It’s a new day for conservation efforts in Manitoba, according to the chair of the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association.
Ray Frey, who’s also an executive member of the Little Saskatchewan Conservation District, says there are a number of new and proposed initiatives that are going to create a new paradigm in the province.
There’s the $102-million provincial conservation trust fund, new legislation to align CDs along watershed boundaries, the proposed ALUS-like GRowing Outcomes in Watersheds (GROW) program and the province’s “Made-in-Manitoba” green plan all waiting in the wings. All will affect how the province protects its environment.
“There’s so many things happening it’s hard to keep up to speed,” Frey said.
Conservation districts have recently wrapped up a series of meetings chaired by staff with the provincial Sustainable Development to talk over what all the changes will mean for them, Frey said.
The $5 million annually the conservation trust is expected to generate annually is very big news and a lot of cash on the table, he said.
“That’s equal to the total existing funding for all of Manitoba’s (18) conservation districts,” he said.
“We’re pretty happy that this money has gone to an endowment fund and will be administered by MHHC which takes it out of the government financial bureaucratic process,” Frey said.
CDs will have to wait like everyone else to see how the funds are actually allocated, but they are looking forward to seeing what comes and to working within the context of new GROW programming, he said.
“Being able to work these two things together, for us we think it’s huge.”
Other issues talked over at this spring’s meetings are the changes proposed to conservation district boundaries.
They’re “generally in support of the idea,” and it appears municipalities are too, Frey said. But there are questions arising about what the changes will mean and how they’ll be implemented.
“In our meetings we were just talking ‘what ifs’ but there’s nothing solid yet or confirmed,” he said. “There’s a lot of unknowns.”
Overall, it’s a very exciting time to be engaged in water management and conservation, he continued.
He well remembers when the RM of Blanshard was working with Keystone Agricultural Producers and Delta Waterfowl Foundation to pilot the first Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) project in Canada back in 2006.
“We were pretty pumped that we could implement this because it made so much sense,” he said.
But governments of the day viewed such programs as an expense rather than cost savings and the Blanshard project did not continue after 2009.
It relaunched in 2014 as a partnership with the national ALUS Canada program and the Little Saskatchewan River Conservation District.
There has been a huge shift in the way we think about conservation and creating policy to do this work, Frey said.
“It’s a huge change,” he said. “That’s pretty refreshing from a conservation district’s perspective.”