By Alex McCuaig
Southern Alberta Newspapers
After several years of flooding or wet conditions in southeastern Alberta left green fields in their wake, today’s parched prairie is living up more to its historical Palliser Triangle moniker.
Cypress County announced Tuesday a local state of agricultural emergency with the range in southeastern Alberta taking on a shade of beige usually not seen until the end of August.
Brian Olson, provincial rangeland agrologist, said the southeastern Alberta prairie is stressed.
“We are worried about it but we have had a lot of good years going into this dry spell,” he said.
“In a lot of cases, because we use ecologically sustainable stocking rates, our rangeland can sustain dry conditions for one, maybe two years.”
But how long a pasture can endure a prolonged bout of lack of precipitation comes down to range management practices, said Olson.
“A lot of (pastures) are holding up well this year but anybody who has pushed them, they’re not doing very good,” he said.
Record beef prices are also feeding into the mix as ranchers are raising their stocking rates following a decade resulting in the industry devastated by the BSE crisis and many cow/calf operators walking away from the business.
Olson said provincial officials are working with ranchers to mitigate impacts to the range from this year’s dry bout so the effects of a multi-year low-precipitation spell isn’t compounded.
“This year, it looks like most guys are going to get through. They are starting to implement or think about possible ways to keep the health of their rangeland up,” said Olson.
The latest moisture level maps from Alberta Agriculture for the 10 days preceding July 20 show the northern half of Cypress County and most of the Country of 40-Mile have received between one and 20 millimetres of rain in since July 10. The southern half of Cypress County, including the Cypress Hills, has faired a little better with between 20 and 40 millimetres of precipitation over the same time period.
The first mention of the Palliser Triangle stems from the expedition of Capt. John Palliser, who surveyed the southern Canadian prairie from Winnipeg to the Rocky Mountains in the 1850s.