Alberta’s rangelands have evolved over thousands of years adapting to the soils, climate and natural disturbances such as wild grazers (ie bison) and periodic fires. Rangelands support indigenous or introduced vegetation that have the potential to be grazed and are managed as a natural ecosystem for multiple uses and values. Alberta’s rangelands include:
- grazeable forest land
- riparian (or shoreline) areas
There are about 3.3 million hectares of public rangeland used for the purpose of grazing in Alberta; these rangelands support about 14% of Alberta’s beef herd. AEP shares the responsibility of sustainably managing it with hundreds of ranchers and farmers (disposition holders) who use it for their livestock.
The first domestic livestock arrived in Alberta with the fur trade, and by the 1870’s ranching was established in the province. As settlement progressed livestock grazing focused primarily on animal production and rangeland degradation occurred. As a result range management science and sustainable livestock grazing principles were developed.
Today, range management includes a broader perspective. It sees grazing as a natural process and a way of perpetuating ecosystems. Grazing is managed along with fire, disturbance and human activity.
Ranching and range science have protected much of Alberta’s remaining native rangelands. This is important because it:
- is home to a vast array of fish and wildlife, including species at risk
- provides important ecological goods and services
- is vital to the livestock industry
A planned and balanced cycle of forage harvest and renewal will protect range resources. Key AEP goals for effective management of Alberta’s public rangeland are to maintain:
- a diversity of native plant species, especially those that are deep-rooted and productive
- vigorous, healthy plants with well-developed root systems
- adequate vegetative cover to protect soil from erosion and to conserve moisture
For more information about the history of Rangeland Management in Alberta, review the Grazing Lease Stewardship Code of Practice.
To foster healthy, productive rangeland the four principles of range management should be applied. These principles are:
- balancing livestock demands with the available forage supply; where forage is harvested to sustain livestock but adequate ungrazed residue is left to sustain rangeland ecosystem function.
- promoting even livestock distribution with fencing, salt placement, water development and other livestock distribution tools
- avoiding grazing during vulnerable periods, such as early spring
- providing effective rest periods after grazing to allow range plants to recover