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Historic Alta. ranch to preserve native grassland

A 125-year-old ranch that’s home to one of the largest areas of native grassland in Alberta plans to preserve that grassland through new agreements with the province and conservation groups.

The OH Ranch, which has operated since 1881 and runs livestock at Longview, Pekisko, Dorothy and Bassano in southern Alberta, will get a “heritage rangeland” designation for 10,200 acres of the Longview and Pekisko sections that are on public land. The ranch will continue to pay for grazing leases on that land.

This will mark the second heritage rangeland designation in Alberta, after the Black Creek Heritage Rangeland north of Pincher Creek in 1999.

The designation is meant to preserve and protect natural features representative of Alberta’s prairies, and is a classification within Alberta’s Parks system. It’s meant to shield the land against any residential, commercial or recreational development.

Activities allowed in the past, such as hiking, fishing and hunting are expected to continue, but any recreational access to the land will be strictly non-motorized and will mean getting prior approval from the leaseholder.

“Minimal” industrial activity has occurred on the ranch to date, the province said, but existing mineral right commitments will be honoured. Any future sale of mineral rights, however, will be subject to a “no surface access” restriction.

A draft management plan based on that designation will be developed for the property and made available for public review and comment.

Conservation easements

Also, the province said in a release Saturday, the process to place the privately owned parts of the Longview and Pekisko sections of the OH Ranch under conservation easements is underway, led by OH Ranch with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Southern Alberta Land Trust Society (SALTS). The ranch will work with Ducks Unlimited on separate easements for the Dorothy and Bassano ranch lands.

When the easements are in place, the land will continue to be managed as one operating ranch to conserve the native grassland ecosystems, the province said.

The conservation easements will put limits on future development on the private land. The easements will be registered with the land titles, which will make sure current and future owners manage the land according to the agreed terms of the easement.

“For many years, we have looked after the soil, the water and the wildlife on this land,” said Daryl K. (Doc) Seaman, owner of the OH Ranch and brand since 1987. “I am very pleased that we have been able to work with the government of Alberta and conservation groups to find a way to preserve this ranch and this unspoiled landscape for the generations that will follow me.”

The four OH Ranch properties in Alberta run a combined total of 2,000 head of Angus and Angus cross cattle. The ranch and brand date back to Longview in 1881, when the ranch was founded by Lafaytte French and Orville Hawkins (O.H.) Smith.

Seaman has overseen a number of upgrades at the ranch, including reconstruction of the North West Mounted Police Station to replace the original destroyed by fire in 1962. The cookhouse, built by the Ings family (owners from 1883 to 1918), has also been restored to its original status.

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