Home on the rangeland

    An AltaLink gift supports University of Alberta research to protect special ecosystems

    By Mifi Purvis on October 6, 2016

    Alberta’s rangeland rolls out from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and makes up 43 per cent of the province’s agricultural base. The varied grassy ecosystems that form the rangeland help keep Albertans fed. It is forage for livestock, a rich habitat for wild animals and a natural “carbon sink” that cleans the air and water. But you don’t need to tell John Buckley that.

    Buckley is a third-generation rancher, a partner in the Quarter Circle X Ranch and a University of Alberta graduate (’82 ALES). He’s also a keen steward of the rangeland, which he says is under threat. “Cows, crops, wildlife, country residential development, urban sprawl, recreation and people demand their time and space,” Buckley says. Other threats, he says, include industry, invasive species and climate change. To find out what’s impacting the rangeland and how, Buckley works with students from the University of Alberta, advocating for more research, which in turn leads to better land management.

    That’s where AltaLink has stepped forward. The company is Alberta’s largest regulated electricity transmission company, working with landowners across Alberta to power homes, farms, businesses and industries. AltaLink has donated $655,000 to the University of Alberta’s Rangeland Research Institute (RRI) to support the creation of the AltaLink Master’s Scholarship in Rangeland Disturbance Ecology, which will advance research that will protect Alberta’s rangelands.

    “Alberta’s rangelands are vital to our communities and our economy, and this research will give us the evidence we need to make important decisions about how to sustain them,” said Stan Blade, the dean of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences.

    “Funding from this gift supports research; it helps rangeland users better manage their activities,” said Edward Bork, director of the RRI. “We work with ranchers across Alberta so that all Canadians benefit from our rangelands.”

    Future projects may include studies into how grasslands function when they’re disturbed, and the testing and development of ways to help them recover. 

    “AltaLink’s transmission network provides power to more than three million Albertans, and the 6,000 landowners, including more than 150 ranchers, across the province that host our facilities play an important role in helping us keep the lights on,” said Dennis Frehlich, AltaLink’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “We are making this investment to enable new research that will support Alberta’s ranching community.”

    Through the Rangeland Research Institute, 17 graduate students currently conduct their research on the 12,000-acre Mattheis Research Ranch near Duchess in southern Alberta, and another 10 at the 12,000-acre Kinsella Ranch on the Aspen Parkland southeast of Edmonton. These two locations provide more than 1,100 days of field work on a variety of research including identifying optimal grazing systems, new reclamation techniques following industrial activities, the development of superior drought adaptation strategies, and even promoting alternate business models to help diversify ranching incomes.

    “Investment in studying rangelands will help ranchers like me manage them,” says Buckley. “We can take what we already know, and combine it with science, to make sure we are good stewards of this land, and that we work with all our partners to keep it usable for our children.”