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Ecology by satellite

Satellite imagery and aerial photography are being used to locate the last bits of pristine parkland in central Alberta, Canada. The same grassy land that once nourished great herds of bison and deer — and even sustained grizzly bears in the mid-1800s — is now being recorded on maps by Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.

About 12 per cent of the province’s original rough fescue grass and aspen-covered parkland remains. Surveys have found most of the natural area is left in bits around the edges of agricultural fields and lakes. There are fragments of parkland in moraines around Pine Lake, Buffalo Lake and Cook Lake. Strips also exist along the Red Deer, Battle, Blindman and North Saskatchewan rivers. The largest section is in the Rumsey Natural Area.

Ron Bjorge of Alberta Fish and Wildlife is turning over all data collected by his department since 2002 to conservation groups to help them preserve what’s left.

Most of central Alberta’s parkland has been sectioned into farms, so 97 per cent of surviving rough fescue grasses and aspen stands are now in private hands. Conservation groups are already working to educate area residents about the benefits of keeping those last bits of natural area.