Protecting Cypress Hills grassland is an important and challenging component of resource management within the park.
The majority of the Cypress Hills plateau is categorized as Fescue Grassland Subregion of the Grassland Natural Region. This ecosystem is mainly found in western Canada, the majority of it in Alberta.
Rough fescue is a perennial bunch grass that is easily recognized by its large tussocks and purplish stem bases. Fescue grasslands are home to a large number of flora and fauna. The area receives generous amounts of precipitation - more than 500 millimetres or 20 inches per year. This results in rich, black and very productive soils.
Rough fescue grasslands were originally found in an arc that began in the Waterton Lakes area. The arc followed the foothills north and swept across the midsection of Alberta into central Saskatchewan.
European settlement of western Canada resulted in conversion of much of this ecosystem to grain crops and tame forage/hay, as a result of which, rough fescue grasslands have been significantly reduced in extent.
Portions of the remaining rough fescue grasslands have been fragmented by roads, industrial activity and urban/rural sprawl.
Invasive alien plants are the latest threat to the rough fescue grasslands. These include noxious or prohibited-noxious weeds and invasive non-native grass species. To reclaim the fescue grasslands, we are taking an integrated approach to manage invasive species.
Traditionally, wildfire and bison were natural agents in the life cycle of these grasslands. Livestock (cattle) grazing became common at the turn of the previous century and continues today as the dominant tool for grassland management in the Cypress Hills. The ecological, social and economic importance of the grasslands in the Cypress Hills has become more apparent over time.
Protecting rough fescue grasslands is a priority for Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Working with local ranchers, naturalists and researchers, we strive to ensure that demands are balanced and ecological values are preserved.