Worries on the Milk River ridge

By Mabell, Dave on September 19, 2013.

Dave Mabell


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Today, it’s home to antelope, elk, deer and waterfowl. Rancher Audrey Taylor says 700 head of cattle are grazing on the Milk River Ridge property as well.

But soon it could be carved up by oil exploration crews, she fears, destroying some of southern Alberta’s best fescue grasslands and ruining the wildlife habitat.

And the provincial government is doing nothing about it, Taylor says, despite alarms raised by ecologists and the Southern Alberta Environmental Group.

“We think it’s worth protecting,” but Taylor says provincial officials refuse to add the endangered land to the adjacent Twin River Heritage Rangeland, under provisions of the province’s protected areas legislation.

While they said oil exploration can continue, Taylor was told no further rangeland can be preserved until the South Saskatchewan River basin plan is completed and approved. That could be many months from now.

Taylor says her local MLA, Gary Bikman, got the same response when he raised her concerns with a Conservative cabinet member.

Her last hope, she says, is a delay while the new Alberta Energy Regulator decides whether it will grant a request to hold public hearings before allowing exploration. Otherwise, Taylor says her family’s land – on the ridge northwest of the town of Milk River – could soon be covered by drilling rigs as energy companies continue to probe the massive Bakken deposits.

“This wonderful prairie and wetland paradise is too fragile and precious to allow oil wells and roads to damage it,” she says.

For now, at least, Taylor says the rangeland is home to herds of elk, pronghorns and deer.

“They want to drill where the elk spend the whole winter,” she says. “And another spot, where they have their babies.”

For the first time in years, Taylor said, the ridge also became the summer home for a grizzly and her cubs.

Taylor and her husband – and now, four children – have been ranching in the area for years, she says.

“My mom and dad have been here 35 years,” and it’s a time-honoured Alberta lifestyle they hope to continue.

“We think it’s worth protecting.”

Grassland ecologist Cheryl Bradley, speaking for southern Alberta environmentalists, says the property has already been officially recognized as being “environmentally significant,” and it has “protective notations” citing its rare fescue grasslands.

If oil exploration proceeds, Bradley warns, the loss of grasslands will have “impacts on sensitive wildlife species, habitat fragmentation, and increased risk of spread of non-native plant species.”