Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Manitoba government to offer farmers incentives to restore lost wetlands

Finally something right up my REAL alley.

I've been wanting to write a post for, well probably since I started this blog, about some specific "environmental issue" in Manitoba.

Wetlands are my area of interest, they are what I know best and as such I decided to pursue an Ecology degree at the University of Manitoba. Manitoba is naturally home to wetlands. Unfortunately over the years, colonization, and further agricultural development has left these very important ecosystems as somewhat of a nuisance, a thorn on people's sides per se.

Uncountable hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of acres of wetlands have been drained over the years, leaving a very small percentage intact. They are after all, unfavourable to farming...they collect water and keep soil saturated, making otherwise workable land impossible to work with.

Most people, aside from farmers, also have a very negative opinion of wetlands or, as most people like to call them, "swamps." Something that breeds zillions of mosquitos, is filled with "weeds" and in general, an eyesore.

For the last two summers I have had the fortunate opportunity to work under Manitoba Conservation in the Wildlife Services branch, specifically in wetland areas. While on a trip to Dauphin to do some work, the Dauphinite we ended up working with explained to me how farmers in the area were trying to be encouraged to allow part of their properties to revert back to their natural wetland states.

While driving along a highway and pointing to what was probably several sections worth of land, and saying how it all used to be wetland and was drained, I was shocked.

Farmers are now being encouraged to allow at least some of their land to revert back to it's natural state.

This is incredibly progressive news.

In intense agricultural areas, such as Dauphin, water flows off of the worked land, collecting fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, natural nutrients, and sediments. With no natural wetlands, this water ends up in a drainage area, which leads to a ditch and eventually to a river or stream, completely unfiltered.

In case you can't see where I'm getting at, I'm getting at Lake Winnipeg.

This is one of perhaps the most effective ways to contribute to bettering the health of Lake Winnipeg. All other gimmicks aside, such as the ridiculous hog barn stuff, naturalizing drainage waterways would go a very, very long way.

If one considers all of the wetland areas that preceded human development, all of the creeks and streams and bogs that were in the Lake Winnipeg watershed before they were drained and filled in, one may be able to picture a pristine lake. If one removes, as the FreeP article suggests, 70% of those creeks, streams and bogs, replaces them with high intensity agriculture, the picture gets a little dirtier.

In case you've read this far and are skeptical of what I am saying, living proof of a working wetland system is available for exploration at your leisure, at Oak Hammock Marsh.

And remember while you are there, that what is now Oak Hammock, used to be a wetland spanning over 116 000 acres. It now occupies less than 10 000 acres.

No, I did not miss any zeroes in those numbers.

This is the real impact of human development environment-wise. Humans have changed the landscape, on a world-wide scale, from what it once naturally was, to how it is now. In my opinion this is a much bigger contributor to climate change than any talk of carbon emissions is: literally changing the face of the earth. Almost no part of the world has been left untouched by human activity.

That isn't to say that we need to revert EVERYthing back to it's natural state. Just that it is often to our benefit to do so. In the case of wetlands across the prairies, they could be brought back to help filter water and remove high nutrient concentrations before it ends up in major tributaries of various watersheds.

Mother nature is a powerful force. Instead of destroying it, we should think about using it to our advantage.


Haley said...

Well said Graham. That is great news from the province.

Freedom Manitoba said...

What is the incentive for farmers to convert some of their land to wetlands?

KyleH said...

Graham, we would like to publish excerpts from your post in a new magazine coming out that deals exclusively with Manitoba. Please contact me at

Kyle Havens