and rare example of a large block of intact prairie pothole habitat, a small but mighty type of ecosystem, the SBHCA has just over 4,000 acres (1,618 hectares) of pristine, native grasslands and about 1,700 acres (687 hectares) of tame hay lands.
Bird Species and Conservation
One hundred and fifty-nine bird species, including the northern pintail, use the almost 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) of the SBHCA for breeding, migration and to over-winter. In 2022, North America’s annual waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey count noted the northern pintail population was 89 per cent below the long-term average in southern Alberta. Key habitats like the SBHCA are critical to supporting the recovery of this remarkable species. Portions of the SBHCA land are now also leased for grazing bison.
For 85 years, DUC has been a leader in wetland conservation and restoration. Working together with Canadian farmers and ranchers to preserve and protect these important areas will help us solve the conservation challenges of tomorrow – for people and for nature.