Thursday, 19 July 2012 08:19

Agreement ensures historic ranch will remain undeveloped

Written by  Susan Quinlan
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Steven Maunsell looks out across land now conserved on the Alberta Ranch. Steven Maunsell looks out across land now conserved on the Alberta Ranch. Photo by Susan Quinlan

Paradise it is and paradise it shall remain out at Alberta Ranch southwest of Pincher Creek, where Steven and Cheryl Maunsell recently signed an agreement with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), ensuring their ranch, located in the Castle Crown natural area, will remain undeveloped in perpetuity.

“We can still operate it as a ranch and that’s not going to be changing. To do anything else, it wouldn’t work out that way,” said Steven Maunsell.
“Right now, I’m sitting at the kitchen table looking up the valley. There are mountains in the background, beautiful green hills and trees. Hummingbirds are coming around … I saw a blue heron half an hour ago. The creek runs through and all the wildlife come to the creek ... Saw a grizzly bear wandering through yesterday; he watched me and I watched him, then he just wandered off ...”
With developers and individuals continually coming around offering to buy off pieces of the ranch, the Maunsells felt it was time to make sure the land remained in its current state forever, so generations to come could enjoy it.
“There’s the view and the landscape, but it’s the ecosystem the land supports that makes the place what it is. The one thing wildlife doesn’t want is people. They either push back or leave. I see the bears and if anything, they head the other direction.
They just want to be left alone. More people encroach into the area and that’s where you get problems.
“It’s a unique place and once you start cutting pieces off, it’s not the place it was. The wildlife, the ecosystem … it’s all very unique.”
Maunsell said he and Cheryl also wanted to set things up “estate wise,” so ownership of the property could pass to their children, Mark and Alix, without a cost. The land’s value has risen to the extent where one couldn’t afford to buy the other out.
Back in 1995, when the Maunsells bought the historic Alberta Ranch, they’d been ranching east of Calgary.
“We could see development in Strathmore had already started. The area here, that’s now protected, was prime for development ... They all want to have their acre in paradise.”
Maunsell explained the entire area along the Waterton Park front was at one time held by successive generations of ranchers and seldom came up on the block.
“Then BSE came along and grain prices were poor, and that was the start of the pressure. You couldn’t pay your mortgage and afford to feed your cattle … cattle prices and grain prices were down. Government didn’t support the agricultural sector and by not supporting it, some ranchers were starving and had to sell out to developers. That’s where it all started.”
Meanwhile, said Maunsell, existing ranchers couldn’t purchase the additional land required to further develop their herds, as land prices rose astronomically.
“Acreage people and developers are there to live and profitize from it. With ranching, you need the base of land to raise the cattle.”
Ranchers “get a feel for the land,” said Maunsell, maintaining the ecology for its own sake, while ensuring enough land is preserved to raise cattle and pass on to subsequent generations.
“We intend to stay here as long as we can … We’re still doing exactly what we’ve always done, just on a smaller scale,” reducing the size of their herd from 525 to 30 head.
The Alberta Ranch is a little more than 1,800 acres, 1,300 of which are now protected by the conservation easement with NCC.
The timing was right to get this thing done, said Maunsell.
“I did not want to sell off parcels; every year people ask. Once I sell off pieces, it’s not gonna be the place it is now. We could have profitized a lot without doing the easement; you got a bank account, but it doesn’t really mean much.”
Having raised their family at the ranch, the Maunsells are confident their children will return, but for now, they’re pursuing their own careers.
In announcing the signing of the conservation easement, NCC noted Alberta Ranch represented an ecologically-significant area.
Home to important at-risk plant and animal species, the ranch is also prime habitat for grizzly and black bears, cougars and eagles, noted NCC.
In addition, the ranch has both riparian and wetland areas, with native grasslands and mature forest supporting herds of overwintering elk and deer.
The ecological value of the land is clear, but Alberta Ranch as well has historic value, noted NCC, having been named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria, who married Governor General Sir John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, Marquess of Lorne.
In 1882, the ranch was established by the Marquess and a business conglomerate, to provide supplies to the booming coal mining industry at Crowsnest Pass.
Maunsell noted there’s historic value as well in the sod house built on the property in 1882, which they’ve preserved.
“I built our house around the old cabin. For two winters, we stayed in that old cabin at calving time. Geez, there’s some atmosphere here … I started checking the walls and realized the cabin was in good shape. Figured out how to make it part of the new build; came together really well.”
Turns out the Maunsells have a familial link as well to the property, as the first Alberta Ranch Manager, Richard Duthie, was related to Steven by marriage.
Bottom line, the Maunsells said they know they’ve done the right thing at the right time.
“It’s comforting to know that the historical ranch, the Alberta Ranch, will be preserved. The natural beauty and the ecosystem the place offers is a treasure that would be lost to future generations.”
In the news release announcing the signing of the agreement, NCC noted the generosity of the Maunsells, who donated a portion of the conservation easement worth $1 million.
Bob Demulder, NCC vice-president, Alberta Region, as well said, “Conserving Alberta Ranch is another step to ensure that some of the best native habitat in the area is conserved for the benefit of biodiversity and future generations. Not only is this property ecologically-significant, its historical value is important to both the province and its people.”
NCC is the nation’s leading private land conservation organization. To learn more about this organization, go to

Read 5881 times Last modified on Thursday, 19 July 2012 08:23

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