In a combined financial and physical effort from the Sparwood Fish and Wildlife Club and Nature Trust, aspen on Big Ranch will continue to be restored ensuring the Valley will always have an area of unsurpassed beauty, untouched nature as well as be a crucial and important conservation property. Big Ranch, along with the Musil Estate and the Rankin property are areas in the Elk Valley that have been purchased to conserve wildlife habitat and to ensure elk have a much needed winter and spring range. It is home to black bears, cougars, moose, grizzly bears as well as many other types of animals and birds.
Big Ranch, little known to most is an area of over 325 hectares. It is set upon a backdrop of mountains on the Lower Elk Valley Road and is always open to the public for non motorized use. “We really encourage the public to enjoy all attributes of Big Ranch. To come out and take a walk, or horseback ride and to learn more about the conservation and social significance of these types of properties is something everyone can and should do,” says Rob Neil, R.P. Biologist Kootenay Conservation Land Manager of The Nature Trust of BC.
Over the years, the Trembling Aspen on the Ranch have been in constant decline. A combination of factors such as browsing, disease and clone root regression have been a problem, although the primary cause of deterioration has been browsing by the herd of seven hundred elk seen on the property. “Without implementation of a habitat management intervention program that will enable aspen stands to regenerate successfully, much of the flood plain area of the property will revert to open grassland habitat. From a wildlife management perspective this is not desirable. In the opinion of Nature Trust staff, the loss of aspen stands would decrease habitat diversity on the property which in turn would be detrimental to ungulate, small mammal and bird species that utilize the aspen communities for nesting, security and food requirements,”says Neil.
Since the property was purchased, the Sparwood Fish and Wildlife Association have been supportive of a number of habitat enhancement projects conducted on the property. Sparwood and District Fish and Wildlife Association and the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program respectively contributed $10,000 towards this project, as well as Sparwood club members contributing many man hours towards the project. “The money we raise through our fundraisers go towards projects such as this,” says Matt Huryn, President of the Fish and Wildlife Club. “It is so important for club such as us, and like us to always participate in habitat enhancement for all types of wildlife. People tend to think we are just a hunting and shooting club, but conservation and habitat enhancement is huge for us and a big part of what we do. Big Ranch is a really important property in the Valley, you need to always improve those lands to ensure it is maintained for the animals and all wildlife in general,” says Huryn.
Members of the club and staff from Nature Trust put up new fencing on a treed area of Big Ranch to allow new growth to occur. “By putting up elk fence around the aspen, and cutting down some old trees will allow new growth the come up and survive without the elk grazing it to nothing,” says Raymond Myles, Sparwood Fish and Wildlife Club Big Ranch Project Coordinator. The primary goal of the project is to encourage the regeneration and succession of trembling aspen and to maintain and enhance biodiversity values through the retention of viable and functional aspen communities on the Big Ranch property.
Since the property was purchased in 1990 The Sparwood and District Fish and Wildlife Association have been supportive of a number of habitat enhancement projects conducted on the property. Other than machine time, which was established on a cost share arrangement, the work has been done on a volunteer and cost free basis.
“From my perspective, the significance of acquiring conservation properties where the management focus, as opposed to that on other private low elevation lands in the Elk Valley, can be directed at maintaining a diversity of habitat types that will support a wide spectrum of wildlife species, cannot be underestimated. The public can practice and be aware of good land use ethics when using the property for their respective recreational pursuits and they could also contribute funds required by the Nature Trust of B.C. to manage the Big Ranch conservation complex or direct funds towards the purchase of similar conservation lands in the area,” says Neil.
The principle management problems that the Nature Trust is continually confronted with relate to motorized trespass, which has caused considerable soil degradation in several locations and vandalism of fences that encompass much of the perimeter of the property. Costs related to addressing these problems are high both from a financial and habitat degradation perspective.
Big Ranch is a place that when taken care of can be enjoyed by humans and animals alike for many, many generations to come.