Wetland loss is harming Manitoba, the world

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A recently completed Ducks Unlimited Canada research project in the Broughton's Creek watershed in the Rural Municipality of Blanshard, north of Brandon, has determined that there are 15 million reasons per year why wetlands simply cannot continue to be lost, drained or degraded in Manitoba.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/12/2008 (5039 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A recently completed Ducks Unlimited Canada research project in the Broughton’s Creek watershed in the Rural Municipality of Blanshard, north of Brandon, has determined that there are 15 million reasons per year why wetlands simply cannot continue to be lost, drained or degraded in Manitoba.

According to the study, this number will soon climb to 19 million per year in the near future if nothing changes.

In this ground-breaking study, DUC partnered with the University of Guelph and Tarleton State University, a member of the Texas A&M University system to conduct a study of the Broughton’s Creek watershed.

Phase 1 of this project determined that 5,921 wetlands or 70 per cent of the total number of wetlands in the Broughton’s Creek watershed have been lost or degraded due to drainage between 1968 and 2005.

Realizing that the drastic loss of valuable waterfowl and wildlife habitat alone is often not enough to inspire the government action necessary to keep wetlands on our landscape, DUC researchers turned to the ecological goods and services, such as water quality and carbon sequestration, that wetland areas provide for added impact.

The researchers then scaled up the results from the Broughton’s Creek research to represent all of southwestern Manitoba. What they found was absolutely crushing.

In 2005, the nutrient removal and additional carbon released into the atmosphere as a result of lost wetlands in southwest Manitoba are estimated to have cost Manitobans $15 million annually. This figure will increase to $19 million per year by 2020 if wetland drainage or degradation is not stopped.

The startling thing is these estimates are based on costs associated with removing the additional phosphorous and nitrogen from water and offsetting additional carbon emissions. They do not account for the economic costs of downstream flooding, decreased biodiversity, diminished ecotourism, reduced groundwater recharge and the many other ecological functions lost when wetlands are drained or degraded.

They also found that the loss of wetlands in this corner of Manitoba has increased the phosphorus load into Lake Winnipeg the equivalent of dumping 10 semi loads of commercial agricultural fertilizer or 544,000 bags of lawn fertilizer directly into the lake every year.

The researchers also determined that wetland drainage has caused the release of five million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere between 1968 and 2005, the equivalent of putting 169,000 cars on the road for 20 years. This is also roughly equivalent to seven times the annual carbon emissions from our province’s largest emitters.

Since this research was released, the government of Manitoba stepped forward during the Nov. 20 throne speech with a commitment to a wetland restoration initiative for the province. This announcement complements DUC’s research and is a critical first step in moving toward a comprehensive and integrated wetland policy that protects and restores wetlands.

While DUC applauds this initiative, it is unlikely that this announcement will provide any significant abatement to the systemic and continuing loss and degradation of wetlands occurring across rural Manitoba.

Society needs to realize that the root cause for this continued loss is that agricultural producers are faced with market forces, policy signals and economic incentives to drain wetlands rather than to conserve them.

Despite being natural stewards of the land, producers are making decisions because they are being forced to improve their economic viability by increasing their land base and their production efficiency.

DUC’s research has confirmed that society is the primary benefactor of wetlands. Yet, in the current system, producers alone are burdened with the costs to retain them. Wetlands need to be made a public policy issue with the objective of developing an integrated and comprehensive wetland policy that effectively stops wetland loss.

DUC has 70 years of wetland expertise and experience to assist government and stakeholders in the development of a wetland initiative that will benefit all Manitobans. To do this, Manitoba needs a proactive and comprehensive wetland policy that provides incentive-based programming for producers, complemented with other policy instruments such as legislated protection, extension, tax credits, public outreach, removal of barriers to adoption, and other tools.

This will create the necessary paradigm shift to ensure wetlands remain functioning on Manitoba’s landscape.

DUC’s research justifies the need for a comprehensive and integrated wetland policy. The province appears to understand that the impacts of wetland drainage and water quality should be of concern to all Manitobans. Wetland loss impacts our quality of life and our economic well-being. The time for action is now.

Bob Grant is the Manitoba provincial manager of operations, Ducks Unlimited Canada.

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