December 5, 2023
With large undisturbed tracts of grasslands on an otherwise cultivated landscape, the Bodo Hills are an important part of the Northern Fescue Natural Subregion.
AWA believes the establishment of a Heritage Rangeland in Bodo Hills would help maintain the stewardship that grazing provides whilst increasing protection of Alberta’s Central Parkland and Northern Fescue Natural Subregions.
With lush fescue grasslands, aspen woodlands and a variety of wetlands such as alkali springs, the Bodo Hills are one of the two largest blocks of aspen parkland/northern fescue grassland in the world.
The Bodo Hills are located in east-central Alberta, near the Saskatchewan Border, south of the hamlet of Bodo. The area is 348.5 km2 in size and the terrain is strongly hummocky with knob and kettle landforms that make good habitat for rare terrestrial birds and grassland plant species. Most of the land that once had these qualities has been cultivated or cleared from Alberta’s landscape.
The majority of the Bodo Hills is located within the Grassland Natural Region and lies between the southern edge of the Central Parkland and Northern Fescue Natural Subregions. Currently, less than 5% of Central Parkland in Alberta is in natural condition and only 0.9% of the Central Parkland and 1.3% of the Northern Fescue Grasslands Natural Subregions are protected.
AWA believes it is critical for the Bodo Hills to be protected in order to increase protection of Alberta’s Central Parkland and Northern Fescue Natural Subregions. Protection as a Heritage Rangeland would maintain the stewardship that grazing offers whilst simultaneously conserving these landscapes for future generations. This would necessarily require a halt of oil and gas lease sales and an expedited phase out of existing dispositions.
The Bodo Hills contain a mix of private and large (>10km2) unbroken blocks of public lands, many of which are leased for grazing, but cultivated areas are also present.
Bodo Hills is located within Special Area No.4 of Alberta. It is also divided between the North Saskatchewan and Red Deer Regions under the Land Use Framework.
After a mass exodus of residents during severe droughts in the 1930s, communities within the area responded by joining together in the creation of the Special Areas of Alberta. The Special Areas officially came into being with the Special Areas Act in 1938 and is managed by a board of directors and an elected Advisory Council. Part of the mandate of the board is to maintain land in an economically and environmentally viable state.
The Bodo Hills are 348.5 km2 and are located in east-central Alberta, near the Saskatchewan Border south of the hamlet of Bodo. The area is bisected by Highway 12.
The Bodo Hills are located within the Sounding Creek Sub-Watershed within the Battle River Watershed, a sub-basin of the North Saskatchewan River Watershed. The Battle River is a prairie-fed river, as opposed to being sourced by the Rocky Mountains and Foothills (Battle River Watershed Alliance).
Water bodies within the Bodo Hills include wet meadows, shallow marshes and alkali wetlands.
The Bodo Hills were glaciated by the Laurentide Ice Sheet and began to melt around 11,500 B.C. (Munyikwa K. et al. 2014). As a result surface materials were deposited by glacial meltwater such as silt and clay along with sand deposits and features associated with glacial melt were formed, such as sand dunes and hummocky moraines. The Bodo Hills also contain glacially contorted bedrock folded into the discontinuous hills, known as ice thrust ridges (Research Council of Alberta 1967).
The Bodo Hills is considered to be of provincial significance due to its large intact tracts of fescue grasslands, alkali springs, high plant and bird diversity, and unique geological features such as major ice thrust ridges.
While AWA’s Area of Concern is located within the defined Northern Fescue Natural Subregion, the natural characteristics of Bodo Hills places it within the transition of Central Parkland and Northern Fescue Natural Subregions.
The Bodo Hills contains unique and highly variable terrain with high plant biodiversity; over 200 plant species have been documented. Notably, the area contains over 50% native prairie (Government of Alberta 1997).
Vegetation information obtained from: Alberta Parks. 2015. Natural Regions and Subregions of Alberta: A Framework for Alberta’s Parks.
Grasses within the Northern Fescue and Central Parkland are dominated by rough fescue along with porcupine grass, western porcupine grass, northern wheat grass, Hooker’s oat grass, and slender wheat grass. Perrenials include prairie crocus, northern bedstraw, three-flowered avens, wild blue flax, prairie sageworts. Wetter areas contain buckbrush, silverberry, common wild rose, saskatoon berries, with wetlands containing cattails, bulrushes and willows. Aspen stands are also common.
Birds: Over 50 bird species have been documented in the Bodo Hills but may include baird’s sparrow, sprague’s pipit, upland sandpiper, sharp-tailed grouse, horned lark, chestnut collared longspur, savannah sparrow, and cooper’s hawk.
Mammals: Bison were once a critical feature of this landscape, deer, elk, pronghorn, coyote, Richardson’s ground squirrel, thirteen-lined ground squirrel.
The Bodo Hills belong to the traditional territory of the Maskwacis Cree and the Blackfoot Confederacy. The nearby Bodo Archaeological site is renowned as one of the largest pre-contact archeological sites in Western Canada. It shows over 500 continuous years of a bison pound, which was used to corral and kill hundreds of bison at once (Bodo Archeaological Society).
Currently, only 0.9% of the Central Parkland and 1.3% of the Northern Fescue Grasslands Natural Subregions are protected within Alberta. AWA believes the Bodo Hills must be protected, establishment of Heritage Rangelands would maintain the stewardship grazing offers while simultaneously conserving these landscapes for future generations.
Surface disturbances such as drilling, renewable energy development, and associated road building pose serious threats to the ecological integrity of the Bodo Hills through habitat fragmentation, loss of native grasslands and the introduction of invasive species. AWA believes that no new development should be permitted within native Grasslands and Parkland habitat and that oil and gas dispositions within the Bodo Hills must face an expedited phaseout.
Over the past century, development has prevented natural fire regimes from taking place, as a result, shrubs and trees have been taking over grasslands associated with parklands (Bird 1961). There is a real threat that the Parkland and Grasslands Regions will be converted to forests if natural fire disturbances are not re-introduced to the landscape.
The North Saskatchewan Regional Plan (NSRP) Regional Advisory Council (RAC) Advice is finally released. AWA believes protection of the Bodo Hills must be expanded beyond what has been identified in the report produced by the North Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Committee to include areas within the Red Deer Region, as this will be the last region to undergo planning under the Land Use Framework. The establishment of Heritage Rangelands would maintain the stewardship grazing offers while simultaneously conserving these landscapes for future generations.
AWA provides detailed comments for the North Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Committee and identifies the Bodo Hills as a protection priority.
AWA writes to Alberta’s Minister of Energy, asking that leases currently located within the Bodo Hills Environmentally Significant Area (ESA) are not explored and the area will be protected. The letters from the AWA illustrate to the Energy Minister that more of Alberta’s diverse Natural Regions and Subregions need to be protected.
AWA writes to Alberta’s Minister of Energy regarding the fate of several leases up for sale in the Bodo Hills area of concern. The letter indicates the intent of AWA to work with the Alberta Energy Regulator, industry and government to secure the land for conservation. Arguments for the opposition of the lease sales state only 4.1% of Alberta is currently protected under provincial legislation, with only a fraction of that number effectively protected by industrial development.
In spring, Bill 15, the Natural Heritage Act, passes the second reading. However, the spring sitting of the Alberta legislature does not pass Bill 15 due to public opposition.
On March 1, the introduction of Bill 15, Natural Heritage Act, is presented to the government of Alberta. The Bill will replace three existing pieces of legislation: The Willmore Wilderness Park Act, the Wilderness Areas Ecological Reserves and Natural Areas Act, and the Provincial Parks Act, and consolidate them into one piece of legislation. In the Act, the government intends to honor existing industrial depositions that existed at the time of an areas protection designation. This would allow the continued exploitation of protected areas. The Act could give the Minister or the Environmental Department the option to override the protected status of an area to allow development of industry, thus negating fair legislative process.
On February 24, Bodo Hills is nominated as a protected areas candidate under the Special Places 2000 program by the Alberta Government. It is not protected following local opposition to the proposal, stemming from confusion about whether the definition of “protected” would continue to allow grazing.
In January, during a meeting with representatives of the Premier, no commitments are made on recommendations to establish the ten most doable candidate parks in the province, despite commitments under the Special Places Program to significantly increase representation of each Natural Region with the Alberta Parks system.
Alberta’s Environment Minister proposes Bill 15 called the Natural Heritage Act, which would effectively open protected areas to off-road vehicles and industrial development.
On January 12, AWA, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), and World Wildlife Fund join together and a letter is sent to Ralph Klein, the Premier of Alberta, asking that the shortcomings of Special Places 2000 be corrected. The three groups have identified a top ten list of areas in Alberta that should be protected, one of which is Bodo Hills.
Archeologist Terry Gibson studies the Bodo Hills before a well site was to be established and discovers the site of archeological artifacts and remains including metal arrow heads, pottery, bison bones, hearths and teepee rings. Dr. Gibson determined that the area was used thousands of years ago by Indigenous Peoples to trap and kill bison, who took advantage of the high water table and sand dunes in the area. Years after the discovery, students from the University of Alberta who are enrolled in anthropology courses use the area each summer and continue uncovering exceptionally preserved artifacts and remains.
On December 18, An application for a well license is sent to the AWA from the AER for a well that will be located inside the Bodo hills area of concern.
The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) sends the AWA a list of well locations, owners and well parameters located around Alberta, one of which falls within the Bodo Hills area.
December 13th, a well license is issued to Renaissance Energy Ltd. for a well that will fall within the Bodo Hills. The license was issued by the Well Licensing Section of the Drilling and Production Department for the well site 100/01-06-036-02W4/00.
Three new well licenses are issued on February 4th, September 14th, and September 30th, to Renaissance Energy Ltd., Triumvirate Energy Corp., and Sirious Energy Corporation, respectively. The well licenses are for wells located within the Bodo Hills.
March 6th, a well license is issued to Thompson-Jensen Petroleums Ltd. for a well that will fall within the Bodo Hills Area of Concern. The license was issued by the Well Licensing Section of the Drilling and Production Department for the well site LSD 12-21-35-2W4M.
The Bodo Hills are part of the traditional territory of the Maskwacis Cree and the Blackfoot Confederacy