One of the largest cattle ranches in British Columbia, a sweeping landscape of natural grasslands, rolling hills and forests and lakes, is being protected in a $12-million deal involving the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
Details of an agreement to conserve a large chunk of the 12,000 hectares held by the Frolek Ranch Cattle Co. Ltd., in the Kamloops area, are expected to be announced today.
It is understood the Frolek family has agreed to an arrangement under which nearly 1,000 hectares will be purchased outright by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, while another 2,000 hectares are to be protected through conservation covenants.
The project has a budget of $12.3-million to cover land purchase, management and a stewardship endowment fund. The federal government's Natural Areas Conservation Program is contributing $6-million, and the Tula Foundation, a privately endowed family foundation based in B.C., is donating $1.5-million.
The Froleks' sprawling operation, which has been in the family for 102 years, is one of B.C.'s three largest and most famous ranches, along with the 58,000-hectare Douglas Lake Ranch and the 392,000-hectare Gang Ranch.
The Frolek lands, while much smaller than the other two ranches, contain some of the largest intact, natural grasslands in B.C. The areas being protected under the deal include Ponderosa pine woodlands, groves of trembling aspen, and wide-open rolling hills covered with natural grass.
Burrowing owls, badgers, bighorn sheep and bobcats are some of the species found in the area, which is interspersed with small lakes, ponds and wetlands.
The natural grasslands in the Kamloops area have been of increasing interest to developers, who see the opportunity to build golf courses and housing in a stunning landscape.
Many ranches have been bought by developers who have broken them into multiple smaller holdings.
The Frolek family, worried about the possible fragmentation and development of the landscape, apparently approached the Nature Conservancy of Canada in 2007 to see whether an arrangement could be worked out to ensure the century-old ranch continued to operate, while the land was given long-term protection.
Under the arrangement, the Frolek family will ranch the land, while the biodiversity - which includes many rare and endangered species - will be protected through covenants and stewardship programs to be run by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
The family has owned the ranch since George and Teresa Frolek got a quarter section of land in a Crown grant in 1906. Since then, the family has expanded its land holdings, buying property south of Kamloops in the Trapp Lake area in 1961, parcels of land around Lac du Bois in 1964 and a block of land near Stump Lake in 2005.
The fourth generation is currently running the ranch, with a fifth living and working alongside their parents and waiting to take over.
Although much of the land has been used to raise cattle over the past 100 years, the Froleks have long embraced grazing and watering practices that respected the natural ecosystems. As a result, the land is known for its scenic beauty and its rich wildlife values.
In the 2003 edition of BC Grasslands, the magazine of the Grassland Conservation Council of British Columbia, Kathy McCauley wrote of the new threats to grasslands that ranchers were facing in the province.
"Subdivision of agricultural lands into 'ranchettes' has chopped up the range, forest ingrowth reclaims hundreds of hectares of grassland yearly, and uncontrolled use of recreational vehicles disturbs wildlife, pummels the grass and spreads weeds," she wrote.
In the article, Ray Frolek says: "In the past few years, several of the big ranches neighbouring ours have been sold in small parcels" - raising one of the concerns that later led the family to approach the Nature Conservancy of Canada.