At Pine Butte Ranch, near Cranbrook in B.C.’s East Kootenays, cattle play an important role in grassland conservation. Ray Van Steinburg, a self-taught rancher, developed a pasture management program that takes advantage of seasonally timed grazing on different grasses to encourage the conditions under which desirable plant species can thrive.
When Mr. Van Steinburg came home from World War II and bought Pine Butte Ranch, it was a rough patch of land. Ecologically poor and sparsely populated with non-native grasses, the ranch could support the health of few cattle and was undesirable habitat for wildlife, but he fell in love with its potential. He took his cues from nature to develop progressive pasture practices and worked with range technicians to alter his range schedule for the better. Over the years, native bunchgrasses began to repopulate the landscape, providing a better diet for cattle and wildlife alike.
With less than two per cent of British Columbia’s grasslands under protection, Pine Butte Ranch is an important piece of the puzzle of the conservation of this landscape. These grasslands support a long list of native plants and animals, many of which are becoming increasingly threatened by habitat loss. Last year, a herd of 1,000 elk were found using the ranch’s pastures. Many species at risk have been observed on the ranch, including American badger, long-billed curlew, Lewis’ woodpecker and short-eared owl.
Committed both to protecting Pine Butte’s rare ecosystem and its future as a working ranch, Mr. Van Steinburg chose to partner with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to protect his beloved ranch from future development. “This is one of the last remaining grasslands in the area, and we want to see it continue in its natural state instead of falling victim to the increasing pressures of urban development,” says Mr. Van Steinburg. “Pine Butte has always worked to maintain the ranch as a viable working operation, while still working with – and enhancing – what Mother Nature has given us.”