Palliser’s Country (AB & SK)
|Pinhorn Grazing Reserve||76,800||31,093|
|Sage Creek Community Pasture||76,800||31,093|
|Onefour Agricultural Research Station||35,200||14,251|
|Cypress Hills Provincial Park (AB)||51,200||20,729|
|Writing-On-Stone Prov. Park||6,400||2,591|
|Kennedy Coulee Ecological Reserve||2,560||1,036|
|Sage Creek & Milk River Natural Areas||12,800||5,182|
|Govenlock Community Pasture||68,420||27,700|
|Cypress Hills Provincial Park (SK)||45,473||18,410|
|Nashlyn Community Pasture||62,740||25,400|
|Battle Creek Community Pasture||71,120||29,200|
|Other federal, provincial and state||114,520||45,614|
Between the Cypress Hills and the American border lies a vast sweep of grassland. Local conservationists have suggested that through increased cooperation, this area could be managed to better conserve the wildlife while also improving the viability of local ranches. The intention is to strengthen both the cultural and natural heritage by promoting the area as a “heritage region”.
The Heritage Canada Foundation defines a heritage region as an area that links education, conservation and entrepreneurship using cultural and natural resources. More specifically in this area, the intention is to facilitate the conservation of the native grasslands of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan by supporting the positive efforts of landowners and by encouraging managed recreation in the region.
Click here to learn more about Palliser’s Country Grassland Heritage Region.
This area was ranked as having high biodiversity importance by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, WWF-Canada, and several other organizations. The NCC ranks this as having a medium threat urgency due to agricultural conversion, poor grazing management, and ground squirrel control. This site contains two of the 13 total Ecological Complex Representations: Wetland-alkali/saline and Riparian-shrub.
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park forms the core of this wild landscape. Comprised of a provincial park in each province, this site has been cooperatively managed for many years to ensure the postive future of this important ecosystem. Surrounding the park is a wide band of public land leased for grazing, but managed so as to ensure a healthy grassland.
In the western part of the area, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is working with Peter and Sharon Butala to restore their 13,000-acre ranch, known as Old Man On His Back. The vegetation on this site was in excellent condition, but now bison are being reintroduced, too.
Planning status: Alberta Environment; municipal Environmentally Significant Areas; Transboundary Working Group; NCC Sage Creek/Southwest Pastures Complex.
Spectacular river valley with the Sweetgrass Hills (extinct volcanoes) visible in the background. Extensive roadless areas with no oil or gas development.
Most northerly yucca; excellent native vegetation with few introduced species.
Excellent habitat for pronghorn and raptors; sage grouse are present but declining; elk are abundant in the Cypress Hills, with a few in the Milk River valley; swift foxes have been restored to the area and are increasing in numbers.
Species of biological concern include Sprague’s pipit, interior tern, sage grouse and swift fox. Ferruginous hawk, Baird’s sparrow and chestnut-collared longspur are focal species. The site does not fall within the historic range of black-tailed prairie dogs.
Note to visitors
All vehicle travel should be confined to designated roads. Anyone intending to hike or ride horses in the Alberta portion should contact Alberta Public Lands (403 529-3677), preferably a week before your intended visit. These experienced staff can direct you to the most appropriate location for your activity. In Saskatchewan, the extensive community pastures present a dramatic example of glaciated plains. At this time, they are open during the hunting season when cattle are not there.
South from Medicine Hat on Hwy 41 or 887, east from Lethbridge on Hwy 61 and 501, south from Maple Creek on Hwy 21 and 271, west from Consul on Hwy 13. Paved roads lead to the parks, while little-travelled gravel roads give access to the community pastures. Anyone venturing with their vehicle to the south side of the Milk River is encouraged to carry a jerry can of gasoline.
Most of the region can be hiked, but formal trails are not present. Check with the managing authority before venturing out.
Cypress Hills has some trails, generally through forest. Dirt tracks through the pastures can be good cycling for short trips, but off-trail cycling is limited by the common prickly pear cactus.
Excellent territory for horseback riding, but the only rental stable is south of Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park.
A popular route is from the town of Milk River to Writing-On-Stone, which has frequent small rapids in the spring. Guide books available. Below the park, tubing is a pleasant activity in the hot weather. (Tube and canoe rentals available in Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park.) The Pinhorn Grazing Reserve Headquarters is the last take-out point before the international border. The four small lakes in Cypress Hills give beginners a chance to practice their skills on flat water.
Grassland songbirds throughout the area, often visible from the roads. Also sage grouse and rattlesnakes.
Formal campgrounds in Cypress Hills and Writing-On-Stone make excellent bases from which to explore during the day.
Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park displays extensive carved stone petroglyphs. Tepee rings can be seen throughout the region, and an extensive archaeological site is being excavated this summer (2003) in the Cypress Hills. The Nekaneet Cree Nation is located southeast of Maple Creek. Each fall, these people host a pow-wow that is open to the public.
Over a hundred years ago, the North West Mounted Police crossed these prairies on their way to Fort Whoop-Up. They established a presence at Fort Walsh, where a reconstructed fort and interpretive centre can be found now. Sitting Bull and his people spent several years in this region, mainly around Fort Walsh.
Etzikom has an excellent museum with a special windmill collection. A few abandoned ranch sites hint at the early history of the region. Maple Creek also has two museums.
The visitor will find this area is focussed on ranching, where the culture can be as modern as embryo transplants, or as traditional as branding parties. Although few cattle may be seen, the land is being grazed, so contact landowners before venturing out. Since few businesses will be found, experienced recreationists bring their own gasoline, food and water.
Oil and gas development is limited to the Manyberries area.
Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Public Lands, Medicine Hat, AB (403 529-3677).
Other supportive organizations
Federal research centre at Onefour, AB; several area ranchers; numerous biological research projects.
Several environmental organizations have recognized the value of this great site. Good communication will be needed to avoid overlap. A conservation management plan for part of the region is now being drafted.
A recreation plan for the region would help identify appropriate ways to access some of the spectacular sites, especially the Milk River Canyon.