Sage Creek (AB065)
Altitude 850 - 1,015m
The Sage Creek area is located in the extreme southeastern portion of Alberta, bordering Saskatchewan and Montana. The small communities of Onefour and Wild Horse are encompassed by the site, while Medicine Hat is about 90 km to the north. Two major roads, Highway 41 and Secondary Highway 501, bisect this large area. The Sage Creek site is at the western extremity of part of the largest block of mixed grassland remaining in Canada. Within this large site are: areas of extensive mixed grassland, ephemeral saline wetlands, numerous streams and streamside shrubs, as well as small areas of badland habitats. The site contains important habitat for Mule Deer and Pronghorn Antelope and contains several release sites for the nationally endangered Swift Fox. At least 5 species of plants that are rare in Canada, including Flowering Quillwort, Plains Boisduvalia and Runcinate-leaved Rush-pink, are also found at this site.
The extensive grasslands of the Sage Creek site are important habitat for numerous species of birds at risk in Canada. The nationally endangered prairie population of the Sage Grouse, whose numbers in Canada are estimated at, at most, about 800 individuals (1997), have several leks in the area. Although surveys have not been done, at least of 1% of the Canadian population is thought to occur here. The whole site is considered the centre of the currently shrinking range of this nationally endangered species. Another nationally endangered species using the site for breeding is the Mountain Plover. Although only found in small numbers as isolated family groups and nesting pairs, these numbers are nationally significant.
Other birds at risk in Canada that nest in the area include: Burrowing Owl (nationally endangered), Long-billed Curlew (nationally vulnerable), Ferruginous Hawk (nationally vulnerable), Spragues Pipit (nationally threatened) and Loggerhead Shrike (nationally threatened). Other uncommon species found in the summer are Sharp-tailed Grouse (several leks), Bobolink and Bairds Sparrow.
Most of this area is used as rangeland this means that there are two potential problems for birds in the area. Over-grazing in certain areas can degrade habitat used by birds such as Sharp-tailed Grouse, Long-billed Curlew and Spragues Pipit, while reduction of grazing in other areas can potentially reduce the amount of available Mountain Plover habitat. Mountain Plovers require flat, heavily grazed natural grassland, typically less than 8 cm high, and show a preference for grassland used as pasture during the winter prior to the nesting season. A reduction in grazing, and the subsequent invasion of taller non-native vegetation, could potentially eliminate this habitat. Although more than 95% of the lands in the site are leased by the crown (including a small portion of the Dominion Experimental Research Station and the Sage Creek Grazing Reserve) two Natural Areas, Milk River Lake and Buffalo Trail, are proposed for the Sage Creek site.
Potential or Ongoing Threats