ALUS returning to Manitoba’s Little Saskatchewan River Conservation District

The Manitoba-born conservation program has new funding

ALUS is coming home.

Thanks to new government and private funding the Manitoba-born Alternate Land Use Services (ALUS) program is returning as a demonstration conservation program to the Little Saskatchewan River Conservation District north of Brandon, which includes the RM of Blanchard where ALUS was first piloted from 2006 to 2008.

ALUS, a community-developed, farmer-delivered initiative, is getting $100,000 over three years as part of $1 million in federal government grants designed to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg.

The announcement was made at the Fort Whyte Centre in Winnipeg May 23.

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Federal funds will be matched by money from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Jim Fisher, director of the Delta Waterfowl Foundation said in an interview.

Delta, which promotes conservation to protect and enhance duck habitat for hunters, is administering the funds and partnering with the Little Saskatchewan River Conservation District to deliver ALUS. The conservation district, Delta, the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation and local farmers and ranchers are also contributing to the project, Fisher said.

“When you look at ecological goods and services ideas, ALUS is leading the way in demonstrating what that looks like across Canada,” he said.

There are three ALUS projects in Alberta, one in Saskatchewan, four in Ontario and a province-wide program in Prince Edward Island, Fisher said. All but the P.E.I. initiative and one project in Red Deer, Alta., have been funded in part by two grants from Weston Foundation totalling $3 million.

Weston, who died in 1978, was the son of George Weston, the founder of George Weston Ltd. one of Canada’s largest food-processing and distribution companies.

“It’s interesting that Manitoba started the whole concept and now all these other communities have seen how smart of an idea it is,” Fisher said. “It’s exciting now to come back to Manitoba.”

ALUS is the brainchild of farmer and former Keystone Agricultural Producers’ leader Ian Wishart and Jonathan Scarth of Delta. The two organizations started promoting ALUS in 2002.

ALUS is different than many conservation programs. Projects are developed at the grassroots level by the farmer landowners, Fisher said. Participants are paid not just to change some of the ways they use their land, but also to preserve things such as wetlands that already exist.

“This is where I think we have often fallen down in the past,” Fisher said. “We have programs to restore wetlands, but we don’t have programs to retain what we’ve got. So you restore one and lose 20. The ALUS approach is to do a bit of both and start recognizing, through annual payments, existing wetlands. At the same time you might be able to do something new on your farm to improve the environment.”

Delta knew ALUS was working when 70 per cent of farmers in the RM of Blanchard participated in the project, Fisher said.

“And over half of those people who participated had never enrolled in any other conservation projects in the past, which is interesting,” he said. “The grassroots, local approach was very well received.

“That’s the beauty of ALUS. When we’re designing the projects the pencil is in the producer’s hand not someone in Winnipeg or somewhere else.”

The new ALUS project will encourage landowners to restore, enhance, create and conserve wetlands, fence riparian areas, install off-site watering systems for livestock, restore buffer strips, convert marginal cropland to grasslands and plant shelterbelts.

Those efforts will cut the phosphorus going to Lake Winnipeg by an estimated 1,775 kg a year, a federal government news release says.

About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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