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Land stewardship is very importance to us. The Northern Fescue Grasslands, which encompass much of TK Ranch, are recognized as an endangered ecosystem by the World Wildlife Fund and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society . There's only 4% of this ecosystem left in the world and it's not protected. Every year more of it vanishes under the plough, especially with the price of grain soaring. This land is semi-arid which means that its carrying capacity, how many cattle can be sustainably grazed, is limited. You need 45 acres for one cow/calf unit, or more if it doesn't rain. This means a landowner can make more money breaking the prairie and farming it to grow grain than using it for grazing livestock. This sad reality means that critical wildlife habitat, that evolved over millennia, continues to be lost. There's no regenerating intact ecosystems, once there gone there's no going back.
There are several species at risk that live on TK Ranch. These include Burrowing Owls, Upland Plovers, Short Eared Owls, Chestnut Collared Longspurs, Nighthawks, Loggerhead Shrikes, Sprague's Pipits, Long-Billed Curlew's, Sharp-tailed Grouse and Ferruginous Hawks to mention a few. In 2010, when we received the National Prairie Conservation Award, we learned how serious habitat loss has become on the prairies. We knew it was a significant issue, but not how quickly wild prairie across the western provinces was disappearing under the plough. Today wild prairie is more endangered than the rainforest and this sobering fact makes us even more determined to protect it and the many species that call TK Ranch home.
An exciting find! In 2007 we found a Burrowing Owl nesting site about 2 kilometers from our home. Burrowing Owls, like the one pictured below, are elusive and usually only seen at dusk or during the night. We immediately contacted Operation Grasslands Community and they subsequently sent one of their biologists out who was very skeptical about our finding. When we walked into the pasture where the owls were nesting a male immediately flew up and around us. Needless to say the biologist was delighted. Finding these owls was very exciting for all concerned as they're almost completely gone this far north. Burrowing Owls move their nests every year and particularly like old badger dens and fox holes. On TK Ranch we don't control predators such as badgers, foxes or coyotes. They're a part of this landscape and play an important role in balancing the ecosystem. One example of their importance happened a few years ago. We were in the middle of a terrible drought and the land west of our home was overrun with Richardson’s Ground Squirrels (gophers). Many farmers and ranchers choose to bait (poison) gophers to control them and prevent the damage they can do the land. We left the gophers alone (as we don’t believe in using poison under any circumstances) and soon we had foxes, Great Horned Owls, Ferruginous Hawks, Red Tailed Hawks and Badgers move in. Within a few weeks there were very few gophers left and balance had been restored. By not using poisons and patiently letting the gophers naturally interact with their predators, the way they have throughout history, we created habitat for Burrowing Owls. This is a valuable lesson for others to learn.
Within the Special Areas of Alberta, where TK
Ranch is located, rainfall is scarce. Our annual average precipitation is about 11 inches, but many years it's a lot less. This means that during a dry year there's very little run-off in the spring and
almost no standing water anywhere. Since pioneer times settlers have been capturing spring run-off in dugouts or man-made dams. Non-profit groups, such as Ducks Unlimited, have recognized the importance of these man-made
waterways because without them there would be little nesting habitat for water birds or water available for wildlife. For decades Ducks Unlimited has worked closely with landowners to maintain and build
new dams to create critical wildlife habitat, including on TK Ranch. We have four large Ducks Unlimited dams that provide riparian habitat for many species from toads, salamanders and frogs to countless
ducks, geese, pelicans and other birds. Beavers and muskrats also frequent these large wetland areas. We manage these riparian habitats carefully to ensure they're not degraded by cattle. Part of our
commitment included signing 30 year Prairie Care Agreements to ensure upland habitat near these dams was protected from haying or grazing so that young birds would have adequate nesting time to fledge.
The plaque below stands north of our home near a large dam created in 1973. It was placed there to thank Harold Siebens who contributed the money to build what we call Siebens Lake and to TK Biggs for
donating the land.