Prairie Conservation

Recognizing Our Natural Heritage

At first glance, the prairies appear to be dull and lifeless. Look more closely and you will discover that Alberta's native prairie is a rich and diverse ecosystem. A large variety of different habitats exist in Alberta's Grasslands and Parkland natural regions, ranging from large flat expanses of prairie to arid sandhills to badlands to lush cattail-filled wetlands to coulees to dense river valley forests. Yucca, prairie grasses, sunflowers, pincushion cacti and cottonwood trees are just a tiny sample of the unique vegetation that is found in prairie habitats. Wildlife abounds. Look closely and you will see herds of pronghorn antelope, swift fox, extensive ground squirrel colonies, golden eagles, meadowlarks, sage grouse, and grasshoppers. Many other species make the prairies their home. The prairies are a dynamic landscape. Significant prairie ecosystem processes include: drought, fire, flooding and grazing.

The Challenge We Face

For much of the world, prairie grasslands are but a memory. Within the last 150 years, the North American prairie region has been radically altered by human activities such as agricultural conversions and intensification, urban expansion, resource extraction, development of energy resources including wind, coal and natural gas, all accompanied by the spread of introduced invasive species. Grasslands in North America have been reduced to only 20-30% of their former extent, making them one of the most imperiled ecosystems on earth.

Alberta is, however, fortunate when compared to most North American jurisdictions, both in terms of the quantity and quality of native prairie landscapes that remain. About 10 million acres (over 4 million hectares) of the 23 million acres (9.7 million hectares) comprising the Grassland Natural Region remain in a native state. Some 40 percent of the remaining native vegetation landbase is deeded, with the rest in Crown ownership. In the Special Areas, CFB Suffield and lands in south-eastern Alberta there are extensive, contiguous tracts of native prairie, much of it without serious weed problems. Since the experiences during the drought years of the 1980s a great deal of land in the Dry Mixed Grass sub-region is being managed by rancher stewards under conservative stocking rates to retain cover, litter and moisture.

top photo by Francois Blouin | RSS