Gifting Heritage

[Note: The following was first published in the October 2015 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]

Copyright © 2015 Don H. Meredith, All Rights Reserved.

We’ve all heard the old saw about real estate being a good investment because “they aren’t making it anymore.” In general, if you own a piece of land for the long term, chances are good it will increase in value over the years. So, to donate a piece of land to a cause without realizing the money you put into it, let alone its increase in value, is indeed a charitable act. That was what happened recently with a couple of pieces of property in Parkland County west of Edmonton. Both were donated to the Alberta Fish and Game Association’s Wildlife Trust Fund (WTF).

Beaver Creek

Beaver Creek is an important source of water and wildlife habitat for Wabamun Lake.

If you are not familiar with the Wildlife Trust Fund, you should be. It is an AFGA conservation program that has protected well over 14,500 hectares (36,000 acres) of quality fish and wildlife habitat across the province. The WTF was created in 1983 when many AFGA members and others were becoming concerned with the amount of critical fish and wildlife habitat being eliminated as Alberta’s economic boom and population growth gobbled up wildland. The AFGA figured one way to fight back was to buy private land on which critical habitat resided before it was sold to development, and preserve the land in perpetuity for future generations. The WTF was the first such land trust in the province and it began to fund raise and create relationships to help buy the land. Land is not cheap these days and if you want to protect key pieces of habitat, you need help marshalling the funds necessary to meet the market price. Today, the trust fund cooperates with such organizations as the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) to form partnerships, pool funds and purchase these properties.

Not all properties have to be purchased; generous citizens and businesses donate land because they realize the need to preserve these dwindling habitats. The following two sites are good examples.

Beaver Creek Conservation Site
Unlike many other lakes in Alberta, Wabamun Lake does not have a very large watershed from which to collect water, the watershed area being less than four times the area of the lake. Thus, Wabamun is very dependent on precipitation to supply its water needs. Much of that precipitation is delivered to the lake by the few short creeks that drain into it. These creeks are very important to the ecosystem of the lake not just because they provide the lake with water but also because they provide valuable spawning habitat for fish, such as northern pike. As well, the creeks and the wetlands they drain provide valuable nesting habitat for many species of waterfowl and other birds. One of those creeks is Beaver Creek along the southwest shore of the lake.

Beaver Creek Conservation Site

The Beaver Creek Conservation Site is open to the public, foot traffic only.

Like many creeks that drain into Wabamun Lake, Beaver Creek’s drainage has been affected by the strip mine in its headwaters. The Highvale Mine supplies coal to TransAlta’s Sundance Power Plant on the south shore of the lake. TransAlta has mitigated the damage by re-routing the water and implementing a reclamation plan that will bring back much of what has been lost. As part of that plan, TransAlta donated a 26-hectare parcel of land along the lakeshore and bordering Beaver Creek to the AFGA Wildlife Trust Fund. The site was dedicated on July 24th with a reception at the site where Brad Fenson, AFGA Habitat Coordinator, described how TransAlta and the WTF have established a long-term partnership to reclaim wetlands and natural areas for wildlife habitat around the lake.

The Beaver Creek Conservation Site is mostly undisturbed except for a portion where a mine settling pond has been reclaimed. The latter is now a wetland that is providing habitat for many species of wildlife. The rest of the site is a combination of aspen forest, grass meadow, wetlands, and birch and willow shrub-land along the cattail-lined shoreline.

As with all Wildlife Trust Fund sites, Beaver Creek is open to the public for outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing (foot access only). It is a beautiful site perfect for family outings or just a place to go to quietly view wildlife.

Letourneau Conservation Site
I first met Bernie Letourneau at an Alberta Fish and Game conference back in the early 2000s, shortly after I retired from Alberta Fish and Wildlife. He convinced me I should become a member of the Stony Plain Fish and Game Association. Bernie is a long-time member of the Stony Plain club, where he has served in various positions on the executive, including president. As active club members know, he is passionate about the outdoors and the conservation of fish and wildlife. In the early 1970s he and his family purchased and moved to a parcel of land that bordered the shore of Longhurst Lake south of Stony Plain. The property was mostly forested, and except for landscaping around their house, the family left it undisturbed. Bernie says the forest of white and black spruce and tamarack is at least 100 years old and it has been the target of many people who want to develop it.

Bernie Letourneau

Bernie Letourneau describing his concerns for Alberta’s wildlife and why he donated the land.

Bernie is very much concerned with how much wildlife heritage we have lost over the years. He felt the least he could do is ensure that this piece of nature that he and his family have enjoyed will be preserved for generations to come. He donated the 32-hectare (80-acre) parcel that includes the old-growth forest to the WTF. The Letourneau Conservation Site was dedicated on August 12th with a gathering at the Letourneau home that included people from the AFGA and the Alberta Conservation Association. In his presentation, Brad Fenson related how Bernie’s donation is the largest such land donation to the WTF ever made by a single individual. That is indeed remarkable, given the value of land these days. Bernie stated the value of the land for wildlife was more important to him and his family than any monetary gain.

The Letourneau site is habitat for many species of wildlife.

The Letourneau site is easily accessed to view wildlife.

The property is habitat for many species of wildlife, including moose, deer, waterfowl and songbirds. It is an important corridor for animals travelling to and from Longhurst Lake and is an important part of that lake’s watershed.

Both of these properties will not be developed to facilitate human use. Wildlife Trust Fund properties are all about the habitat. The public is encouraged to use them but there are no maintained trails or interpretive facilities—just signs explaining what the property is and usage rules, including foot access only.

It is one thing to purchase a piece of property but another to maintain it. Even though WTF properties are largely left for nature to maintain, issues do arise mostly concerning people abusing their use privileges. Damage needs to be repaired and sometimes mitigation steps taken to encourage habitat rehabilitation. As well, the properties provide excellent opportunities to study natural communities and document changes over time.

The WTF is always looking for people to become stewards of their properties. Many local fish and game club members step up for the properties in their areas, but “many hands make light work” and sometimes parcels are neglected for lack of volunteers. If you are interested in becoming a steward, contact the AFGA. A complete list of all WTF properties is available at www.afga.org.

Comments are always welcome (below).

www.donmeredith.ca

Interested in reading an award-winning outdoor adventure novel? Check out The Search for Grizzly One and Dog Runner.

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About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I write a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine.
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