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Alberta ranch along Castle River protects habitat for at-risk species

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) announced recently the conservation of Riverside Ranch, a 1,600-hectare (3,950-acre) ranch along the Castle River in the foothills of southwest Alberta.
Riverside Ranch is between the towns of Lundbreck and Beaver Mines and has been in the Zoratti family for over a century.
“Every generation in my family had a hand in expanding and improving Riverside Ranch,” said Berny Zoratti, land owner and grandson of ranch founder Peter Zoratti. “I saw the need to protect our heritage and preserve the ranch that our past generations developed¬†and that our future generations will inherit. Partnering with NCC will do that: preserve our ranch, the natural landscape and our grasslands.”
The Zoratti family and NCC have entered into a conservation agreement, which restricts recreational development on the property and will ensure the land is kept intact for the long term.
The agreement allows the family to continue operating their cattle ranch while maintaining the landscape and the Castle River in a natural, healthy and un-fragmented state.
Riverside Ranch was established in 1914 after Peter Zoratti immigrated to Canada from Coderno, Italy, and bought a property near Beaver Mines.
Since that time, the Zorattis have cared for the land, and each generation has helped expand and improve the ranch.
“We realize we are very fortunate to be able to make a living on the ranch, but we also go out on the ranch to camp, hike, fish, and create beautiful memories,” said Mark Zoratti, land owner and great grandson of Peter Zoratti. “As kids, including mine at present, we enjoy the land for all it offers which I believe carries over to being adults.”
“As adults we recognize the tremendous value in land conservation for all future generations to come, not only for the sustainability of the ranch but also so they may get a chance to experience the ranch lands as they have always been.”
It is the family’s wishes to see the ranch conserved, not just to protect the natural landscape, but also to honour the dedication of generations past and to preserve their ranching heritage.
The Castle River provides habitat for several provincially significant populations of species at risk, including westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout.
Both of these species are designated as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
The river also supports forests of poplar and white spruce trees, which are habitat for a high diversity of breeding birds like ruffled and sharp-tailed grouse and wild turkey.
The forests on this property contain limber pine, which is designated as endangered.
Limber pine is a five-needled pine that can live up to 1,000 years, and its seeds provide important food for bears, small mammals and birds. Some of these trees on Riverside Ranch are more than 500 years old.
The property is home to grizzly bear which are listed as a special concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Other species on it include cougar, wolf, elk and deer and other grazing mammals.
Native habitat in the foothills retains water from rainfall and snowmelt, which helps mitigate flooding, both locally and further downstream. The foothills along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains make up an important part of the headwaters of the South Saskatchewan River.