Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) is pleased to present Scott and Elan Lees of Soderglen South with the 2021 Environmental Stewardship Award for their outstanding commitment to environmentally sustainable beef production. Each year, ABP recognizes leaders in the cattle industry for demonstrating sound environmental stewardship practices that contribute to the land while improving productivity and profitability.
Soderglen South is comprised of two ranches located in Fort Macleod and Cardston, with approximately 15,000 acres of primarily native grasslands in the Foothills Fescue natural subregion. Fort MacLeod acts as the summer ranch for cattle that move between the south locations, while the Cardston ranch is the base for wintering and calving, and maintains a cowherd of 1,500 mother cows.
“Ranching for us over the years, we’ve come to realize it’s about looking after the land. It’s growing grass and selling grass however you choose to do that, but it is really custodians of a piece of land,” said Scott Lees.
“We believe in ‘good grasses equals good cattle’… those things go hand in hand,” added Elan Lees.
The environmental stewardship goals for Soderglen South are simple: continually improve the grasslands for the benefit of their cattle and the wildlife. It was with this goal in mind that the ranch began work with Ducks Unlimited Canada and Nature Conservancy Canada to conserve and protect the wetlands and native grasslands. Today, conservation agreements are in place to maintain the native prairie and wetland habitat at Fort MacLeod. The Cardston ranch has an agreement to protect existing wetlands and restore historically drained wetlands. And both locations have converted some cropland to perennial forage. There is also a lease agreement in place to manage 2,465 acres of mutually-beneficial land owned by Duck Unlimited Canada, adjacent to the Cardston ranch.
“Protecting the water is no different than protecting the grass itself. If your wetlands are protected and your water is distributed properly throughout your ranch, that’s the grazing patterns that create a ranch that is sustainable and can manage wet years and drought years,” said Scott.
To protect these areas, Soderglen South uses watering systems to discourage cattle from disrupting wetlands and dugouts, which improves water quality and riparian health. The ranch also utilizes both permanent and portable electric cross fencing to support a rotational grazing plan that improves cattle distribution and maintains healthy and productive grasslands to encourage wildlife habitat.
Soderglen South employs three ranch managers, and Elan is quick to express how critical they are to its overall success. Ross Howey at Fort Macleod, and Roger Gerard and Jeff DeMarni at Cardston each demonstrate similar ethos to caring for and improving the land.
“It’s a good feeling of knowing you’ve done a job that the land is in better shape than when you start the day before or the year before. You can see things improving,” said Gerard.
“Being a rancher, I think we’ve been entrusted with good natural resources and I think it is our responsibility to take care of those natural resources,” said Elan. “It’s nice getting recognized for the years of hard work that we’ve done to manage the grasses. We feel honoured to be presented with this award.”