Faces & Places: Bill Sanders

Bill Sanders owns the Rocky Top Ranch near Grasmere. He has been actively stewarding this land for decades. Formerly a veterinarian, he now focuses his energy on improving and conserving his land. He demonstrates a landowner ethic and leadership in private land conservation. This is his story…

After the turn of the century, my wife and I were looking at a disgustingly abused piece of land close to Grasmere BC. We said, “Who would want this? There are too many trees, no water, and no fences. It’s overgrazed with noxious weeds, shin-tangle and no grass, a real fire hazard.” We may have said that, but as soon as we met someone else who was also interested in this piece of property, we bought it. Fools rush in . . . .

As experienced stewards of pastures, we knew something about grasslands but we felt we knew little about this “forest” in the Rocky Mountain Trench. Finding any sources of information proved difficult. Turns out this ecosystem was also supposed to be grasslands, not as flat and treeless as we were used to but prettier. It’s supposed to be a fire maintained grassland ecosystem with trees and topography.

The lack of information was our biggest challenge. We knew we wanted fewer, bigger and better trees but how many trees? How far apart? We knew we wanted more and better grass but how and which type? They say the teacher appears when you are ready for the lesson.

The Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Program appeared and saved us. All we had to do was show interest. They provided published scientific research about this ecosystem explaining what it did look like in the past and what it should look like and how best to reclaim it. They put on seminars with those researchers explaining the science. But best of all was the people. They had a passion to get ‘er done. Those people made it seem like they wanted everybody to succeed with this common goal for the common good. They wanted to successfully reclaim the whole ecosystem, one piece of land at a time. They were eager to share information. If they did not have it, they provided other sources. One source was a walking rolodex.

It turns out that was the easy part. It’s taken years of investment and physical labour. It’s no wonder the original stewards used fire; so much easier and natural.  The RDEK weed program and Jaffray Logging were also supportive and very helpful.

Although we are a long way from finished it is important to look back at what has been accomplished. The biodiversity and abundance of our flora and fauna are very pleasing and much more satisfying to us when we walk our trails. We even have a Lewis’s Woodpecker that visits us occasionally. The elk do an excellent job of managing our grassland. So well that I do believe there is enough grass that it would benefit even more from some cattle. Holistic grass management is very intriguing, a subject I would like to learn more about. Grassland and grazers evolved together and each benefit from the symbiotic relationship.

Well, that’s our story. Without the support and shared enthusiasm of a few people, I’m not sure that we would have attempted such an arduous task.