Manitoba funds wetland protection program

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government has fulfilled a promise to farmers.

Yesterday the province announced a $52 million endowment fund to support Growing Outcomes in Watersheds (GROW), a program in which farmers will be paid for preserving and protecting wetlands on their land.

“The GROW Program will support the enhancement of ecological goods and services on private land, helping landowners contribute to reduced flooding, improved water quality and nutrient management,” the province said in a release.

GROW is essentially a Manitoba version of ALUS — the Alternative Land Use Services model. Farmers who participate in ALUS receive per acre payments for practices that provide ecosystem services, such as preserving wetlands.

There are ALUS programs in six provinces, including Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan, but the programs are relatively small. They operate in counties or municipalities and cover thousands of acres rather than millions.

In Prince Edward Island, ALUS covers the entire province.

With its $52 million announcement, Manitoba is taking the ecosystem services model to the next level because the province has millions of acres of private agricultural land.

“By supporting a made-in-Manitoba GROW program, this fund will help recognize the critical role that local producers play in protecting and strengthening our environment,” said Rochelle Squires, Manitoba’s sustainable development minister.

The provincial government is making the investment, but two other groups will manage the GROW program. The Winnipeg Foundation will invest the $52 million, and returns on investment will be used for program payments.

The Habitat Heritage Corporation will oversee project details, such as what qualifies for an ecosystem services payment, who gets paid and how much landowners are paid.

The province is hoping that private donors add to the initial investment of $52 million.

“The fund also encourages private donations toward supporting these initiatives,” the provincial news release said.

Shortly after his election in April 2016, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister publicly committed to a made-in-Manitoba ALUS model. In a mandate letter, Pallister instructed Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler to implement an ecosystem services program in Manitoba.

“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.”

It took more than three years and came at the last minute, but Pallister has delivered on that commitment.

The GROW program was announced late Tuesday afternoon, the last day before a provincial blackout on funding announcements.

A Manitoba law prevents the government from using provincial resources for campaigning 90 days before the election date.

Manitoba is expected to hold an election in September.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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