Banff National Park
Ya Ha Tinda Ranch OECM Recognition
The engagement process has now concluded. Thank you for all who provided feedback and questions.
A ‘What We Heard’ summary of the recent engagement, along with any next steps, will be made available in the coming months.
Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measure (OECM) recognition acknowledges areas that contribute towards biodiversity and that are managed in ways to conserve that biodiversity. When a site is recognized as an OECM, it means it can be reported internationally as a conservation area.
Application Process Overview
To determine if a site can be reported as an OECM specific criteria must be met. The application process involves evaluation of nine screening criteria which are found in the Pathway to Canada Target 1 Decision Support Tool (DST). The tool is available for viewing and download on the Pathway to Canada Target 1 website. Below are the main stages required for OECM reporting followed by a summary of the successful evaluation completed for Ya Ha Tinda Ranch (YHT).
YHT is a working horse ranch in the Province of Alberta with a total area of 3945 hectares. The primary purpose of the ranch is raising, training, and wintering horses used in Parks Canada operations. Since 1958 the land has been a freehold land designation meaning it is federal Crown property held in fee simple in the Province of Alberta under the jurisdiction of the Parks Canada Agency. In simple terms, YHT is property that the Government of Canada owns and administers.
Prior to 1958 the ranch was added and removed multiple times from Rocky Mountains Park before finally being removed in 1930. Today, YHT continues to fulfill its primary mandate while also protecting the associated environmental and cultural resource values and permitting compatible recreational land use.
Criterion #1 - Geographical Space
The area is defined to facilitate in-situ conservation of biodiversity.
The geographical space has clearly defined and agreed-upon borders available through the land title boundary spatial dataset from the Province of Alberta. The final OECM boundary that will be submitted to the Canadian Protected and Conserved Areas Database (CPCAD) excludes the high use ranch yard area and adjacent pastures with eight-foot page wire fencing, approximately 2% of the property.
Criterion #2 and #3 - Effective Means
The area is managed in a way that leads to the in-situ conservation of biodiversity. This requires a way of managing what occurs on the site.
There is both federal, and provincial, legislation and policy that provide the mechanisms to ensure that activities incompatible with the conservation of biodiversity do not occur and that compatible activities are effectively managed. The existing federal and provincial legislation compel Parks Canada, as the land manager, to prohibit the damage and destruction to flora and fauna, and pollution of watercourses. National Park Policy is not directly applicable since the ranch is not a national park, however, the spirit of the policy will be considered and followed to the extent permitted by the primary purpose of raising and training horses. Applicable federal legislation to highlight includes the Impact Assessment Act, Species at Risk Act, and the Migratory Birds Convention Act. The Alberta Wildlife Act, Wildlife Regulations, and Fisheries Regulations provide protection and conservation of wild animals and fish at YHT.
Government of Canada owns and administers the surface rights on the property and the Province of Alberta retains the subsurface rights. Although subsurface rights are not owned by the federal Crown, existing legislative, regulatory and policy mechanisms allow for the effective protection, control and management of any potential exploration or development proposals. All Mines and Minerals are owned by the provincial Crown; none are held privately. No subsurface resource extraction has occurred in over 100 years operating as a working ranch. Under the provincial Coal Development Policy, the property falls within Category 1 lands which prohibit coal exploration or development activities. The majority of surrounding provincial lands are zoned as Prime Protection Zone (Zone 1) and the regional objectives for this zone does not include subsurface resource extraction objectives.
Criterion #4 and #5 - Long-term and Year-round
The area and its biodiversity are conserved long-term and year-round.
YHT has been owned and managed by the Government of Canada for over 100 years. There is no intention of disposing of the lands. Legal ownership and management of the land is year-round and the mechanisms for conservation are in effect for the long term and not easily reversed.
Criterion #6 and #7 - Scope and Primacy of Objectives
The area’s objectives, when taken together, are sufficient to result in the in-situ conservation of biodiversity.
The primary purpose of YHT is to provide working horses to support Parks Canada operations while also protecting the environmental and cultural resources found on the property and permitting compatible land use. The YHT Guiding Plan explains in detail how this is currently achieved through specific goals, objectives, and targets. The objectives included in the plan have sufficient scope to result in the conservation of biodiversity and do not conflict with this overarching goal. The main priorities covered by the Guiding Plan include protection of native vegetation, fish, wildlife, water quality, and cultural resources. As well, objectives are set for adaptive management of recreational activities that will continue to occur at YHT.
Criterion #8 - Governing Authorities
Relevant governing authorities do not jeopardize the in-situ conservation of biodiversity.
While not all governing authorities are bound by the conservation objectives included in the YHT Guiding Plan the area is being managed in a manner that is strongly likely to continue achieving conservation of biodiversity. The Government of Canada has full jurisdiction over YHT as provided by title to the surface rights on the land. Federal jurisdiction extends to all forms of land use including range use, agricultural, timber, as well as beds and shores. Provincial jurisdiction includes all subsurface rights as well as jurisdiction over wildlife and fisheries on the property.
All federal and provincial laws apply, however where there is overlapping legislation for the same activity, federal law takes precedence. The Province of Alberta manages hunting harvest quotas for specific species through a licence draw system. The Parks Canada Agency, as the land title holder, has the authority to prohibit hunting on the property if it so chooses. The property falls within the Red Deer and North Saskatchewan rivers (ES2) Eastern Slopes watershed unit with specific provincial regulations regarding catch limits. While the exercise of subsurface rights owned by the province (as the other governing authority) aren’t explicitly bound by the site objectives, the zoning of existing provincial policies that restrict the exercise of the subsurface rights do essentially reflect the objectives and management of the area. Furthermore, there has been no record of industrial development at the site throughout the last 100 years. In addition, the site is being managed toward achievement on the surface and based on the 100 years’ record of no industrial development.
Criterion #9 - Biodiversity Conservation Outcomes
Biodiversity is conserved in-situ.
The area is being managed in a way that achieves conservation of biodiversity. Multiple pieces of federal and provincial legislation provide mechanisms to support delivery of biodiversity conservation. The YHT Guiding Plan includes specific targets for tracking progress and ensuring any issues of concern are addressed. For instance, appropriate rangeland management for the benefit of both horses and wildlife.
The ranch includes a unique montane-grassland ecosystem, approximately one third of the property is grassland and two thirds is forest and shrubland. The unique local climate conditions support snow free areas with good herbaceous forage resulting in critical elk and bighorn sheep wintering habitats at YHT. In the province of Alberta, the ranch is considered one of the two most important elk winter ranges. The property supports a long-term elk monitoring project that investigates predator-prey relationships between elk, wolves, and grizzly bears in the montane grassland ecosystems.
Species recorded on the property that are of conservation concern for Canada and/or the Province of Alberta include: grizzly bear, wolverine, little brown myotis, barn swallow, bank swallow, olive-sided flycatcher, evening grosbeak, bull trout, and cutthroat trout. The property falls within the Province of Alberta Sensitive Habitat Areas for Clearwater Grizzly Bear Zone and Mountain Goat and Sheep Areas, and Endangered and Threatened Plants Range for limber pine. Additionally, white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, wolf, coyote, black bear, cougar, lynx, bobcat, red fox, beaver, fisher, mink, pine marten, red squirrel, snowshoe hare, brook trout, rainbow trout, mountain whitefish, and over 100 bird species have been observed on the property.
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