Ranch in foothills southwest of Calgary protected from development

Ranch in foothills southwest of Calgary protected from development
Owners donate 811 hectares of White Moose Ranch to Nature Conservancy
Two thousand acres of prime real estate west of Turner Valley will be protected from development in a deal announced by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) on Thursday. 

The voluntary agreement with the owner of the White Moose Ranch will protect the 811-hectare portion of the property while allowing cattle operations to continue. 

Carscallen operates a commercial beef cattle operation on the ranch. The conservation agreement will allow the cattle operation to continue while removing the pressure to ever subdivide the property or develop it.

"From the day our White Moose Ranch first acquired this breathtaking property in 1992, I knew that we needed to find a way to preserve it in its natural state," said owner Stan Carscallen in a news release. 

It was protected by landowners Stan Carscallen — a prominent lawyer in Calgary — his wife Eva Friesen — the president and chief executive of the Calgary Foundation — and their sons Brock and Gavin.

"We share a three-mile boundary on our south side with the OH Ranch. Over the years, I frequently spoke with our friend, Doc Seaman, about realizing a mutual dream of working together to create a single, contiguous block of conserved land extending from the Highwood River to the Sheep River that could never be developed or subdivided. This donation completes that dream, and my family and I are proud to be part of that accomplishment."

“From the day our White Moose Ranch first acquired this breathtaking property in 1992, I knew that we needed to find a way to preserve it in its natural state,” Carscallen said in a news release.

The NCC said the protected portion of the ranch, which lies along the Sheep River, features a mix of fescue grasslands, montane forests and riparian areas. 

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has signed a conservation agreement with the landowners to restrict development rights on the 2,000-acre property, just west of the town of Turner Valley, Alta.

"It provides year-round habitat for elk, moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, black bear, cougar, gray wolf, coyote and bald and golden eagles," said the organization in its news release. 

Other supporters of the White Moose Ranch project include the Alberta government through a land stewardship grant and the federal government through its natural areas conservation program.

"Grizzly bears, which are listed under the Species at Risk Act as Special Concern, are often seen on White Moose Ranch."

The NCC said mountain sheep, lynx, badgers, wolverines, red-tailed hawks and great horned owls have also been spotted on the property. 

The land borders OH Ranch, a historic ranch founded in 1883 and bought in 1987 by Doc Seaman, a well-known oilman who was one of the original co-owners of the Calgary Flames.

The area is under increasing development pressure, according to the NCC, due to its scenery and proximity to Calgary. 

Carscallen said that before Seaman died in 2009, they frequently spoke about protecting the land between the Highwood River and the Sheep River.

The fescue grassland habitat is also one of the most threatened ecosystems in the country, according to the organization, with less than five per cent estimated to be intact. 

White Moose Ranch is also near the headwaters region of the Sheep River, which provides fresh drinking water to almost half of all Albertans.

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Officials say protecting the area is a priority because it’s one of the last pieces of relatively intact fescue grassland in Alberta.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is committing to protecting an 811-hectare portion of a ranch in Alberta’s foothills.

Stan Carscallan, pictured with Calgary Centre MP Kent Hehr, donated his White Moose Ranch property to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The agreement restricts development rights on the property and will keep a portion of the ranch intact, allowing its owner, Stan Carscallen, to continue operating a cattle ranch while maintaining the landscape in a natural state.

Carscallen purchased the land in 1992 and said he has no plans to sell the land in his lifetime, adding he hopes his sons will continue his cause of conservation in Alberta.

“This donation completes that dream, and my family and I are proud to be part of that accomplishment,” said Carscallen.

“This is a particularly unique piece of land. It’s completely undisturbed, it’s never been cultivated,” Carscallen said.

About 800 hectares of the White Moose Ranch in the foothills of southern Alberta have been protected from development.

Calgary lawyer and rancher Stan Carscallen speaks about his donation of the White Moose Ranch to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Leah Hennel / Leah Hennel/Postmedia

The conservancy says the land, a 35-minute drive southwest of Calgary, is facing pressure from urban developers.

The newly protected area borders another conservancy easement on the OH Ranch, formerly owned by late Calgary businessman and philanthropist Daryl (Doc) Seaman.

Carscallen said the two ranch owners had a “gentleman’s agreement” that if one of them agreed to protect part of their lands the other would follow suit.

And with the White Moose Ranch easement now in place, Carscallen said he’s lived up to his end of the deal with his old friend to create wilderness corridor for wildlife near Kananaskis Country.

“It’s quite a startling piece of land in the Foothills,” Carscallen said. “The net effect is the land is fully conserved between the Highwood and the Sheep River west of Turner Valley. That is a tremendous asset, I think, for wildlife.”

Bob Demulder, president of the conservancy, said the protected area was appraised at $7.5 million, with Carscallen donating $6 million worth of the land toward the easement. The remaining $1.5 million was secured through donors and the federal government.

Liberal MP Kent Hehr said funding for the easement from the federal government is part of Ottawa’s commitment to protect 17 per cent of Canada’s natural landscape by 2020.

“(The conservancy) ends up acquiring the development rights on the property while the land owner continues to own and ranch it in a sustainable manner,” Demulder said.

“So this portion of the White Moose Ranch will now be kept intact for the long term and it’ll balance the economic needs of the local land owner . . . while maintaining the landscape for conservation, and that’s a good thing.”

Demulder said the conservancy has protected more than 445,000 hectares of land in Alberta since 1962 — more than five times the size of the city of Calgary.

White Moose Ranch is adjacent to the Sheep River and is located in the headwaters region of southern Alberta. Carscallen said the property supports a mix of native grasses, poplar bluffs, willow and spruce trees. It is also populated and frequented by elk, bears, deer and many other animals native to the Kananaskis region and the foothills.

The headwater area covers only four per cent of the province but provides fresh drinking water to 45 per cent of Albertans, according to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.