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A watershed moment — province funds Conservation Trust

When fully capitalized, the fund is expected to generate about $5 million a year for projects and environmental goods and services

The ink is now dry on Manitoba’s new Conservation Trust agreement, and groups looking to it to support new programs with it should submit letters of intent by January 15.

The province signed its agreement December 11, putting in an initial $28-million contribution this month, towards making the $102-million trust it announced in last spring’s budget a reality.

Why it matters: The Conservation Trust is a unique, proactive and significant endowment to support conservation programming for generations to come.

The Conservation Trust is a permanent endowment supporting important conservation projects for generations to come. It was created to support the province’s Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan.

“When we launched the Conservation Trust, we envisioned a partnership that would support projects aimed at preserving nature and addressing climate change,” Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said on the signing of the agreement.

“One of the key pillars of our climate and green plan is a commitment to nature, and the Conservation Trust signals our continued efforts to protect the environment.”

The Conservation Trust will be managed by The Winnipeg Foundation, with projects administered, tracked and evaluated by the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation (MHHC).

When fully capitalized, the fund is expected to generate about $5 million each year for conservation.

High numbers of applications are anticipated, and may even exceed the amount of funding available in 2019, which is expected to be at about $2.5 million in the startup year.

MHHC CEO Tim Sopuck, in Brandon at the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association (MCDA) convention last week to go over the details, called the agreement “a unique and enduring approach to funding conservation.”

Tim Sopuck.
photo: Lorraine Stevenson

“The trust is unique for a number of reasons,” he said. “The main one is governments generally don’t make proactive commitments to conservation like this, and they generally don’t put it into an account where they can never get it back, but that’s what the province of Manitoba has done.”

Not-for-profit organizations in all parts of Manitoba where there are working agricultural landscapes are now eligible to apply.

Eligibility requirements are fairly tight, so it will be important for groups applying to clearly understand the trust’s key priorities and what outcomes it is seeking, Sopuck said.

“This funding is intended to help us enhance and restore natural areas in working landscapes, particularly in the agricultural landscapes,” he said. “Because we see areas like wetlands, grasslands, woodlands, water retention areas all contributing important ecological goods and services that will help us adapt to climate change. We think it will have a significant impact across the agricultural landscape.”

Available funding for successful applications could be available to support incentive payments but things like land or equipment purchases, and research would not be covered.

“We’re wanting to focus trust money on activities on the land,” he said, adding projects must address evident needs that are also the priorities of the Conservation Trust.

“We want to have significant, measurable ecological goods and services outcomes arising from these projects,” he said.

Partnerships and strong evidence of them will be critically important, he added.

The five funding categories eligible for funding are:

  • Watersheds;
  • Habitat and wildlife;
  • Connecting people to nature;
  • Soil health; and
  • Innovation and conservation planning.

That final category is intended for projects that address planning gaps or demonstrate innovative ways of engaging conservation partners.

The watersheds category has the largest pool of potentially available funding at $125,000 per project.

“We’re looking for projects that have water quality and quantity as the key outcome,” said Sopuck, adding that any project with that strong focus on water, but with added ecological goods and services benefits will be the best potential candidates.

“Projects that have a strong focus on water but demonstrate ability to deliver on other EGS should rate well,” he said.

Habitat and wildlife category is where activities that enhance both habitat quality and quantity will be considered and there will be funding to a maximum of $100,000 per project in that category.

There is $50,000 available in the soil health category and projects focused on perennial cover system are sought in that area.

The connecting people to nature category is for projects that enhance greenspace in or near population centres, or support education programs and has a very specific outcome, which is to raise awareness about conservation.

“In this age of increasing urbanization it’s important that we think about that,” he told the MCDA.

“It’s one thing to do what we do and we know all the good reasons why we do it, but if people don’t care about what’s going on out on the landscape it gets harder to sell these programs.”

The other smaller subset of categories will address planning gaps that may have limiting effects on conservation activity, or enable projects that have come up with innovative ways for getting buy-in from landowners for conservation programs.

Sopuck said 2019 will be “a learning year” to gauge the number of calls for proposals, and it’s also the first year with that smaller amount available from the trust.

“I expect over time with more funding available that really good projects will be funded to a higher level down the road.”

Conservation districts — to be renamed watershed districts in 2019 — are very eager to get their proposals submitted now, said MCDA chair Ray Frey.

There’s so much they can potentially accomplish with this funding, because a million dollars sent their way represents a 20 per cent increase in overall revenues available to conservation districts, he said.

“That’s a tremendous opportunity,” said Frey.

Mark Francis, Ducks Unlimited’s head of conservation programs in Manitoba said DU is very excited about this announcement and how it can support their work with retention and restoration of wetlands and grasslands, plus the potential it has to provide incentives to the landowners they work with.

“We applaud the provincial government and MHHC. This can definitely help us with our mission and furthering our conservation goals,” said Francis.

More information on the Conservation Trust and the proposal process is available on the MHHC website.

About the author

Reporter

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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