Land Stewardship on TK Ranch

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl
(Courtesy of whozoo.org)

Land stewardship is of primary importance to us on TK Ranch. The wild prairie that encompasses the Northern Fescue Grasslands and 8300 acres of TK Ranch, is recognized as an endangered ecosystem by the World Wildlife Fund and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. There are several endangered and threatened species that live on TK Ranch. These include Burrowing Owls, Loggerhead Shrikes, Ferruginous Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and Sharp Tail Grouse to mention a few. Burrowing Owls, like the one seen at right, are elusive animals and are usually only seen at dusk or during the night. In 2010 when we received the National Prairie Conservation Award we learned how serious habitat loss has become on the prairies. We had an idea that the issue was significant, but not how quickly the wild prairie was disappearing under the plough. We also discovered that TK Ranch has many of the species at risk for the prairies ecozone living on our land. This fact was very sobering and made us even more determined to protect this landscape and the many species that call TK Ranch home.

Siebens Lake PlaqueIn 2007 we found a Burrowing Owl nesting site about 2 kilometers from our home. 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 are 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 do not control predators such as badgers, foxes or coyotes. They are a part of this landscape and play an important role in balancing the ecosystem. A few years ago we were in the middle of a terrible drought and the land west of our home was over run 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. Today we have very few gophers left there and balance has been restored. By not using poisons and patiently letting the gophers naturally interact with their predators — the way they have for millennia — we created habitat for Burrowing Owls. There is a lesson here to learn for our society?

Blue Winged Teal on TK Ranch
Blue Winged Teal nesting pair on TK Ranch

Within the Special Areas of Alberta, where TK Ranch is located, rainfall is scarce. From 1995 until 2005 we were in a severe drought — some years we received less than 3 inches / 7.5 cms of rain during the growing season. This means that during a dry year there is 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 as without them there would be little nesting habitat for water birds or water available for wildlife. Ducks Unlimited has continued to build dams to create habitat and TK Ranch has worked with them for many, many years. The plaque at left stands north of our home near a large dam created in 1973. It was placed there to thank the fellow (Harold Siebens) who contributed the money to build what we call Siebens Dam and to TK Biggs for donating the land. There are four large dams located across TK Ranch where many species of waterfowl either nest during the warmer months or rest on their journeys north and south during the spring and fall migrations.

We have also signed 30 year Prairie Care Agreements with Ducks Unlimited to ensure upland habitat near the dams is protected from haying or grazing so that young birds have adequate nesting time to fledge.

Blue Winged Teal on TK Ranch
Sunset on TK Ranch, a family of ducks enjoys an evening swim
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