Foothills ranchers recognized for land stewardship projects
By: John Barlow
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 27, 2013 02:08 pm
A group of Foothills area ranchers and farmers were honoured by a worldwide conservation group for their efforts to protect rangelands in southern Alberta.
The Society of Range Management (SRM) recently awarded the Pekisko Group the Outstanding Achievement Award in Land Stewardship at a ceremony of the SRM 66th annual meeting in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Mac Blades, president of the Pekisko Group, said it was an incredible honour for the SRM to recognize the efforts of the farmers and ranchers in the Foothills who have been working to preserve the natural biodiversity and watersheds in their area.
“It is really nice to get an award like this,” said Blades. “This gives us more credibility and it makes us see people recognize what we are doing.”
The Pekisko Group has been in existence for more than 12 years and is a group of about 30 ranching families based in the Foothills area.
The focus of the Pekisko Group has been land stewardship and they have reason to be concerned about the welfare of southern Alberta’s rangeland as many of the families involved in the group have been ranching the land for multiple generations and for more than 100 years.
“The grassland is a natural resource for Alberta and it is just as critical as oil and gas,” said Blades. “If we don’t have water we don’t have anything.”
Wally Butler, president of SRM, said the Pekisko Group was a worthy winner of the prestigious Outstanding Achievement Award in Land Stewardship. Several conservation groups in Canada nominated Pekisko Group for the award.
“This group has a history of land stewardship and research and they take care of their land,” said Butler, who is from Boise, Idaho. “They should be pretty darn proud. We are a world-wide organization and this is one of the top awards given out each year; it is a big deal.”
Butler, a previous winner of the land stewardship award himself, said the Pekisko Group stood out from other nominees because of the investment they have put into various projects and research and the practices they have done towards good range management.
The Pekisko Group has had a great deal of success in various projects from lobbying to have rough fescue named Alberta’s provincial grass to successfully having a Petro-Canada pipeline proposed for the Eastern Slopes be abandoned.
Blades said the group wants to continue to raise awareness about the importance of protecting rangeland and native grassland and lobbying energy companies to improve their conservation initiatives.
“We want to up the bar on the oil and gas industry to they will do a better job of protecting the rangeland,” said Blades. “We need to protect the watersheds on the Eastern Slopes because it really is one of the most fertile areas in our province.
“Especially with the water problems we are facing in areas like Okotoks, people need to realize we need to protect our watersheds.”
Blades said the next focus for the Pekisko Group will be to continue work on the Southern Foothills Study, which is the first of its kind in Alberta that looks at the cumulative effects of development and the compounding these have on the landscape.
In addition, Pekisko Group will work at establishing the value of ecological goods and services rangelands provide including setting clear measures for the values of water, air, biodiversity and aesthetics while at the same time understanding the cumulative effects of human activity, and setting thresholds within the capacity of the ecosystem.
Action for Agriculture is working on a similar project developing a monetary value for what it has termed Natural Capital, the measure of air, water and biodiversity. Action for Agriculture is working with ecologist Dr. Brad Stelfox, who is also the author of the Southern Foothills Study.
For more information on the Pekisko Group see www.pekisko.ca