Rangelands are key to sustaining biodiversity, and the need for relevant and timely research on these ecosystems has never been greater, according to the backers of newly created Rangeland Research Institute at the University of Alberta.
The institute’s activities will be supported in large part by the Mattheis Research Ranch, north of Brooks. Ruth and Edwin Mattheis donated the 12,300-acre ranch to the university in 2010, which was, at the time, the largest such donation of its kind in the country. The working cattle ranch consists of untilled native prairie with a diverse landscape that includes badlands, loamy mixed grass prairie, warm-season grassland on rolling dune complexes, and natural and created wetlands. It’s also home to oil and gas activity, which enables researchers to study interactions between oil and gas extraction, livestock, and wildlife. This year, nearly 30 researchers used the station, looking at everything from songbird diversity to carbon storage in rangeland soils, said Edward Bork, a rangeland scientist with the University of Alberta and the institute’s director.
“We work very closely with people in soils, agronomy, and the environmental sciences in our faculty,” said Bork.
The new institute will take a big-picture view, he said, and examine ways to increase long-term economic and environmental sustainability of rangeland.
“More and more, there is a need to identify how we can change the underlying management systems associated with rangelands in this province to make them more sustainable,” said Bork.
“If you look at other parts of the world, there’s an ability to tap into what we call environmental goods and services, whether it’s carbon sequestration, habitat conservation, or the protection and conservation of water. These are all revenue streams that have defined markets in other parts of the world, but presently do not have a market here in Alberta.”
Creation of carbon markets and environmental goods and services would be a game changer, he said.
“What this would do for the cow-calf industry is change every single producer’s perspective on how they manage their land base and what they’re managing for,” he said. “It means they may no longer be driven by one output in their decision-making, leading to increased economic and environmental sustainability.”
Bork said he is hoping scientists from across the country and around the world will come to the ranch to conduct research.