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Wetland count begins in southwestern Manitoba

Project will reveal distribution and interaction of wetlands in agro-Manitoba

Water and land managers will soon have a precise picture of the state of wetlands in southwestern Manitoba as staff with the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corp. begin a mapping and classification project this spring.

Wetlands as small as a quarter of an acre will be included in the study designed to help farmers and drainage regulators implement the new provincial surface water management strategy.

Similar work has been underway in eastern and northern regions of the province since 2013 to provide data to inform decision-making around peat extraction licensing, said MHHC program development manager Stephen Carlyle.

This new focus on agro-Manitoba to similarly map and classify wetland areas results in a spacial database that shows not only where wetlands are and how they interact, but where they used to be, Carlyle said.

The information will help farmers, municipalities, planning districts, biomass industries and regulatory agencies make water management decisions at local and watershed-level scales.

“It’s such fundamental data for all kinds of decision-making processes whether individual, or political, and for research, and from our perspective conservation,” he said.

The data will be gathered by three MHHC technicians working full time on the project to count and classify agro-Manitoba’s wetlands according to whether they are fens, bogs, marshes, shallow open water and swampland. They’ll also be able to identify drained, or partially drained areas, as well as constructed wet areas such as dugouts, and infield drains.

This new initiative builds on past efforts. The Canadian Wetland Inventory (CWI) partnership between conservation organizations and the federal government began creating digital maps in 2002. That work has continued on an ad hoc basis as funding has been available. There has also been work done by Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, but to date it has produced only estimates as to the actual extent and distribution of wetlands.

“This will give us really concrete numbers to say, for example, ‘in this watershed there are 100,000 acres of wetlands,’” Carlyle said. “It provides base data as to what is out there.”

The new provincial surface water management strategy emphasized the need for completion of a wetland inventory to inform decision-making around drainage regulation.

The inventory is also expected to help identify new value-added biomass opportunities, as per the recent work by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) looking at the potential for cattail as an agricultural biofuel crop.

It will also assist MAFRD as it continues to look at the ecological goods and services value of wetlands for producers. And it will give farmers who already know the high and low spots on their own land access to a standardized set of data for better adherence to regulation and as a benchmark when implementing beneficial management practices.

The correlation between wetland loss due to drainage and flooding was highlighted in a study released last year at the University of Saskatchewan.

The mapping has already begun in the Whitewater Lake watershed under a partnership with the Turtle Mountain Conservation District. Officials have nearly completed a historical analysis of changes to wetlands in that watershed between 1958 and 2009.

From there they’ll be moving to other regions of southwestern Manitoba, Carlyle said.

The work is expected to continue until 2018 and will be funded through annual grants from Conservation and Water Stewardship and through Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development’s (MAFRD) Growing Forward 2 initiative.

MHHC is working with other CWI partners to co-ordinate its data collection efforts and a strategic planning team is forming to collect wetland data throughout the Canadian Prairies.

The data will be available for free to the public and distributed through Manitoba’s geospatial information portal (currently the Manitoba Land Initiative).

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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