FYTEN LEA NATURE CONSERVANCY OF CANADA PROPERTY -MYRNA PEARMAN
Although most people are familiar with the broad natural regions found in the province, (mountains, foothills, boreal forest, parklands, grassland, Canadian shield), fewer are aware that these regions are divided into 21 subregions. Alberta Parks has refined the classification system with the goal of preserving, in perpetuity, a network of areas that represents the natural diversity of the province. At increasingly finer scales, landscapes are further classified into categories such as Natural Landscape Type, Natural Landscape Component and Natural Features. This system is well explained in an online document published by Alberta Parks https://www.albertaparks.ca/media/6256258/natural-regions-subregions-of-alberta-a-framework-for-albertas-parks-booklet.pdf
Fyten Lea Nature Conservancy of Canada Property
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is a national non-profit land conservation organization that partners with individuals, governments, corporations, non-profits and Indigenous communities to protect natural landscapes. They secure properties through donation, purchase, conservation agreements etc. and manage them for the long term. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped protect 14 million hectares (35 million acres) across Canada.
The Fyten Lea NCC property is located in one of the most heavily cultivated regions in Alberta—the Central Parkland Subregion of the Parkland Natural Region. Although home to about 100 (20%) of Alberta’s rare vascular plant species, only about 5% of the Central Albert Subregion remains in native vegetation. Sites like Fyten Lea therefore provide especially important refugia for many native species.
Despite its small size (only 53 ha), the property is considered ecologically significant. It is connected to the dramatic Lousana Canyon, an area of about 3,467 ha that straddles the Red Deer River and contains the Tolman Badlands Heritage Rangeland Natural Area as well as portions of Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park. It is also close to other major tracts of Ducks Unlimited Canada and NCC properties in the area.
The property is a rich mosaic of habitats that fall into six broad physiographic zones: a small section on the north side of the highway and five zones on the main property: upper plains above the river valley, open upper valley slopes, forested steep valley slopes, badland slopes, and a bench beneath the slopes.
Fyten Lea does have many agronomic and invasive species growing throughout (e.g., smooth brome, Kentucky bluegrass and common plantain) but it supports a rich diversity of native plant communities, including badland cliffs, aspen groves, shrublands (with choke cherry, buckbrush, common wild rose, wild red raspberry, silverberry, Canada buffaloberry), blue grama grasslands, white spruce woods, and classic prairie habitats dominated by thorny buffalo berry, prairie rose, pasture sagewort, scarlet butterflyweed and purple prairie-clover.
Although the badland slopes at Fyten Lea are small in comparison to the more geologically and paleontologically significant downstream sites (e.g., Dry Island Buffalo Jump, Horseshoe Canyon and Dinosaur Provincial Park), they are interesting to explore and offer a panoramic view of the Red Deer River Valley (but are treacherous when wet). These slopes are largely bare with scattered patches of long-leaved sagewort, dragonwort, northern wheat grass and creeping juniper. The slopes also support white spruce, ground juniper, silver sagebrush, plains rough fescue, sand grass, June grass, pasture sagewort, northern hedysarum and mountain goldenrod.
Fyten Lea also supports some unique features, including saline overflow sites that occur at the base of badland and forested slopes, and a saline draw dominated by plains bluegrass and gumweed. Botanists will appreciate the great variety of grassland and wetland graminoids such as those listed above as well as needle-and-thread, Canada bluegrass, tufted hair grass, graceful sedge and big-head rush, purple oat grass, wire rush, western porcupine grass, needle and thread grass and meadow sedge.
Regionally uncommon plants found on the property include yellow lady’s slipper, streamside anemone, heal all, yellow avens and reed grass. Iconic prairie/parkland species such as prairie crocus and shooting stars can be seen in the spring while wild bergamot blankets the hillsides in the late summer. Plant species of concern that have been identified include few-flowered aster and Parry’s sedge, and rare vascular plant species reported within 15 km of the property include few-flowered aster, Canada brome, waterpod, salt-marsh sand spurry, prairie wedge grass and crowfoot violet. Botanists who visit the area are encouraged to share their plant lists with NCC (see contact information below).
While we saw only squirrels and a neighbour’s wandering dog on our spring walk, beaver, mule deer, coyote, Canada lynx, white-tailed deer and moose have all been recorded.
The area is home to a variety of common birds as well as such notable species as turkey vulture, bald eagle, Say’s phoebes, common yellowthroat and red crossbill. Importantly, the Lousana Canyon is home to provincially listed bird species such as ferruginous hawk, peregrine falcon, prairie falcon and loggerhead shrike. We were pleased to hear two male orange-crowned warblers singing in the aspen forests near the badland cliffs on our May walk. Bird watchers are encouraged to eBird all sightings during their visit.
ACCESS: NCC requires permission for access, which can be easily booked through www.connect2nature.ca. Access to south property: east of Elnora on TWP 352, north to the end of RR 214. Parking is in ditch beside fence. Enter though V gate. No clearly marked trails or bathroom facilities. Visitors should be physically fit and have wayfinding skills. Access to the north section is from the ditch along Highway 590.
For more information about this property, check https://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/where-we-work/alberta/featured-projects/fyten-lea.html. NCC contact for the property is Hannah Schaepsmeyer Hannah.Schaepsmeyer@natureconservancy.ca