The proposal to reclassify and expand the Twin River Heritage Rangeland Natural Area (Twin River HRNA) (see map) from a “Natural Area” to a “Heritage Rangeland” is in direct response to commitments made within the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP), approved in 2014. The SSRP provides high-level direction for the management of provincial land and natural resources within the region. Within this plan, policy 3.14 provides direction to explore the potential for additional conservation areas, with a specific reference to the Twin River HRNA, and some adjacent lands. The plan also provides direction for a collaborative process to be used for reviewing the management intent for the area and determine suitable designations. The opportunity for expanding the Twin River HRNA was included in the SSRP as a result of the expressed interest of grazing leaseholders who would like to have their leasehold lands included as part of an expanded conservation area. This expansion would also increase the representation of grasslands within Alberta’s protected area system; one of the most endangered terrestrial ecosystems on the planet. Currently, only 0.5% of Alberta’s Mixedgrass Natural Subregion is protected.
In addition to the land management planning direction provided by the SSRP, there is also an historical context that further informs the SSRP commitment to the reclassification of the natural area. The Twin River HRNA was originally designated as a Natural Area in 1999 as part of the Special Places 2000 Program (a provincial program in the late 1990’s that was intended to fill gaps in Alberta’s system of protected areas). The original intent was to classify the site as a Heritage Rangeland and a name change occurred to reflect this intent. However, legislation for the Heritage Rangeland classification was not in place at the time and the designation of the site as a Natural Area was seen as an interim step until the required legislation was created. Although the legislation was established in 2003, re-classification of the site had not been a priority until the recent direction provided through the SSRP.
The area known locally as Twin River is located within the Milk River Ridge, approximately 10 kilometres west of the Town of Milk River (see map). The higher elevation along the Milk River Ridge provides more precipitation and lower temperatures than the surrounding lands. This makes this Grasslands Natural Area a unique transition zone between the mixedgrass natural sub-region and foothills fescue sub-region. Both these types of sub-regional grasslands are under-represented in the parks and protected areas system in Alberta. More information on the significance of these native grasslands is provided in a separate fact sheet.
Both classifications fall under the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas and Heritage Rangelands (WAERNAHR) Act.
Twin River is currently classified as a Natural Area. Natural Areas are established for the conservation of nature in smaller sites of local significance and provide opportunities for low impact, nature-based outdoor recreation, nature appreciation and education, which are dependent on and compatible with the conservation of nature. The Natural Area classification has a limited regulatory capacity to manage recreational use.
Heritage Rangelands are established for the conservation of representative areas of Alberta’s prairies, using livestock grazing to maintain the native grassland ecology. This class ensures the protection of biological diversity and maintenance of ecological health of native grasslands in perpetuity while also sustaining the historic culture and economic function of ranching on Alberta’s native rangeland. Heritage Rangelands also provide a broader range of legislative and policy tools for the management of recreational use.
Further detail on the differences between the activities permitted within each classification is provided in Table 1 of the “Heritage Rangeland” Natural Areas backgrounder.
The proposed boundary amendment would add 3,173 hectares (7,840 acres) of Crown lands along the northwest boundary of the existing Twin River HRNA (see map). This amendment would increase the size of the protected area from 190 km2 to 222 km2. The proposed boundary amendment was requested by grazing leaseholders who would like to have their leasehold lands included in the protected area.
The proposed addition of these lands to the protected area will continue to address shortfalls in legal protection of native grasslands. More information on the significance of these native grasslands is provided in the “Grasslands in Context” fact sheet.
Existing petroleum and natural gas tenure would continue to be honoured in the proposed expansion area, consistent with existing government policy. An existing disposition for fire management access with the County of Warner would also be honoured.
Grazing dispositions would continue to be managed under the Public Lands Act. If the site is classified as a Heritage Rangeland, the regulatory commitment to grazing would be strengthened through both legislation and, potentially, length of tenure. Consent from the grazing disposition holder for recreational access would still be required.
Motorized access for these disposition holders would continue to be permitted when working within the terms of their disposition.
Heritage Rangelands are working landscapes that use long-term grazing leases to maintain native grassland ecology. Recreational off-highway vehicle (OHV) use is prohibited in these areas as it has the potential to degrade sensitive and rare grassland ecosystems and conflict with grazing operations. However, limited OHV use by agencies, leaseholders and disposition holders for management purposes is permitted. The use of on-highway vehicles in a Heritage Rangeland is limited to public roads.
Currently, public access within the site by vehicle is enabled by an existing fire access road which is under disposition by the County of Warner for wildfire management purposes. Following the reclassification to a Heritage Rangeland, public access to this road will remain.
Yes, hunting is a permitted activity in a Heritage Rangeland, subject to grazing lease access conditions.
A decision regarding the proposal will be made after First Nations consultation is completed, the public comment period is over and all comments have been considered.
The resulting proposed action(s) will be posted on www.albertaparks.ca/consult once a decision has been reached.