Clear Water Landcare


Clearwater County is unique in having its own environmental stewardship program, called Clear Water Landcare. Although it has had different names over the years, the program has been active for over 20 years. As stated in their mission statement, Clear Water Landcare is a leader in supporting and building awareness of grassroots land and water stewardship. They promote beneficial management practices to ensure safe and healthy local watersheds.

Clear Water Landcare is led by representatives from the local farm and acreage community, non-government organizations and appointed by the Agricultural Service Board (ASB). These individuals are leaders in land and water stewardship and encourage residents to practice stewardship of the land. There are two full time staff members dedicated to extension and promoting environmentally sustainable agriculture in the local community. 

Landcare staff provide ongoing support to local producers in EFP certification and encourage them to take advantage of CAP grant funding opportunities where applicable. Along with advocating the above, Clear Water Landcare has its own program called Caring for my Land. The program is funded through WRRP which promotes enhancement of upland and lowland areas making watersheds more resilient to seasonal runoff, high water events and periods of drought.  

Along with promoting sustainable agriculture to producers, it is also advocated to youth through educational presentations at Aspen Ranch Camp, Education Ag Tour (EAT) and the Classroom Agriculture Program. Landcare partakes in the local West Country Ag Tour where one third of the tour is dedicated to promoting environmentally sustainable agriculture.

Clear Water Landcare also has an active role in the following local initiatives: Sasquatch and Partners (emphasizing responsible use of crown land in the area), Clearwater Trails Initiative (local recreation management initiative on public lands), hosting various workshops, mountain pine beetle monitoring and education, conifer tree seedling program and providing a host of rental equipment to producers.

Clear Water Landcare co-operates with various local and regional entities such as our neighbouring municipalities, Grey Wooded Forage Association, Agroforestry and Woodlot Extension Society, Cows and Fish, Trout Unlimited, West Fraser, Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, EPCOR, North Saskatchewan and Red Deer River Watershed Alliances and other private industry entities (oil and gas, forestry etc.)

For the past three years, Clearwater County staff have been working with Agriculture and Forestry's Forest Health Officer, Pam Melnick, in coaching residents on what to watch out for and how to control and manage affected trees on their property.

WHAT IS MOUNTAIN PINE BEETLE?

The Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) is a small, black beetle about the size of a grain of rice. It is a naturally occurring insect found in pine forests.

WHAT TYPE OF TREES MAY BE ATTACKED?

Mountain pine beetles attack and kill pine trees, usually mature ones aged 80 to 120 years old. All species of pine, including lodgepole, jack pine, scots pine and ponderosa pine are vulnerable. Mountain pine beetles do not attack aspen, spruce or fir trees.

WHEN DO BEETLES ATTACK TREES AND HOW LONG DO THEY STAY IN TREES?

Beetles fly in search of new trees in July and August. Once a beetle has found a suitable tree, it will live in that tree for the remainder of its life and lay eggs. The new generation of beetles will not emerge from the tree for at least one year.

IF MY TREE IS ATTACKED, WILL IT DIE?

Trees successfully attacked by mountain pine beetles usually die within one year, however if the beetle has made an attempt to enter the tree but is "pitched out” before completing reproduction, the tree may survive.

HOW CAN I TELL IF MY TREES HAVE BEEN ATTACKED?

Look for creamy globs that look like crystallized honey, called pitch tubes, and sawdust at the base of the tree and in the bark’s crevices.

WHAT DO I DO IF MY TREE IS INFESTED?

Scout out the pine trees on your property, wrap survey tape around each tree that has been attacked. It is recommended that a tree with more than 40 pitch tubes be removed. In the winter months, trees can be sold and transported to sawmills and debarked on their site. Other options are to hire an arborist with a chipper to come on to your property and leave the material on site or burn the mass attacked trees before July when the developing beetles could emerge to attack nearby trees.

HOW CAN CLEARWATER COUNTY HELP?

Our staff will provide identification of the mountain pine beetle, so control measures can be put in place. Early detection and control by residents play an important role in managing Alberta’s MPB infestation and preventing further spread. This pest is not registered under the Provincial Agricultural Pest Act.

Is there a preventative measure I can take to deter MPB attack?

Verbenone Repellent Pouches are available (limited supply) for purchase through the Agriculture and Community Services office. To protect high-valued pine trees over a small area, the pouches give off a natural pheremone letting beetle know "this tree is full" to ward off attach. Hang one pouch per tree between June 15 and July 1 at a 10-15 m radius to the next pouch.

While verbenone has been shown to be effective at low to moderate beetle population pressure, it is not very effective when the pressure is high. Even under low and moderate beetle pressure, complete protection may not be achieved. 

Pouches are sold in packages of 10 at a cost of $100.00 plus GST. Packages are to be stored in a sealed freezer bag in a freezer (without anything edible). For more information call 403-845-4444. 

Verbenone Pouch deployed on mature pine in county cemetery.Verbenone Pouch in county cemetery

For questions about MPB on public (crown) land contact Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

For questions about MPB on private land contact Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services.

For more information visit the Alberta Agriculture & Forestry website.


Recognizing the cost associated with on-the-ground practice change, the Caring for My Land (C4mL) program is intended to reduce the financial burden that comes with implementing beneficial practice change. 

Funding is provided through the provincial Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program (WRRP).  WRRP focuses on improving upland and lowland areas making watersheds more resilient to seasonal runoff and high water events and periods of drought or water deficiency. 

COST SHARE: 50% - 75% up to $5000

Eligible rural farm and non-farm landowners will receive 75% cost share funding for riparian fencing along streams, creeks, rivers, springs and surface water bodies, and 50% cost share funding for all other projects and approved expenses - up to $5000 reimbursement per project. 

Eligible Projects include (but not limited to):
  • Off-site watering systems
  • Riparian or streambank fencing (include grazing plan)
  • Cross fencing for rotational grazing to distribute nutrients
  • Beaver pond levelers or exclusion fencing
  • Bridge material for livestock crossings
  • Portable windbreaks/shelters for winter feeding and bedding sites to help distribute nutrients away from runoff areas
  • Development of berms, catchments or filtering buffers to catch runoff
  • Establishment of eco-buffers, shelterbelts and deep rooted perennial forage to filter and retain water

Ineligible Projects include:

  • Replacement of existing fence
  • Drilling a new well
  • Constructing a new dugout

*ALL projects must directly or indirectly protect natural surface water*

The Canadian Agricultural Partnership is a five-year, $3 billion federal-provincial-territorial investment in the agriculture, agri-food and agri based products sector that began in April 2018 and is the successor of the 2013-18 Growing Forward 2 partnership.

In Alberta, the Canadian Agricultural Partnership represents a federal - provincial investment of $406 million in strategic programs and initiatives for the agricultural sector. In consultation with stakeholders, programs were developed under five themes: Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change; Products, Market Growth and Diversification; Science and Research; Risk Management; and Public Trust.

Visit the program page to learn more about what is eligible for funding and to access application forms.

County landowners can order affordable tree seedlings for white spruce or lodgepine seedlings suitable for starting/renovating a shelter belt or rejuvenating a natural area.

The Tree Seedling Program, in partnership with West Fraser, provides purchasers with options to purchase bundled seedlings of fifteen spruce or fifteen pine at $4.50 per bundle (min. order five bundles) with a deposit of $22.50. White spruce and lodgepole pine seedlings are grown for West Fraser by K&C Nursery in Oliver, BC from seed collected west of Rocky Mountain House. This program is also a good candidate for rejuvenating a naturally wooded area.

Application deadline is extended to June 14, 2021 with a seedling delivery in late June/early July. Trees must be planted on the property applied for and not sold or given away. Please provide verification of land ownership in Clearwater County (example: property tax notice). Applications are subject to Clearwater County approval. Planting sites may be subject to verification.

Each year, between 8,000 – 10,000 seedlings are distributed to County landowners through this program.

If you would like to beautify your property and help the environment, click on the link below to submit an application form.

Tree Seedling Application Form (click here)

Please note that due to the COVID-19, Clearwater County offices are closed to public access (open by appointment only) until further notice. For alternative payment options, see below:

To submit applications:
1. Email dens@clearwatercounty.ca
2. Drop application form off in the main County building drop box near the front doors
3. Mail to: Clearwater County, Attn. Ag and Community Services, 4340-47 Ave, Box 550, Rocky Mountain House, AB, T4T 1A4.

Payment option:
(deposit of $22.50 and balance paid at time of seedling pickup or pay for entire order with application submission)
1. Cheque or cash in an envelope dropped off in the main County building drop box near the front doors (if paying by cheque, make it out to Clearwater County with "Tree Seedlings" in the memo)

For additional information or any questions, please call 403-846-4040 to reach Ag and Community Services.

Available 12-inch and 18-inch square hemp fiber mats to help maximize your tree seedling investment. Great for helping seedlings access light, nutrients and moisture that other vegetation otherwise robs. Only $0.55/12-inch and $1.10/18-inch plus GST. Hemp fiber products also come in rolls (4ft X 50ft) for custom applications like slope protection, row planting where plants are closer together, lining swales or low areas, culvert inlets or outlets, and even pond banks. The rolls cost $100.00 + GST and are an alternative to straw or coconut matting. Call 403-845-4444 for more info.

Hemp Fibre Mat 

The Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) is a voluntary, whole farm, self-assessment tool that helps producers identify their environmental risks and develop plans to mitigate identified risks.

Alberta EFP website https://www.albertaefp.com/ states:

"Effective April 1, 2018, producers will need to have an EFP completion letter dated within the last 10 years to be considered current and eligible for cost-share funding with the Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change programs of the Canadian Agriculture Partnership (CAP). That means, for example, if you apply in September 1, 2018, your EFP will need to have been approved on or after September 1, 2008 to be considered for current funding.”

Clearwater County has two EFP technicians available to assist producers in starting, updating or completing an environmental farm plan. 

To learn more about an Environmental Farm Plan click here

PROTECTING WATER SOURCES

Water Wells
Clearwater County offers a "do-it-yourself” approach to shock chlorination (disinfecting) domestic water wells. We offer to source your water well report through the provincial database and to calculate your shock chlorination (bleach to water) formula. For more complex concerns we can connect you with an Alberta Agriculture water expert. A 270 imperial gallon mix tank is available to rent ($35 per day with a $50 deposit) along with a static water level meter (if needed) to use ($50 refundable deposit). 

For more than a decade the Working Well program has traveled Alberta teaching water well management and aquifer protection. Landcare has hosted many of these workshops, usually 2 a year. Watch for Working Well workshops in Clearwater County.

The Working Well program have factsheets to guide well owners. Click here for a complete listing.

Dugouts

Everything you need to know about dugouts can be found in: Quality Farm Dugouts. (Paper book copies available through Clearwater County Agriculture and Community Services)

Pond Scum 101 - Blue-Green Algae/Cyanobacteria: see chapter eight in Quality Farm Dugouts


Ever wonder how much water your dugout can hold or how big a dugout to construct? Click here to check out the calculator designed for lagoons but works for sizing dugouts. 


Wanting to stock a dugout with fish for fun or otherwise? There are best practices and requirements found in Constructing Dugouts for Fish


Septic Systems
Clearwater County is not an accredited municipality when it comes to Septic Systems. For septic system questions or information, refer to the Alberta Onsite Wastewater Management Association (AOWMA) or the Alberta Safety Codes Authority.  

 

What is a Watershed? Simply speaking a watershed is land shedding water. Scientifically, a watershed is "an area of land that intercepts and drains precipitation through a particular river system or group of river systems." (University of Guelph).

The veins in a leaf are like the connection between rivers and streams.  The surface around the veins is land that sheds rainfall and snow melt into streams and rivers.

Vegetation of all kinds absorb some of the water, either storing it or releasing some to the atmosphere.  Stored water has a cooling effect, increases humidity and feeds all kinds of creatures and plants. 

Soil is like a sponge but not all sponges are the same with each holding differing amounts of water.  Groundwater is important as a source of drinking water.

Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes

Clearwater County is a headwater region with 1.8 million hectares of land to store and release water for three great watersheds.  

North Saskatchewan River Watershed: The mighty North Saskatchewan River stretches from Banff Park to the Alberta/Saskatchewan border and beyond. Ninety per cent of the water in this river comes from the Cline, Brazeau, Ram and Clearwater watersheds in Clearwater County. It is a source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands including the city of Edmonton.

Red Deer River Watershed: The equally important Red Deer River receives its water from a multitude of groundwater springs and surface headwater tributaries such as the Panther, James, Raven and Medicine rivers.  The "Big Red” contributes 41 per cent to the flow of the South Saskatchewan River system with the city of Red Deer among its water users.

The North and South Saskatchewan rivers merge about 40 km east of Prince Albert, SK, ultimately ending in Lake Winnipeg.  In good conscience citizens of and visitors to Clearwater County have a responsibility to consider these downstream neighbors.  Whether it’s a weekend of hiking, horseback riding or quad riding, raising livestock or crops for a living or some other industry in the white or green zones, living in a hamlet, subdivision or acreage – we all have a responsibility to conduct our affairs with environmental integrity.  

The eastern part of Clearwater County, known as the settled area, represents about 12 percent of the land or about 225,000 hectares.  There are about 12,000 county residents.  Including the Town of Rocky Mountain House and Village of Caroline the population is nearly 20,000.  Through the summer months there can be upwards of 100,000 weekend visitors on a weekly basis.  

Athabasca River Watershed: A small portion of Townships 44-16 and 44-17 at the north end of the Forestry Trunk Road (SH 734) feeds the Athabasca River watershed.  Topography, not human-assigned boundaries, delineate watersheds.  Although occupying only a few square kilometers of drainage, Clearwater County can still claim to contribute to the beginnings of this waterway that eventually empties into the Arctic Ocean.

Ribbons of Joy

Think of creeks like shoelaces.  Some are long and wide like skate or boot laces.  Others are like sneaker or dress shoe laces.  Some are small like kids laces.

Some creeks have names, others not.  Some flow part-time, others year-round.  Some meander through occupied land while others wind through public land.  A few share private and public land.  Most become violent torrents during high water events while others simply spill their banks into a vast, lake-like floodplain.  

Prairie creek, a tributary of the Clearwater River, gathers its water from the green and settled areas southwest of Rocky Mountain House relying on its north and west stems along with Vetch creek and numerous springs to swell its volume.    

As the outlet for Cow Lake, Cow creek has a short but significant run through mostly agricultural land to the North Saskatchewan River picking up flow from creeks called Heifer and Bull.

Originating in wetlands east of Rocky Mountain House, Horseguard creek meanders through the settled area picking up flow from Lobstick, Lasthill and Blueberry creeks. 

Water sampling of these creeks over a three-year period resulted in a report in 2005.  Prairie creek water quality was "excellent”, Cow Creek considered to be "good” and Horseguard rated "fair”. 

The challenge is to maintain and improve water quality and riparian health wherever possible for these and all our watershed tributaries.

Ponds of Gold

Clearwater County is honored to have many lakes to appreciate and enjoy.

Burnstick Lake: This pristine lake southwest of Caroline covers nearly 300 hectares, is nearly four times as long as wide and has an average depth of three meters.  It’s classed as "oligotrophic” meaning there are low levels of nutrients and high oxygen content. The lake is fed by West Stony creek, passes through a weir to become East Stony creek eventually emptying into the James River. According to a 1996 study done by Alberta Environmental Protection the water quality was considered excellent.  The lake is home to the Summer Village of Burnstick Lake.  This lake is popular for fishing, wildlife viewing and camping.  There are several resource industry roads and sites in the area.

Burnstick Lake

Cow Lake: This shallow lake covers approximately eight square kilometers and is consider "mesoptophic” or moderately nutrient rich.  The lake has a mean depth of just less than one meter.  Cow Lake is the source of Cow Creek at its southwest bend. Approximately one-third of the crown land surrounding the lake is designated grazing lease.  A popular campground along the west side and day use area on the north side afford people the chance to fish, canoe or operate pleasure craft.

Crimson Lake: This popular recreational lake is in the lower half of Crimson Lake Provincial Park.  The lake is considered mesotrophic with a mean depth of just over 2 metres. Buster Creek border the north end of the park and Prentice Creek trims the southeast corner of the park. Cottage dwellers reside on parts of its perimeter and a variety of agricultural, acreage and industrial uses occupy the neighborhood.  Seasonal parks programs attract many visitors.

Other Gems

There are numerous other lakes – Swan, Phyllis, Alford, Ironside, Strubel, Beaver, Birch and more – each with tremendous natural function and importance. Perhaps the most misunderstood natural features are wetlands. The Cows and Fish organization put it best: "Quite simply, wetlands are lands that are wet.”  And wet means value.Schrader Creek

Cows and Fish go on to explain, "wetlands… are the connection in the watershed we often can’t see, linking groundwater, surface water in other wetlands, lakes and streams, soil moisture and weather patterns.  Wetlands are so closely linked with other parts of the water cycle that drainage can have significant local effects such as lowering the water table, reducing local precipitation and creating greater temperature extremes.” 

In Clearwater County there are large wetlands which initiates Horseguard creek in 38.6, Kodiak Lake south of Leslieville and the expansive wetland at the south end of Wall Street road in 37.4.  There are countless smaller wetlands, perhaps only one acre in size, with some willows and cattails. Each has ecological value to humans and wildlife.

See also:

Horseguard Creek

Riparian areas

There are many definitions of the word riparian but none better than how Cows and Fish (Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society) describes them:

"Riparian areas are moist areas of water-loving vegetation that border a stream, river, lake or wetland.  They are very important ecologically, socially and economically.  A healthy riparian area helps reduce bank erosion, trap sediments, filter pollutants, improve water quality and provide livestock forage and excellent fish and wildlife habitat.” 

See also: "Looking at my Streambank” and "Looking at my Lakeshore” at www.cowsandfish.org 

An aerial view in early spring makes streams look like green-bordered ribbons and lakes or ponds like emerald-rimmed buttons.  In Alberta these areas constitute about 2 percent of the landscape but incredibly support 80 percent of wildlife.  People depend on them to recharge groundwater for a drinking water supply, to have surface water for livelihood and recreation or as simple places to enjoy the sound of a red wing blackbird, to fish for a brook trout or watch a moose cow calf pair. Wetland West of Nordegg

Landcare promotes careful use of riparian areas.  This includes the following examples:

  • Pumping water to where you want livestock to drink rather than letting animals go into the stream, slough or lake.
  • Using renewable forms of energy to create off-source water sites.
  • Managing the timing and duration of grazing in riparian areas. 
  • Encouraging woody vegetation to stabilize riparian areas.
  • Managing invasive plants which destabilize riparian areas.
  • Finding alternative ways to cross part time or permanent waterways.

Upland connections  

An aerial view of land away from water reveals a myriad of features – different grades and lengths of slopes, patterns delineating runoff from deep draws to shallow rills, evidence of old oxbows where water used to flow and varieties of ground cover from trees to shrubs and grasses to bare ground.  How we manage the uplands is just as important as how we manage the lowlands.

With this connectivity in mind, Landcare promotes careful use of upland areas.  This includes but is not limited to:

  • Establishing healthy, permanent pasture or treed land especially in areas prone to runoff. 
  • Attention to pasture health, stocking rates and rotational grazing.
  • Using winter feeding methods to maximize manure as a fertilizer.  Using cross fencing to manage grass and water. Attention to crop choices and rotation and soil integrity.
  • Developing livestock watering sources that protect surface and groundwater.  
  • Considering drainage patterns when siting corrals and buildings.

See also:

Soil Sampling and Testing
 
Clearwater County offers soil sampling tools and a list of private sector sampling analysis.
To learn more about soil testing and sampling click here.


Other Considerations

Pollinators: Pollinators are essential to food production. Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and even bats are examples of pollinators.  Some plants are pollinated by the wind. Sometimes one plant needs to be within proximity of another to ensure seed or fruit set. Encouraging pollinators in fields, gardens, wooded and riparian areas helps secure our food supply.    

Beneficial Insects: Not every bug is a bad bug.  In many cases good bugs feed on pest bugs before they become adults and in other cases go after the adults themselves.  Lady beetles eat aphids.  Big Eyed Bugs have a general appetite for a host of pests.  Parasitic wasps can help control Bertha army worms.  Blister Beetles eat grasshopper eggs.  Ground beetles attack caterpillars.  Use caution with insecticides in greenhouses, gardens and in fields.  When an insecticide is absolutely necessary try to choose a product and timing that is specific to the pest with the least impact on the beneficial bugs.


Trees, Shrubs and Other Plants

Woodlots: Even in the settled area on the east side of Clearwater County, there are large wooded areas.  These treed spaces are not waste areas but natural capital to be appreciated and managed.
 
When looking to recover a treed area or bolster it with new seedlings, consider your sources carefully.  Choose a reputable supplier of native plants common to your area.  Not every nursery seedling is a zone two or three.  Beware of potentially invasive plants like sea buckthorn and caragana. Know the kinds of trees that are noxious and prohibited noxious by law.
 

Shelterbelts: With one hundred years of settlement west of the 5th meridian, shelterbelts go back about as far as the defunct PFRA. Trees were planted to protect livestock, residences and other structures, improve the appearance of yards and create habitat for wildlife.

Today, trees can be sourced through private nurseries, from crown land or municipal right-of-way through a provincial permit system, grown from seed or cuttings or transplanted from neighbors.
 
TreeTime is a great nursery for ornamental trees and shrubs located in Edmonton. 
 
For establishing farm shelterbelts see the following Alberta Agriculture and Forestry publications:
 

Tree Permits for Transplants

The province has designated areas on Crown Provincial land where trees may be dug for transplants.  Click here for a map of the Rocky Mountain House region. A TM66 permit is required for transplant trees and is the same permit purchased for firewood or Christmas trees.  Permits cost is five dollars and are valid for 30 days.  For full information click here.


Livestock 


You are in mostly Cattle Country. According to the 2011 agricultural census for Clearwater County 483 of the 1,096 farms were cattle operations and the majority of those beef cattle (469).  Total cattle numbers exceeded 80,000 head. 

With more than 715,000 acres listed as farmland.  Crops or summer fallow total almost 189,000 acres.  Tame or native pasture accounted for over 438,000 acres.  Acres considered wooded or wetland totaling almost 63,000.  Farmyards, other facilities and niche interests account for the remaining acres.

Farmers need quality land and water to make a living.  Landcare advocates for farm planning that leads to healthy soil, abundant and clean water, robust pastures, quality crops and reliable strategies.
  
Just enough livestock. Adding a few head of cattle, a couple more horses, a bigger flock of sheep or more litters of pigs is enticing.  Whatever the livestock type it’s important to make sure the land can support the numbers.

Overgrazing is short-term gain with long term consequences. Weeds thrive where the ground is bare.  Weeds are opportunistic, taking advantage of bare  ground and lack of competition. Shallow plant roots due to overgrazing lack resilience to drought and erosion. 

While treed areas buffer wind, allowing livestock exclusive access to wooded vegetation not only damages mature trees, it inhibits establishment of younger trees.  Soil compaction, nutrient overload and livestock rub are a deadly three-some.

For more information see:           

 

What about horse owners?

While many farmers and acreage owners appreciate horses, a different approach is needed when managing pastures.  Although an acreage may be rated for limited livestock use, not every parcel can support the maximum – each pasture is unique.   According to the 2011 Census of Agriculture for Alberta for Clearwater County, over 500 farms reported having horses totaling of more than 5,000 head.  This does not include horse numbers – not available – owned by acreage dwellers.
 


What about other types of livestock?

Farmers and acreage-owners have an environmental responsibility no matter what type of livestock they manage.
Need to know more about livestock water requirements? Click here
Need to know the intricacies of setting up a working or hobby farmstead? Click here
Want to hone in on beneficial management do’s for livestock production? Click here
 
Winter Feeding Strategies include:

 
There are hundreds of resources available through Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. Click here