Big Sagebrush Candidate Natural Area
by Adrien Corbiere
The Alberta Native Plant Council is proud to participate in the provincial Natural Areas Stewardship Program as volunteer steward for the Big Sagebrush Candidate Natural Area (BSCNA). The BSCNA is situated in the southwest corner of Alberta, lying on the east side of the South Castle River valley between Waterton Lakes National Park and the Hamlet of Beaver Mines. The area’s name comes from the presence of Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) a provincially rare plant that can be found thriving in this area. Due to it’s limited distribution in the province Big Sagebrush is ranked S2 in Alberta. All of it’s occurrences are restricted to the southwest corner of he province which forms the north-eastern border of it’s range in North America. Although considered rare in Alberta, Big Sagebrush is considered common and a weedy species in the northwestern US and parts of British Columbia.
Big Sagebrush, Alberta’s largest and most aromatic sage, is most easily identified by it’s 3 toothed leaves. In this area plants hardly reach a height higher than 3 feet but under ideal conditions the plant has been known to reach heights of up to eight feet tall.
The BSCNA is also home to over 300 other plant species including 15 rare species. Among the rare plants found here are: One-Flowered Cancer Root (Orobanche uniflora), Slender Bog Orchid (Plantanthera stricta), Large flowered Lungwort (Mertensia paniculata) and Shrubby Beardtongue (Penstemon fruticosus).
The BSCNA remains largely in a pristine undisturbed state. Human impact in the area is limited to light cattle grazing, horseback riding, hiking, and some camping and ATV use along the road that runs alongside the area. The BSCNA is still considered as a candidate natural area and thus has no special protection or management other than what is offered to all other provincially owned land. The ANPC continues to be involved in having this area accepted under the provincial Natural Area designation.
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