Conservation agreement preserves Mattheis Ranch forever

UAlberta, Western Sky Land Trust sign $3.8M agreement to create research endowment for 12,000-acre ranch in southern Alberta.


(Edmonton) The University of Alberta and Western Sky Land Trust signed a conservation agreement that guarantees the U of A’s 12,000-acre Mattheis Ranch will be conserved forever.

In announcing the agreement, one of the biggest in the history of Alberta, Dean Stan Blade of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences said it provides $3.8 million in funding from Western Sky Land Trust to the university as compensation for future development.

“The funding will be placed in an endowment that will provide a sustainable and consistent source of revenue that will go entirely towards research on the ranch—towards answering important questions that seek to improve the socio-economic aspects of ranching, of cow-calf production, of land reclamation, of carbon sequestration and of grassland ecology, to name a few examples,” he said.

The funding from Western Sky Land Trust was made possible through Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development’s Land Trust Grant program.

The Mattheis Ranch, a sprawling expanse in southern Alberta, is composed mainly of native grasslands but also includes a river valley, streams, wetlands, vegetated sand dunes and shrubs. There are irrigated fields, irrigation ditches and water control structures. There are also several high-voltage transmission lines, 134 active well leases, compressor stations, pipelines and access roads.

More than 30 species that are at risk, threatened, endangered or of special concern have been identified on the ranch.


“It is a microcosm of a typical southern Alberta landscape and ecosystem, which makes it an ideal facility to house the U of A’s Rangeland Research Institute,” said Blade.

The institute was created in 2010 after Edwin and Ruth Mattheis donated the ranch to the university. Since then, more than 30 research projects have taken place on the ranch, according to Edward Bork, Mattheis Chair in Rangeland Ecology and Management and the director of the Rangeland Research Institute.

He said ongoing research at the Mattheis Ranch is addressing a wide variety of topics.

“They include basic biology and ecology, and important land uses such as grazing management, cattle production efficiency, and land reclamation following disturbance from oil and gas extraction,” Bork said. “More recently, a number of studies have been initiated quantifying the benefits of native grasslands in providing environmental goods and services to all society—services like wildlife habitat, pollination of crops, water purification and carbon storage, among others.”

The ranch will also continue to be used to educate the next generation of ranchers, ecologists and land managers, Bork said. To date, more than 25 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows have conducted work on the ranch and 50 undergraduate students have helped collect data.