Big Grass Marsh gets largest-ever conservation deal


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MANITOBA is entering the largest conservation agreement in its history to protect 18,211 hectares that make up the Big Grass Marsh.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/11/2014 (3105 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

MANITOBA is entering the largest conservation agreement in its history to protect 18,211 hectares that make up the Big Grass Marsh.

The province will announce today a deal to protect Manitoba’s third-largest wetland, a staging area for more than 100 species of birds, in a deal struck with the RMs of Lakeview and Westbourne.

The Big Grass Marsh is on the west side of Lake Manitoba and harbours up to 200,000 geese annually and numerous other birds such as sandhill cranes.

Private land is not part of the deal. All the land is municipal and Crown land. It also includes community pastures formerly held by the federal Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration.

There has been ongoing pressure to develop the marshland by draining it for agricultural use. There has been similar pressure on PFRA native pastures. These lands are now off limits to development “in perpetuity,” said Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh.

The marsh, which stretches more than 40 kilometres from south to north, is important environmentally because it acts “as a huge sponge” for everything from excess water for flood control to carbon, Mackintosh said. It holds back 20 tonnes of phosphorus annually and three million tonnes of carbon, he said.

Waterfowl use Big Grass as a staging area to refuel and sometimes mate before flying elsewhere, as far north as the Arctic, and, in the case of blue-winged teal ducks, as far south as Central America. Big Grass is on the migration route of the Central and Mississippi flyways, two of North America’s four bird-migration routes.

Hunting and trapping will still be permitted, as will grazing cattle.

Hunting is an important business for the local economies, but so is birdwatching, said Phil Thordarson, reeve of Lakeview. Big Grass Marsh is an important staging area for waterfowl suchs as mallards, snow geese and Canada geese, as well as Franklin’s gulls. Up to 10,000 mallard ducks use the marsh in the fall and 6,500 migrating sand hill cranes.

Lakeview and Westbourne RMs agreed they wanted to protect the marsh from future development and perhaps future councils. They approached the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, a non-profit Crown corporation mandated to conserve and restore fish and wildlife habitat. The Crown corporation drafted their wishes into a legal document and presented it to Manitoba Conservation.

“This is what makes politics satisfying,” said David Single, reeve for the RM of Westbourne. Westbourne and Lakeview are being amalgamated with the Town of Gladstone on Jan. 1, to become the RM of Westlake Gladstone.

“It’s very exciting,” said Gordon Goldsborough, a wetlands ecologist with the University of Manitoba. “The wetlands are nature’s kidneys. They help purify the water of all kinds of chemicals, like phosphorus that comes from fertilizers, sewage and other sources.”

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