By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman
NEEPAWA, Man. — Concern for the environment is something that unites most Canadians. Whether or not it’s because our national persona is tied up in a combination of wheat fields gently blowing in the wind and pristine lakes and woods, protecting our landscape is a cause that’s very close to most Canadians’ hearts. While most Canadians agree on the importance of protecting the environment, many disagree about how best to accomplish this goal.
When it comes to resource dependence, we are far behind many European countries, who have long been moving towards renewable energy, both for economic and environmental reasons. Germany, for example, broke a record on April 30 of this year, when 85 percent of the country’s electricity came from renewable sources, including wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric.
The very nature of our country makes some efforts at resource conservation close to impossible. Our vast, thinly populated landscapes make public transit difficult — an empty bus running between Minnedosa and Rivers is hardly an efficient use of resources. Our cold temperatures mean that we will use more energy, of any kind, to keep ourselves warm in the winters. But these challenges are opportunities and our unique landscape also gives us tools to preserve and protect the environment.
World Resources Institute estimates that grasslands store approximately 34 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide. Unlike forests, where carbon dioxide is stored in vegetation, the bulk of the carbon dioxide in grasslands is stored in the soil. According to research compiled by the Prairie Conservation Forum, it is estimated that the first metre of soil under native grasslands in western Canada could contain up to 200 tonnes of carbon per hectare. It’s further estimated that between two and three billion tonnes of carbon are under the uncultivated grasslands of western Canada. Farmers and ranchers are clearly undertaking major conservation efforts, without recognition or reward from the greater Canadian population.
Those with first-hand experience know that many of the practices used by farmers and ranchers are contributing positively to the environment. With fewer Canadians having this first-hand connection to agriculture, it’s important for all Canadians to know about this work, quietly being done.
This January, Martin Shields, a Conservative MP representing the Bow River constituency in southern Alberta, put forward a motion asking the government to recognize the work done by farmers and ranchers. It reads, “In the opinion of the House, the government should recognize that the ongoing contribution of ranchers and farmers as stewards of the land and conservationists is part of our history, proudly shared by all Canadians, and should consider establishing policies which would support and encourage the development of private farm and ranch land conservation and restoration projects.”
As part of the debate that took place May 9 regarding the motion, Shields went on to say that while many programs are provincially mandated, identifying farmers and ranchers as conservationists and stewards of the land would help bring together provincial and federal departments of agriculture for program implementation. The motion received support from members across party lines.
The 2016 Census of Agriculture found that there were 193,492 agricultural operations covering 158.7 million acres, or about 6.4 per cent of the country’s land mass. Conservation organizations like Nature Conservancy Canada, Ducks Unlimited, and the Audubon Society are recognizing the important role that ranchers and farmers play in the protection of land, waterways, habitat and carbon capture. It’s time the rest of Canada did as well.