It's amusing to Francis Gardner that until recently the Canadian Soil Survey, a key reference of Canadian agriculture, listed native rangeland as "other unimproved areas". "The truth is quite the opposite," he says. "We take the point of view that native rangelands aren't ‘unimproved', they're ‘unimprovable'. They're long-lived and self-sustaining."
Francis, wife Bonnie and family run Mt. Sentinel Ranch, a 600 head commercial cattle operation on 3,400 deeded and 4,800 leased acres in the beautiful foothills of southwest Alberta. Francis' grandfather bought the ranch in 1898, and his father took it over in the 1930s. "What we have with the native grass ecosystem on this ranch is essentially a heritage site. Improving grass is a cornerstone of our program."
Francis is passionate about telling the story of environmental stewardship. He speaks frequently, has been a guest on a special television program for children with David Suzuki, and has worked with the Calgary Zoo, the World Wildlife Fund and many government agencies.
"Today people are willing to listen. They know there is some kind of limit on what the world can take," he says. But he believes all this is threatened somewhat unless these resources are managed on an industry scale into the future. "I know that this ecosystem on my ranch has been around since the last ice age. I know it's sustainable, and that for the past 100 years we've been integrating cattle without damaging it, without degrading it."