Celebrate the Status Quo

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman

NEEPAWA, Man. — Last week, we celebrated something momentous. It happened right in our own backyard and it will have a lasting impact on our future. Last Thursday, at the edge of the Big Grass Marsh, between Plumas and Langruth, a ceremony was held to mark the signing of Canada’s largest conservation agreement. We celebrated the perpetual maintenance of the status quo.

With this agreement, 43,000 acres of grazing and habitat for waterfowl and wildlife will be kept in permanent cover and protected from being drained or broken up. Activities currently taking place, such as cattle grazing, brush control and fencing, will continue under the conservation agreement.

The process began about two and a half years ago when an RM of Lakeview councillor approached council about protecting the municipally owned land within the Big Grass Grazers Co-op community pasture. Recognizing the importance of the area, council was quick to jump on board and approached Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation about a conservation agreement.

Bordering Lakeview’s pasture land is land owned by the RM of Westbourne, which is also used as a community pasture. Lakeview councillors began talking to councillors in the neighbouring RM about their agreement, which was then brought forward to Westbourne council. Westbourne was also supportive of the idea and began the process of protecting their pasture land, as well as some adjacent hay land.

The final step saw Lakeview protect their remaining land within the Game Bird Refuge.

In total, the protected land is an almost complete block covering 43 sections. Apart from Highway 265, there is only one, four mile road.

The land isn’t high quality farm land but it serves a very important role. Former RM of Lakeview reeve Phillip Thordarson said that it was important to his council that this land be protected, recognized and appreciated for what it is. At a time when we are increasingly concerned about flooding and water quality, keeping this marshland intact is extremely important.

Whitemud Watershed Conservation District manager Chris Reynolds called it the region’s kidney — about one-third of the watershed drains through it. The marsh allows runoff to be held, which can prevent downstream flooding, and also filters the water as it passes through.

The area also serves as important habitat for waterfowl and wildlife. During the ceremony, speakers had to raise their voices to be heard over the chatter of the birds that call the marsh home.

The event also served as an opportunity to praise the province’s cattle producers. At at time when many modern farming practices require large tracts of clear, flat land, Manitoba’s cattle producers have much of the provinces wildlife habitat within their pastures. Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation’s CEO Tim Sopuck touched on this partnership, which could seem odd to the outsider, saying that without cattle producers, habitat would be pretty hard to maintain.

In our region, we should be proud; this is our second large-scale conservation agreement. In 2010, the municipally owned land in the Langford Community Pasture was protected by a conservation agreement.

In it’s natural state, our province’s land provides valuable services, such as water retention, and provides needed habitat. The problem is that keeping it in such a state is incompatible with many of today’s farming operations. However, not every quarter of land is suitable for growing wheat and canola. Recognizing that different land has different roles, it’s nice to see the environmental benefits of certain landscapes recognized and protected.

In this case, I am more than happy to celebrate the status quo.