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Wetlands to return

“The thrust of this program is to help Manitoba reach its targets for GHG reduction.”

– Rhonda McDougal

Expect to see more wetlands in Manitoba farm fields over the next four years. The Manitoba government rolled out its Wetland Restoration Incentive Program providing financial incentives to landowners to restore wetlands on their land.

The program will be run in a partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada and Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation.

Landowners will be asked to sign Conservation Agreements with MHHC or DUC and given financial reward as a one-time payment. The funds will be used to restore a previously drained wetland rather than create a man-made wetland.

Once the agreement is signed, the land must be kept as a wetland in perpetuity. In the event the land is sold, the CA will act as an easement and will carry on with the new landowner.

Rhonda McDougal, director of planning and co-ordination for Manitoba Water Stewardship said the purpose of the program is to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

“When land is cultivated for a long time it does lose a lot of its organic carbon content,” she said.

One of the quickest ways to recoup the carbon is by allowing the wetland to come back. “A lot of farmers are doing lots of things to put carbon back in the soil, but this is one tool,” she explained.

“The thrust of this program is to help Manitoba reach its targets for GHG reduction,” she said. “That is expected to be a permanent reduction.”

She said MHHC and DUC already deliver conservation agreements to landowners and work very well together. A working team decides who will visit the landowner to discuss the agreement. A price is negotiated depending on the value of the land and benefits.

“They are very upfront and make sure the landowner understands what the process is and what the legal ramifications are before they sign on to an agreement,” she said.

In the event of soaring grain prices, landowners wanting to convert the land back to agricultural land, would not be able to do so without breaking the law.

McDougal said this shouldn’t be a problem because most of these lands are not highly productive. The soil type is often not very conducive to farming.

“In the history of Manitoba having conservation agreements, it’s a rare occurrence that there has been an individual who has gone against the agreement,” she said.

Purveyors of the agreements spend plenty of time educating landowners about the agreements. But the majority of people who sign on are people who already have a great understanding of the benefits of wetlands.

“They’re conservationists themselves,” she said.

The owner will be allowed some activities like haying, grazing, trapping and hunting as negotiated at the time of the agreement.

Education will be a large part of the process as these CAs are negotiated. There will also be “price discovery” research conducted to achieve a better understanding of what these wetlands are worth. McDougal said they want a definitive answer about the price of a forest, the price of a wetland and so on.

Payments are assessed based on value of the land, and current and past land use and its ecological value.

“These easements will probably have a higher value to them than some of the easements that are currently being done,” she said.

Contracts negotiated with landowners to keep existing wetlands will continue. But the new agreements will encourage restoration.

“This is a good first step,” she said.

Biologist, Rick Andrews of DUC said landowners are welcome to contact DUC if they have a drained wetland on their acreage, but DUC and MHHC will also be approaching landowners with well-known drained wetlands offering the CA as a solution to ongoing drainage issues.

“A lot of carbon has gone into the atmosphere as these were drained and now we’ve got an opportunity to sequester it again,” he said.

He said for most landowners, it will be as simple as plugging a ditch.

“That carbon that you sequester, that isn’t something you want to sequester and then in five years put it back into the atmosphere. We’re looking for long-term benefits,” he said.

“It’s a giant step toward recognizing what the landowner is doing in terms of contribution for carbon, biodiversity, water quality and we say ‘hey you’re doing it and we are now providing an additional payment to you to compensate you for that,’ he said.

The program will offer landowners nearly $2 million over the next four years.

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