Manitoba is fully committed to the Alternative Land Use Services model and plans to implement the ecosystem services program to manage water in the province.
Brian Pallister, who was elected premier of Manitoba in April, borrowed a strategy from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and issued mandate letters to his provincial ministers in May.
The province made the documents public this morning, and the letter to Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler clearly says that ALUS is a priority.
“You will form teams with your cabinet colleagues to ensure we fulfill the following platform commitments, in particular… implementing a province-wide program based on the Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) model to help reduce flooding and improve water quality and nutrient management,” the letter said.
The pledge is positive news for supporters of ALUS, which pays landowners to retain or re-construct natural areas such as wetlands, grasslands and riparian areas near rivers.
Municipalities and communities in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta have established ALUS projects, but Prince Edward Island is the only jurisdiction in Canada to have a province-wide ALUS program.
“In P.E.I. … 97 percent of the farmers participate,” said Lara Ellis, director of ecosystem markets, business and policy development with ALUS Canada.
Some policy-makers and environmental groups have criticized the ALUS model, saying farmers shouldn’t be paid for doing the right thing and the program is unaffordable on a large scale.
Ellis said the ongoing cost of payments to landowners is much cheaper than spending millions of dollars on infrastructure to prevent flooding or preserve water quality.
Eichler and the provincial government might use ALUS to manage wetlands in the province. Manitoba needs a program or regulations to mitigate wetland loss on agricultural land because legislation, proposed by the former NDP government, wasn’t passed before the April election.
The NDP bill featured a no-net loss policy for wetlands. A farmer who wanted to drain a slough would have to prove the action provided “broad social and economic benefits” and then replace the lost habitat with an equivalent wetland.
Under the ALUS model, a producer would likely be paid for restoring or maintaining wetlands on agricultural land.
Eichler and the province will need to find funding partners for the ALUS program, which may cost millions a year in landowner payments.