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Milk River-Sage Creek encompasses the Milk River Canyon and associated badlands, as well as some of the most extensive native mixed grassland, silver sagebrush and ephemeral wetland habitat in Canada.

Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) has been working on the protection of the Milk River – Sage Creek area since the 1970s. This involvement has led to the establishment of a small but significant grassland protected area along the Milk River Canyon and Kennedy Creek. AWA believes that the protected area needs to be extended to include more of the extensive native mixed grassland, silver sagebrush, badlands and ephemeral wetland habitat that could be compromised by encroaching development.

    • Introduction
    • Features
    • Concerns
    • History
    • Archive
    • Other Areas
    Milk_river_sage_creek_CWallis_460x150px.jpg AWA’s Milk River-Sage Creek Area of Concern is one of the least fragmented, most extensive and biodiverse grassland landscapes on the glaciated plains of North America. Photo © C. Wallis

    AWA’s 3,760 km2 Milk River-Sage Creek area of concern is a biodiversity hotspot in the grasslands of southeastern Alberta. Its uplands, wetlands, and valleys constitute one of the largest undisturbed grasslands in Canada. This landscape is well-known for the unique geomorphology surrounding the Milk River, and the resulting biological communities that reside there; these include the northernmost range of short-horned lizard and reintroduced populations of swift fox.

    “The area abounds in unique and rare natural phenomena, but it is the variety in both the rare and the common features that gives the area its tremendous value. Resting atop a badland butte and gazing across the Milk River canyon and rolling grasslands, one can contemplate the natural majesty of the Great Plains. For anyone who has heard the melodies of grassland birds riding the warm summer breezes or watched as a Golden Eagle drifts low over a coulee rim, Milk River-Sage Creek will always be one of the world’s special places.” – From: Milk River-Sage Creek, Survivor of the glaciated High Plains. A report prepared for World Wildlife Fund Canada, Edmonton by Cottonwood Consultants Ltd., Calgary, AB (2000)

    For generations, this wilderness has been protected by its isolation and by grazing patterns that have perpetuated the richness and diversity of the native grassland.  However, those factors are changing rapidly, prompting a high degree of urgency to protect the area. Without formal protection, recent interest and activity by oil and gas companies may eventually lead to a highly developed landscape, similar to other grasslands in Alberta.

    Special thanks to Peter Lee, World Wildlife Fund Canada and Duke Hunter, Alberta Environment for providing the information for this page.

    Status

    Less than one percent of the 3,760 km2 of the Milk River–Sage Creek area of concern is currently protected. Protected areas include:

    • Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park (17.2 km2)
    • Kennedy Coulee Ecological Reserve (10.7 km2)
    • Onefour Heritage Rangeland (111.7 km2)
    • Milk River Natural Area (55.4 km2)

    The protected areas of Milk River-Sage Creek fall within a number of provincial designations under the Provincial Parks Act and the Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, Natural Areas, and Heritage Rangelands Act. Each designation holds its own level of protective status. For more information, visit Alberta Environment & Parks.

    Although there are a few pockets of privately held land, the majority of the area remaining within Milk River-Sage Creek is public land, which is tenured to a variety of leaseholders. Some of the leaseholders, notably those with larger tenures, have a long history of conserving the native grasslands within their leases by implementing ecologically-based grazing methods. More recently, some holdings have been purchased by private individuals with the specific intent of protecting grasslands biodiversity under conservation easements.

    Management

    Protected Ares
    The protected areas within AWA’s Milk River-Sage Creek Area of Concern are managed under regional purview of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP). This Land Use Framework (LUF) directs the management of cumulative effects within the South Saskatchewan River basin, integrating management between multiple government ministries.

    Private Land
    A portion of the Milk River-Sage Creek Area of Concern includes voluntarily protected private lands, known as conservation easements, which fall under the direction of the Alberta Land Stewardship Act. Conservation easements involve stewardship for lands and waters on private property, while remaining under private ownership. These easements are typically tied to the land in perpetuity, so that future landowners inherit responsibility for the increased land and water protections.

    Public Lands
    The remaining lands within the Milk River-Sage Creek area are managed under the provincial acts and policies pertaining to the White Area, which is managed primarily for agriculture and settlement, and to an extent for natural resources, ecological services and recreational opportunities. Relevant acts and policies include: the Public Lands Act, the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan and the historical Integrated Resource Plans.

    Area

    AWA’s Milk River-Sage Creek area of concern encompasses 3,760 km2 in the southeastern most corner of Alberta. The area is well-known for the unique geomorphology surrounding the Milk River and the resulting biological communities that reside there, including the northernmost range of short-horned lizard and reintroduced populations of swift fox. Milk River-Sage Creek can be accessed via Highway 41 or along Highway 501, east of the Town of Milk River.

    AWA’s Milk River-Sage Creek Area of Concern. MAP © AWA FILES: JPGPDF

    Watershed

    Milk River-Sage Creek is found within the Milk River drainage basin.

    The Milk River rises in Western Montana, meanders through Alberta for 160 km, and loops back to the United States. Eventually, the waters reach the Missouri River and then the Gulf of Mexico – it is the only Canadian river to do so. The Milk River relies heavily on spring runoff for its natural flow, and as such, the low flow of the river has been a source of contention for Southern Alberta’s agricultural producers, as many have advocated for damming or diversion to increase the Milk River’s flow. Damming could result in negative environmental impacts to the riparian habitat surrounding the Milk River and the aquatic health of the river.

    The flow of the Milk River is shared by Canada and the United States under a 1909 International Boundary Water Treaty. Under the treaty, these rivers are considered as one waterway and their flows divided equally between the two countries. Under an agreement in 1921, natural flow is divided equally between the United States and Canada in the winter. But during irrigation season (April 1 – Oct. 30) the U.S. receives up to three-quarters of the natural flow of the Milk River and Canada three-quarters of the St. Mary River. In times of higher flow levels, the water is equally shared. Flow in the Milk River in late summer and fall often relies on diversion from the St. Mary.

    Geology

    The Milk River Ridge has a distinctive sandstone formation, known as Milk River sandstone, interbedded with layers of shale. The sandstone is visually apparent from the exposed sandstone pillars and cliffs that protrude from the shores of the Milk River, known as “castellated sandstone”. These pillars are protected by a top layer of ironstone. The Milk River is deeply incised, as water from melting glacial ice has cut a series of wide channels through the ridge including Whisky Gap, Lonely Valley and Verdigris coulee.

    As with many of the rocks underlying southern Alberta’s plains, the Milk River sandstone comes from the Cretaceous age within the Eagle formation. Below the Milk River sandstone is the Colorado formation, and above are the Pakowki, Foremost, Oldman and Bearpaw formations.

    Geologic features include: rare igneous rock intrusions, extensive badlands, eskers, drumlins, kames, and a diversity of fossils.

    Information gathered from Geology and Groundwater Resources of the Milk River Sandstone in Southern Alberta by P. Meyboom (1960).

    Sandstone pillars in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. Photo © G. Wark

    Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs)

    Much of AWA’s Milk River-Sage Creek Area of Concern is considered nationally significant, in addition to encompassing a short stretch of the internationally significant area surrounding Pakowki Lake. Milk River-Sage Creek has garnered its national significance due to the expansiveness of its natural habitat and its large number of species of conservation concern.

    ESAs of Milk River-Sage Creek. MAP © AWA FILES: JPGPDF

    Natural Regions

    Milk River-Sage Creek encompasses the Mixedgrass and Dry Mixedgrass subregions of Alberta’s Grasslands Natural Region.

    Natural Regions of Milk River-Sage Creek. MAP © AWA FILES: JPG | PDF

    Vegetation

    Milk River-Sage Creek is an ecologically significant due in part to its large, intact communities of native vegetation. The area includes the northwestern reaches of soapweed and populations of Western spiderwort – both COSEWIC listed species.

    Dry Mixedgrass: Needle-and-thread grass, blue grama grass, Western wheatgrass, hastate-leaved orache, Frémont’s goosefoot, field milk thistle

    Mixedgrass: Western porcupine grass, western wheat grass, northern wheat grass, green needle grass, narrowleaf cottonwood, willow, Woods’ rose, red osier dogwood, prickly wild rose, creeping bentgrass, smooth horsetail

    Riparian wetland: Western snowberry, roses, Western wheatgrass, Baltic rush, Canadian wild rye, American licorice, field horsetail, giant goldenrod, slender wheatgrass

    Wildlife

    Milk River-Sage Creek derives its diverse wildlife communities from the unique landforms surrounding the Milk River, including hoodoos, cliffs, badlands, cottonwoods and sagebrush, as well as the large, intact stretches of native prairie. The Milk River watershed is an important piece of the northernmost range for numerous North American species. The river basin itself holds over 200 species of birds, seven species of amphibian, seven reptile species, and 50 mammal species. The area has many year round residents, such as pronghorns and prairie rattlesnakes, and migratory species, such as burrowing owls and ferruginous hawks. Most notably, the area contains the northernmost range of endangered short-horned lizards and reintroduced populations of the threatened swift fox.

    The unique habitat structures of Milk River-Sage Creek host distinct wildlife communities, for example:

    • Native Grasslands: Pronghorn antelope, sharp-tailed grouse, coyote, swift fox
    • Badlands: Prairie rattlesnake, short-horned lizard, golden eagle
    • Coulees: Mule deer, elk, prairie falcon
    • Riparian habitat: Northern leopard frog, western painted turtle, loggerhead shrike

    Information gathered from the 2008 Milk River State of the Watershed Report by the Milk River Watershed Council.

    Cultural

    The area bridging the Sweetgrass Hills and the Cypress Hills is the traditional territory of the Blackfeet people, considered a “neutral territory”. The Kainai (Blood), Siksika (Blackfeet), and Piikani (north Peigan) Nations occupied this territory and used the areas along the Milk River to hunt bison.

    An area called Aisinai’pi, now known as Writing-On-Stone, holds particular spiritual significance for the Blackfoot Nation as the site holds thousands of petroglyphs, hundreds of pictographs, and is known to be a spiritual meeting place.

    Milk River-Sage Creek falls within the traditional territories of Treaty 7, established in 1877.

    Activities

    Due to the diversity and abundance of large mammals in the Milk River-Sage Creek area, hunting is popular activity for the area. Hunting is permissible on certain public lands, and within other provincially managed areas like the Onefour Heritage Rangeland Natural Area and Milk River Natural Area.

    Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is a popular tourist destination for comfort camping, hiking and tours of the area’s cultural and natural heritage.

    Development
    The Northern and Northwestern Mixed Grasslands have been heavily impacted by human activities with extensive conversion of native prairie into cropland, industrial use and development, settlements, and significant fragmentation by roads and associated infrastructure such as wellsites. More than 80 percent of the native prairie landscape in Alberta has been replaced by other land uses. AWA is concerned that this development and land conversion is encroaching on the Milk River-Sage Creek area.

    As such, protecting Alberta’s grasslands is a priority that requires selecting the best remaining sites of native grasslands. To identify the best remaining native grasslands, a project by Cottonwood Consultants searched for Alberta public (Crown) land areas with minimal fragmentation by roads and wells, more than 50 percent remaining in native prairie in contiguous blocks greater than 1000 km2, significant rare species or habitat occurrences; areas with high soil or geological diversity, Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs) ranked as provincially, nationally or internationally significant. Areas identified by the study are to serve as candidates for potential protection.

    Species-at-risk
    The environmental change in the prairies of Alberta is underscored by the disproportionately large proportion of species there that are currently at risk compared to Alberta’s other Natural Regions. This environmental change is the result of fragmentation, degradation and loss of grassland habitat. Within the Great Plains of North America, over 460 species of animals and plants have been identified as being critically imperiled, imperiled or rare globally. Of those, 70 percent are either endemic or nearly endemic to regions within Alberta. The continued existence of these at-risk species depends on the survival of the Great Plains, of which Milk River-Sage Creek constitutes a sizeable area.

    As a result of habitat degradation, there are numerous Canadian grassland species at-risk that reside within Milk River-Sage Creek; some of the COSEWIC species of concern include swift fox, mountain plover, sage grouse, soapweed, western spiderwort, short-horned lizard, and Great Plains toad.

    August 2017
    AWA participates in a re-fencing initiative to help improve the safety of pronghorn antelope passage through the Milk River-Sage Creek area. The initiative, hosted by Alberta Fish and Game Association (AFGA), involved removing the lowest barbed wire from fences and replacing it with smooth wire about 18” from the ground.  As pronghorns cannot jump they will often “scoot” under fencing, making barbed wire fencing particularly dangerous.

    August 2014
    One of the most dangerous fires occurs in the Milk River-Sage Creek area, calling for support from Montana and various local fire departments to control the spread of the fire.

    October 2013
    The Government of Alberta releases the official Draft South Saskatchewan Regional Plan. The draft does not address conservation in native grasslands in any specific way, and no legislated protection is proposed for grassland areas despite the large number of species at risk in southeast Alberta. AWA argues that Milk River Ridge, Wild Horse Plains and key stretches of wild rivers in the south should be legislatively designated as Heritage Rangelands.

    August 2013
    The Government of Alberta announces the closure of Onefour Research Farm, home to at least 23 federally listed species at risk. The majority of Onefour is provincially leased land and AWA calls for formal protection of these critical grasslands. In August, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) replies to AWA with an encouraging response that its protective values will be recognized.

    September 29, 2012
    The Milk River Management Society celebrates its 20th anniversary with a dinner and evening of presentations and awards in Aden, Alberta.

    July 2012
    AWA takes the Minister and Assistant Deputy Minister of Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation Minister on a tour of the Pakowki Lake and Milk River – Sage Creek areas, introducing them to Alberta’s southeastern grasslands, and many of the concerns AWA has for the area and its management. Also participating in the tour are representatives from the Prairie Conservation Forum.

    2010
    Poverty Rock, a 2000 acre parcel of land adjacent to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, is purchased by the Government of Alberta, and will be added to the Park.

    June 26, 2009
    The Milk River Management Society installs traffic counters to record current levels of vehicle usage. An old wellsite road gives vehicles access to the edge of the Milk River Canyon, leaving 80 percent of the Natural Area upland free of vehicle traffic. However, EnCana Corporation has developed a number of wells right next door, with gravel track access almost to the corner of the Milk River Natural Area. The Natural Area is currently unregulated with respect to vehicle use. The society is concerned that this could open the area to increased and undesirable use. Formally monitoring vehicle use will provide baseline information so that concerns can be expressed promptly if increases are detected.

    Summer 2008
    Researchers from the United States direct their attention to the ungrazed spring wetlands in the Milk River–Sage Creek area and conduct detailed biodiversity research of their unique habitats.

    February 2008
    AWA becomes aware of a proposal to open the Wild Horse border crossing for 24-hour service and to expand Highway 41 as a secondary corridor to transport heavy equipment to the tar sands. This change would have dramatic negative environmental effects on the Milk River–Sage Creek area. AWA responds to the proposal with a Wild Lands Advocate article and letters to the Government of Alberta.

    2008
    The Milk River Management Society, of which AWA is a member, hires researchers to assess the ecological impacts of fire after a recent burn. The arrival of endangered mountain plovers after the burn in an area in which they had not previously been recorded shows the potential role fire can play in mixed grass ecosystems.

    February 14, 2002
    In a letter to the Minister of the Environment, AWA expresses opposition to the pending sale of leases in the Milk River–Sage Creek area.

    December 20, 2000
    The Government of Alberta announces the establishment of the Onefour Heritage Rangeland Natural Area.

    July 18, 2000
    AWA requests that the Premier take immediate steps to:

    • Stop all industrial activity inside Provincial Parks and Natural Areas,
    • Immediately disallow the sale and renewal of any industrial leases inside protected areas,
    • Reconvene the legislature with the first item of business being to the introduction of effective park and Natural Area legislation to explicitly rule out industrial activity within protected areas.

    July 2000
    AWA announces that at least one petroleum company has requested that the petroleum rights in Milk River and Chinchaga be put up for sale. AWA produces the leaked government document, dated May 23, 2000, which includes Milk River and Chinchaga on the list of land parcels to be sold in August and September. This results in the removal of two parcels of land from the sale list. AWA calls for transparency and openness so that there is no need to rely on leaked documents.

    May 9, 2000
    AWA, Canadian Parks and Wildlife Society (CPAWS), Federation of Alberta Naturalists (FAN), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) send out letters to CEOs of various oil companies requesting them to

    • Write to the Premier in support of ten new parks
    • Ask the government to implement the oil industry’s agreement with conservation groups to phase out existing petroleum developments from all protected areas, and
    • Support legislation that protects these parks from industrial development in perpetuity.

    February 16, 1997
    Express Pipeline begins to transport petroleum.

    August 1, 1996
    Building of the Express Pipeline begins after the Federal Court of Appeal in Ottawa rejected appeals against the proposed pipeline.

    July 1996
    AWA and the Federation of Alberta Naturalists (FAN) appeal to the federal Court of Canada to overturn the decision made by the National Energy Board that determined that the crude oil pipeline project proposed by Express Pipeline is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. Additionally, AWA and FAN would like the issue to be re-assessed and no further permits allowing construction of the pipeline be issued.

    June 20, 1996
    In a news release, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund announces that it has filed a lawsuit on behalf of AWA and the Federation of Alberta Naturalists (FAN) challenging a decision that would permit a crude oil pipeline to be built through the Milk River area. AWA and FAN allege that the joint National Energy Board/Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel failed to comply with key requirements under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

    January 1996
    AWA and other conservation groups call for the proposed pipeline to be rerouted. The proposed pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Casper, Wyoming is slated to cut through nationally significant areas of undisturbed native prairie in the Milk River–Sage Creek area. A four-member joint panel examines the proposal and holds a series of hearings in which AWA states: “Even with the best reclamation technology we have today, we still do not known how to put it back the way it was.”

    AWA, the Federation of Alberta Naturalists, and the Alberta Fish and Game Association sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Express Pipeline to establish an advisory council to consult on the reclamation of disturbed areas to ensure the use of native grasses.

    September 14, 1995
    AWA and the Federation of Alberta Naturalists receive $34,240 to assist in the evaluation of the Express Pipeline (owned jointly by Alberta Energy Company Ltd. and TransCanada PipeLines Ltd.).

    August 11, 1995
    AWA and the Federation of Alberta Naturalists submit a joint proposal for federal funding to assist in reviewing the application to build the Express Pipeline.

    June 1995
    Express Pipeline applies to the National Energy Board for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.

    May 1995
    The Milk River Valley is nominated for the Special Places 2000 program.

    1993
    Express Pipeline Ltd. applies for approval of a pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Caspar, Wyoming. The application is later withdrawn.

    September 1992
    The Milk River Management Society prepares an Operational Management Plan for Milk River Natural Area and Kennedy Coulee Ecological Reserve; the Plan is endorsed by the Government of Alberta.

    June 1990
    The Milk River Management Society is founded, with AWA being one of the founding members. Other members come from local government, the ranching community, other conservation groups, and provincial agencies. The society holds the lease for the Milk River Natural Area and advises on resource use and management of the Milk River Natural Area and Kennedy Coulee Ecological Reserve. The society is also responsible for administering the grazing contract and long-term research monitoring.

    October 22, 1987
    The Government of Alberta establishes the 10.7 km2 Kennedy Coulee Ecological Reserve.

    June 4, 1987
    The Minister of Forestry, Lands and Wildlife announces the establishment of the Milk River Natural Area—the province’s hundredth natural area.

    May 1985
    Alberta’s Advisory Committee on Wilderness Areas and Ecological Reserves recommends to the Minister of Recreation and Parks the establishment of a 72 km2 Natural Area/Ecological Reserve. They also ask for an inventory of special features, consideration of bison for management, revisions to legislation, participation of local residents in developing a management plan, and an integrated plan for the surrounding area. The long-promised integrated plan never materializes but most recommendations are acted upon. Though unsuccessful, the AWA submits a joint proposal with a local rancher to use bison for management.

    April 1984
    On a flight over the region, AWA discovers two large cattle watering holes in the Milk River–Sage Creek area. The two holes are estimated to be approximately 65 metres across and may entice cattle to graze in ecologically sensitive areas. The government decision allowing ranchers to create these holes was made without a single field study to examine the potential impacts to the surface drainage pattern and fragile plant life in the area.

    In response to criticism over the management of Alberta’s first ecological reserve, the Milk River Canyon Reserve, the government appoints a planning committee to aid in the creation of the proposed reserve.

    March 21, 1984
    AWA and the Ecological Reserves Advisory Committee convene a meeting with 250 farmers, ranchers, scientists, and environmentalists to discuss the new Wilderness Areas, Ecological Reserves, and Natural Areas Act. Many residents feel that the Act does not ensure that they will have any say in the area’s future. In response to this sentiment and out of recognition of the value of private stewardship, AWA helps create a task force to develop a plan for the preservation of the Milk River Canyon area.

    July 1983
    In a letter to the Associate Minister of Public Lands and Wildlife, AWA asks that no hasty decisions be made so that the value of the ungrazed grasslands in the Milk River–Sage Creek area can be assessed.

    June 1983
    AWA attends public meetings regarding ecological reserves in Claresholm, Foremost, and Lethbridge. The meetings make it apparent that a local lobby group is seeking grazing privileges in a portion of the proposed Milk River Ecological Reserve.

    April 1980
    The Government of Alberta releases the Lost River Ranches Grazing Lease Management Plan.

    1977
    The Government of Alberta commits to undertaking an integrated land-use study. After a year of waiting, conservationists are frustrated to learn that the study is no more than a limited area grazing plan, with no public input accepted. The Minister of Recreation, Parks, and Wildlife tells AWA, “The comprehensive land use plan will ensure the preservation of the outstanding natural features.” Instead, there are more roads, fencelines, exploration wells, stock-watering facilities, uncontrolled vehicle access, and grazing in previously ungrazed sensitive areas in the proposed ecological reserve.

    1976
    Alberta Parks Division undertakes a comprehensive study of the resources in the Milk River area. The study recommends park status for 700 km2 area. The Public Lands Division accepts a proposal for an ecological reserve on a tract of land that was formerly property of local ranchers and responsible environmental stewards, the Ross family.

    June 18, 1975
    In a letter to Minister of Environment, AWA alerts the Minister that the Environmental Impact Assessment Report prepared by Alberta Ammonia does not mention the potential impact of the pipeline on the aesthetic and recreational uses of the proposed Milk River–Lost River Wilderness.

    May 6, 1975
    In letters to the Premier, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (now known as the Alberta Energy Regulator), and the president of Alberta Ammonia, AWA expresses opposition to the proposed routing of an ammonia pipeline through the Milk River area from Raymond, Alberta to Garner, Iowa.

    March 1975
    AWA makes a formal presentation to the Alberta Land Use Forum suggesting that the area may be best protected by a Wildland Recreation Area designation.

    January 1972
    AWA approaches the Minister of Lands and Forests proposing the creation of a Wilderness Area in the Milk River–Sage Creek region.

    1970s
    As demand for dwindling public grazing lands grows, new legislation restricts the amount of land a lessee can hold. The holdings ranched by the Ross family since 1910 far exceed the new limits set by Alberta Public Lands and, despite protests from Alberta Parks and AWA, large areas are removed from the Lost River Ranch lease. Most deleted lands become a new provincial grazing reserve, while a remote, largely ungrazed area south of the Milk River Canyon is proposed as an ecological reserve. 

    1954
    The Prairie Forum Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) conducts further studies within the Milk River area.

    1942
    A water development committee proposes that the gap near the Milk River Forks (the confluence of the North and South Milk Rivers) would be a good place for a dam. Pursuit of this option is not followed due to reasons such as hilly terrain, lack of local interest, and potential international implications.

    February 1941
    Order in Council PC 682 of the Privy Council of Canada rules in part: “So far as the interests of Canada are concerned, it appears that it would be preferable to have a reservoir on the St. Mary River at Spring Coulee Alberta instead of the recommended reservoir at St. Mary Lakes in Montana, and to have a reservoir at what is known as the Forks Site in Alberta on the Milk River instead of the recommended reservoir at Verdigris Coulee.”

    1927
    The Onefour ranch is established at Township 1, Range 4 by L.B. Thomson and S.E. Clarke to survey topography, soil and vegetation, and for grazing projects.

    1923 – 1924
    Subsequent investigations by the Department of the Interior indicate that the Forks Site would be a much better site than the Verdigris Coulee proposal and more detailed studies are undertaken.

    October 1921
    The International Joint Commission makes a recommendation: “The Commission finds … that the quantities of land in this international region susceptible of development far exceed the capacity of the rivers in question even under the most exhaustive system of conservation.… Every effort should be made to obtain the maximum efficiency in irrigation from these waters.… The Canadian Reclamation Service [should proceed] with the proposed Verdigris Coulee Reservoir in Alberta.”

    1910s
    The cultivation of Alberta’s grasslands begins. Most of the Milk River area escapes the plough because of its drought-prone nature.

    A Northwest Mounted Police outpost is established at Kennedy’s Crossing, where the Milk River flows into the United States.

    1878
    Prairie fires push bison herds southward away from the Milk River; around this time, bison are practically extirpated from the area.

    1874
    Captain Featherstonhaugh of the British North American Boundary Commission explores the Milk River area.

    1805
    The Milk River is named by Captain Meriwether Lewis for its muted colour, similar to the colour of tea with milk.

    Pre-Contact
    The area bridging the Sweetgrass Hills and the Cypress Hills is the traditional territory of the Blackfeet people, considered a “neutral territory”. The Kainai (Blood), Siksika (Blackfeet), and Piikani (north Peigan) Nations occupied this territory and used the areas along the Milk River to hunt bison.

    An area called Aisinai’pi, now known as Writing-On-Stone, holds particular spiritual significance for the Blackfoot Nation as the site holds thousands of petroglyphs, hundreds of pictographs, and is known to be a spiritual meeting place.

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