Hundreds of geese take flight from a small body of water in a wetland south of Hamiota, 83 kilometres northwest of Brandon, during their migration north. (File)

Original Published on Jul 28, 2022 at 13:32

By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ducks Unlimited is entering its new fiscal year buoyed by the success of its conservation efforts in Manitoba.

The conservation leader worked with landowners to protect 49 square kilometres of wetlands and natural habitat throughout the province.

According to Mark Francis, Ducks Unlimited Canada’s manager of provincial operations in Manitoba, it all adds up to good news for the environment.

“Every acre, every pond, every bit of grassland is critical in addressing climate change.”

Ducks Unlimited protected more than 12,000 acres last year from future loss through long-term landowner partnerships. The organization also collaborated with Manitoba farmers to restore more than 5,600 acres of wetland and grassland habitat and provided resources to convert over 185,000 acres of privately held land into more diverse and sustainable ecosystems, exceeding its own targets for the year.

Last year, Ducks Unlimited provided $3.8 million in conservation programming to farmers and ranchers in Manitoba, an increase of $1 million from the previous year.

“We’re a passionate group here, concerned with retaining grass and wetland on the landscape and restoring habitats, so it’s a huge win for us and for my staff. We’re happy with this accomplishment,” Francis said.

Francis acknowledged that landowners played a huge role in the organization’s conservation success this past year.

“We’ve had over 80 years of successful partnerships with landowners, and I think DUC has been very successful in building and cultivating those.”

Landowners who decide to partner with Ducks Unlimited and protect or restore habitats on their land also have a lot of advantages, creating a mutually beneficial relationship, Francis said.

“Our job as a conservation organization is to find alternatives for landowners that can work, and to provide opportunities that … may benefit their operation and at the same time provide habitat protection.”

Now is a great time for landowners to reach out to Ducks Unlimited to get a partnership up and running — something Francis attributes to a large amount of funding available to restore and retain grass and wetland.

“Money is available. We do have … lots of varieties of programs and incentives at this time that we can work with, so I encourage landowners who are thinking about it to contact us now because we can deliver at this time.”

Russell Thompson worked with Ducks Unlimited from 2020 to 2021, and said it was a great experience. He signed a conservation agreement with Ducks Unlimited to preserve areas of natural habitat on a half section of land he’d purchased a few years ago. After more than 40 years of continuous cropping, the soil was showing signs of poor health, such as salinity issues.

Thompson’s goals were to preserve the wetlands, use the perennial grasslands and bush habitat for grazing to regenerate soil health by using management practices that best integrated his cattle and grain crops to ensure a sustainable operation, both financially and environmentally.

With the drought-like conditions that plagued producers during that time, the Hamiota-area farmer said the wetlands on his land were very useful.

“It works for Ducks Unlimited purposes and it works for our purposes, for the livestock. Having some of that habitat around really does work well and is beneficial to both parties. When you drain the water and have a year like last year, you just never know. You might not get the water back.”

Thompson said Ducks Unlimited was easy to work with, which was important for his work as a busy producer.

“It was very personalized. I wasn’t talking to somebody different all the time, which was really nice. They basically laid it out very openly. There were no surprises at all, which was good. They went over different situations and scenarios and let me choose.”

Thompson said he hopes other producers will form partnerships with Ducks Unlimited, noting that it could be especially helpful for your farmers who can use as much help with funding as they can get.

“There’s definitely a need for people like Ducks Unlimited to help with their partnerships, helping young people and producers get going. A little financial boost makes a huge difference, especially in a tight-margin business like the cattle business.”

According to Francis, Ducks Unlimited isn’t content to rest on its laurels from last year’s success. Instead, he said the organization has set even more lofty goals for itself for its 2022-23 fiscal year. These include increasing funding for forage and marginal areas programs and adding a new range land program to help ranchers improve the health and biodiversity of pasture lands.

It’s more important than ever for the continued success of Ducks Unlimited and the landowners it works with. According to the organization, southwest Manitoba loses an estimated nine acres of wetlands every day, which amounts to 13 square kilometres of habitat loss every year.

“We’re always striving to do more,” Francis said. “We’re looking for projects and landowners that are interested.”

This item reprinted with permission from the Sun, Brandon, Manitoba