Ducks Unlimited Canada is calling on the Manitoba government to pass legislation protecting wetlands as soon as possible.
Manitoba’s former NDP government introduced surface water management legislation last year that would have had a lasting impact on rural landowners.
The NDP failed to introduce the bill for a vote in the legislature, so it never became law.
The bill featured a no-net loss policy for wetlands. If a farmer wanted to drain a slough he would have to prove the action provided “broad social and economic benefits.”
The proposed law also required landowners to mitigate the loss of the wetlands. They could pay for the construction of a similar wetland or restore a wetland on their own property.
Ducks Unlimited hopes the new Progressive Conservative government introduces similar legislation this fall because much of the consultation with environmental groups and the agriculture industry has already been done.
“There’s been a lot of groundwork laid and the new government is positioned to take advantage of that and move this forward quickly,” said Scott Stephens, DUC regional director for the Prairies.
“This government will put its own spin on it…. (But) we’ve been pushing and suggesting that this is an easy win, on a bunch of fronts, for the new government…. We’d like to see that introduced in the fall session.”
The PC government has promised to develop a province-wide Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) program where farmers are paid for actions that protect riparian areas, preserve water quality or prevent flooding, such as maintaining wetlands.
Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said the province hopes to begin discussions and consultation around ALUS later this summer.
Stephens said DUC supports incentives that encourage landowners to do the right thing, but regulations must be part of the solution.
DUC has already met with Manitoba Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox and pushed the idea of regulations and financial incentives.
“In those discussions we talked about… what’s really going to be effective is a combination,” Stephens said, adding regulations preserve existing wetlands and incentives can help put more sloughs back on the landscape.
“If you don’t have wetland regulations to keep all those wetlands in place, it’s going to be really hard to say you made progress on reducing flooding, reducing nutrient (loss) and climate change.”
An ALUS program could be costly for the province, as estimates peg the price tag at $20-$30 million in annual payments to landowners. Government and private funds cover the cost of ALUS payments in other jurisdictions across Canada, mostly programs at the municipal scale or region of a province.
Stephens said DUC would consider contributing to a province-wide ALUS program, if the conditions were right.
“We would probably come to the table with dollars (for incentives) to help with that. If the right regulations were in place.”