The buffalo will roam – and the ducks will swim – in perpetuity near Elkhorn, thanks to a conservation agreement that the Johnson family has signed with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) to protect 1,040 acres of habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife.
An official dedication ceremony hosted by Tundra Oil and Gas Partnership and DUC for the project was held recently on the Johnsons’ bison ranch near Elkhorn.
Darren Johnson said the agreement is a natural fit for their bison operation. The 171 existing and restored wetlands stretching across 10 quarter sections provide adequate water for the herd, and ultimately maintain and increase the quality of their land, he said.
“We live in an area with a great deal of marginal land that shouldn’t be annually cropped,” said Johnson.
“We have a bison herd that can better use the land and can coexist with waterfowl and other wildlife. Keeping livestock and other animals on the land improves the soil. We’re not just livestock producers, we’re also soil farmers.”
The Johnsons bought their first bison cows in 1997 and now have a herd of 300 females. They rotationally graze their bison herd in order to avoid damaging their pastures.
Tundra Oil and Gas and Ducks Unlimited Canada have a unique partnership that promotes conservation agreements in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They say business ventures such as commercial agriculture and resource extraction can be complementary with the protection of healthy wildlife habitats.
A number of recent easements purchased by DUC are being partially funded by a $1-million donation from the Richardson Foundation that was announced in 2009. Funding for this and other conservation agreement projects in the Prairie pothole region of Manitoba and Saskatchewan is provided by the Tundra Oil and Gas Partnership through the Healthy Prairie Landscapes Initiative. Tundra Oil and Gas is a subsidiary of Richardson International. Both companies are based in Winnipeg.
“Owning land is something that comes naturally to people in Manitoba and keeping the land healthy and productive is the life’s work for many landowners, just like the Johnsons,” said Mark Francis, DUC head of habitat retention in Brandon.
“I think everybody’s long-term goal should be to improve the production of their land and conservation agreements, made possible with partnerships like the one we have with Tundra, are tools landowners can use to meet their long-term conservation goals.”
The Johnsons first came on board with DUC habitat protection initiatives in 1988 with the construction of the Niso Creek wetland project, which was located on some of their land. Large wetland projects like this are designed to ensure permanent brood-rearing sites for waterfowl, especially during years of drought.
The Johnsons have chosen to operate in a manner where farming and wildlife can coexist, which is not always the case in an agricultural- dominated landscape. DUC research studies show that more than 70 per cent of the wetlands in southwestern Manitoba have been totally drained or severely degraded.
This has a profound effect on waterfowl and the ecological goods and services provided by wetlands and their associated habitats, said Francis, adding the environmental benefits include groundwater recharge; erosion, flood and drought control; storing greenhouse gases; and recreation and other ecotourism opportunities.
A number of conservation projects are located around the Johnson farm, providing a mosaic of secure habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife.