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Millarville ranchers grazing lease land 'destroyed'

A Millarville-area ranching family is questioning how the province can call work done on their grazing land reclamation when all they can see is destruction and danger for animals and wildlife.

Trails that have been used by ranchers and their cattle for more than 80 years have been dug up and littered with dangerous debris in the name of reclamation, said a woman who has been cattle ranching in the area for decades.

The work done by the province in Sylvester Creek, southwest of McLean Creek, has created danger for cattle and wild animals, said Millarville-area cattle rancher Jody Ball. 

“If a foal falls into one of those holes and it is full of snow or water, they are not making it out,” Ball said.

Holes that are 12-feet deep and five-feet wide had been dug and the contents left in large heaps that make the trails impassable.

In addition, wild horses have begun eating straw inside of burlap filters being used to keep sediment out of the creek, which is another hazard, said Ball.

“(Wild horses) are going to be pawing,” she said. “They have put in rebar spikes sticking out five or six inches.”

Ball said they were first notified by the province in 2017 that work was planned to keep off-roaders out of the area to keep sediment out of the creek.

Since then, she has been writing letters asking for the area to not be restricted.

“They said they would take out the (creek) crossing, and in my mind, they were just going to have a locked gate,” she said.

Ball, her husband David and son Luke have owned the rights to the grazing land for 15 years and were shocked to find large holes dug up, discarded culverts and large mounds of dirt blocking the trails they use to herd their cattle home in the fall.

Additionally, the creek crossings were removed, which will make it impossible for them to bring in salt blocks for their cattle, without going in the creek with their ATV’s, she said.

They bought the grazing rights for more than $200,000 and pay yearly fees of $2,800. This year, they only put 32 cattle out at Silvester Creek and she worries that they won’t be able to use that grazing lease at all next year.

The family wants to know how they will be compensated for the loss of grazing land and said, so far, all they have been told is they should cut out new trails to get their cattle home.

It was her daughter who first discovered the Province had gone ahead with work they had been talking about for five years.

“She just couldn’t believe her eyes,” Ball said.

Weeks later, Ball and her husband were out looking for a bull and found it in Silvester Creek.

“When we went back, we discovered the destruction — they call it reclamation,” she said.

Their grazing lease in the area is large, she said, but the area where the reclamation work was done is near a large grassy area that attracts cattle to the area.

Their animals are also used to walking those trails to get back to their holding pens near the Quirk Creek Gas Plant, she said. Keeping them away from the hazards in that area is going to be impossible, Ball added.

“How will we put our cattle out there safely?” she questioned. “There is no fences out there.”

They have since learned the measures are specifically to protect westslope cutthroat trout. Keeping the area pristine and keeping the fish safe is important, Ball said.

“We pride ourselves as stewards for the land,” she said. “But where is the respect for the land.”

Last week, they had Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin tour the area and said they will continue to talk with Lands Management to come up with solutions.