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Land Donation Will Protect Local Water Supply

A rare remnant of river-bottom forest along the Dead Horse Creek in southern Manitoba donated this spring to the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation is a great example of how preserving habitat can have far-reaching benefits.

A new conservation agreement signed between a southern Manitoba farm family and the MHHC will help protect the regional water supply depended upon by thousands of area residents, including he entire City of Winkler.

The land involved is 42 acres of native woodlands on Burwalde Woods Honey Farm, between Winkler and Morden, and owned by Phil and Vera Froese.

Long-prized by the family as a place of natural beauty and being set aside primarily for that reason, the woodlands also happens to sit squarely over the largest primary recharge zone for the Winkler aquifer.

Last week, during a dedication ceremony on the Froese farm, officials with MHHC and called this newest contribution to the corporation “a prime example of multi-functionality.”

MHHC chairperson John Whitaker said the landscape will be protected in perpetuity for wildlife. It’s a local recreational area each winter when the Froese family permit use of it as a cross country ski area.

And it serves as a critical area for water protection.

“This project is a prime example of how habitat conservation is much more than trees and animals,” said Whitaker. “It impacts us all. ”

The woodlands now under MHHC protection is a riparian area of mixed hardwood forest representative of land cover once much more prevalent along waterways in the Red River Valley.

The site now accounts for approximately 17 per cent of the remaining woodland in the primary recharge area of the Winkler aquifer. A three-square-mile area above the Winkler aquifer is the primary source of its water recharge. The aquifer itself is about 17 miles long and between one to three miles wide.

Some 10,000 people depend on the aquifer for drinking water.

“This property plays a key role in recharging clean water into the Winkler aquifer, a vitally important resource for the city and many of the surrounding farms,” said Deputy Minister of Water Stewardship Don Norquay, who spoke on behalf of Minister Christine Melnick at the dedication.

“Wildlife, community use and clean water – in a nutshell that is what the Froese family is providing us all through this most generous donation.”


Research estimating the economic value of the ecological goods and services provided by the land based on long-term carbon sequestration, is in excess of $10,000 per year, a number that doesn’t fully estimate the value of the area to the underlying aquifer.

That value may be difficult, if not impossible to accurately estimate.

What the Froese land represents is long-term protection for a critically important area of recharge, said George Klassen, chair of the Winkler Aquifer Board.

“It means a constant, protected area of recharge,” he said. “Every spring it recharges from this area and every good rain recharges it as well. This is going to provide the longevity that we need to have good water for years to come.”

The tract of forest is also unique in that it represents one of the few undisturbed natural lands left in this part of agro-Manitoba, added Tim Sopuck, CEO for the MHHC.

“It’s a beautiful forest and it’s one of the remaining blocks of forest in the area,” he said. “There’s a diversity of birds that depend on it.”

We can’t turn the clock back, but we can be working to maintain these kinds of landscapes for the benefits derived from them, added Cornie Goertzen, chair of the Seine-Rat River Conservation District, who was among guests attending last week’s dedication ceremony.

This wet spring and the overland flooding experience convinced more farmers to see merit in leaving some land in a natural state for flood protection purposes, he added.


The Froeses say they’re protecting this native habitat because it’s a part of their family farm that’s been valued for generations.

They’ve been thinking about making this donation for about five years, said Vera Froese. “For all of us, nature is the bottom line,” she said.

Phil Froese spoke of how he and his wife and daughters view themselves as “current guardians” of the treed landscape.

“The Anishinabe camped in the shelter of these woods,” he said. “The English settlers who built the house we still live in sought the shelter of trees and the ready access to wood for heating and building. Our grandparents treasured the woodlot as well, resisting pressures to clear more land.”

“I know my Dad, Isaac, would have been pleased to see this day,” he continued. “He worked hard to keep this farm in the family and to preserve the woods that he grew up in as a place of peace and renewal.”

Added Mary Dyck, one of Phil’s elderly aunts attending last week’s ceremony, whose childhood memories are of picking berries and fetching cattle in these woods: “I’m just glad it’s always going to be here.”

The MHHC is a provincial crown corporation mandated to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife habitat. Now marking its 25th year, more than 100,000 acres of natural lands in Manitoba have been protected through more than 550 agreements, making MHHC one of the largest holders of conservation agreements in Canada. [email protected]

About the author


Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.



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