In Alberta, only 26% of native prairie habitats remain in a relatively natural state. Over the past 150 years, cultivation, urbanization and industrial activity has replaced much of Alberta’s Native Prairie. The remaining native prairie is fragmented into smaller parcels that are often disconnected from each other.
With the significant loss of native prairie habitats in Alberta, it is not too surprising that more than 75% of Alberta’s Species at Risk are found in the Grassland Natural Region.
Although much has been lost, Alberta has hung on to more of its native prairie than many areas. For example, in Saskatchewan, only 21% remains. In Alberta, approximately 56% of the remaining prairie is under crown ownership, with the remaining under private ownership.
Current Threats to Remaining Native Prairie
While the rate of cultivation of native prairie has slowed in the last few decades, there is still pressure to convert native grasslands to cultivation, especially in areas where irrigation is possible.
Alberta’s native prairie sits above significant oil and gas reserves and in some of the windiest parts of the Province, leaving it vulnerable to energy developments. Such activity further fragments native prairie through roads, well sites and turbines, has the potential to introduce non-native invasive plants and creates human disturbance.
As Alberta’s population increases, there is an increasing expansion of residential areas into native prairie areas adjacent to towns and cities.
Loss of Ecological Integrity
Some of the remaining native prairie is unable to function properly because it’s been compromised by a variety of factors. These factors include:
If non-native invasive weeds replace native species, ecological functions and diversity are impaired. This impacts both wildlife and livestock.
Over Use by Livestock
When rangelands don’t get a chance to recover from grazing, or too many livestock are put in a pasture, this can affect ecosystem functions to a point where the benefits of a healthy rangeland are reduced and productivity for livestock also suffers.
Some ecological processes cannot function as effectively when the remaining prairie is split up into many small pieces.