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The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change of Canada has announced more than C$25 million in funding to conserve, restore, and enhance wetlands and grasslands in the Prairie provinces. This initiative could conserve up to 30,000 hectares of wetlands, grasslands, and riparian areas, on top of restoring up to 6,000 hectares and enhancing up to 18,000 hectares.
The long-term goal would be to encourage natural carbon sequestration in the landscape through protecting nature, which will also support biodiversity and make communities more resilient to climate change—an ongoing problem that has made its presence especially undeniable this year through extreme weather events across the globe.
“Western Canadians know that climate change is here. They also know that in order to fight climate change and adapt to its impacts, we must embrace the power of nature,” the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson said in a press release.
Organic grain farmer Karen Klassen is delighted at the news, recognizing the opportunities that restoring wetlands could mean for her crops. Wetlands that have been drained aren’t very good for growing crops because they remain damp and saline. “You plant it, you keep planting it, you put the same amount of fertilizer on it every year… and it doesn’t do well at all,” she tells Civil Eats.
Some in the agriculture industry are traditionalists and resistant to change, but Klassen insists that despite this, farmers and the ministry share the same goal: “Making sure the soil is healthy long-term for [their] children.”
The C$25 million in funding is part of the Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund, which is a C$631 million fund over ten years that will back nature-based climate solutions. A 2017 study found that solutions based around the enhancement of nature such as peatlands, wetlands, and grasslands, could provide up to one-third of emissions reductions needed under the Paris Accord. In comparison to forests, grasslands are more resilient carbon sinks in the face of climate change. While wildfires burn down trees, causing them to release their carbon, the carbon in grasslands remains untouched by a passing fire because it’s stored deep underground in the roots.
Plus, grasslands and wetlands offer more benefits outside of carbon sequestering to communities and wildlife, like flood mitigation and water retention.
Klassen, who already had her own revitalization goals in place such as restoring a creek and reintroducing native shrubs and plants on her farm, agrees that letting nature reestablish itself doesn’t just improve the environment but has practical benefits for farmers, too. “It’s a win-win,” she says. “It’s important from an ecological point of view, but to us as farmers, if we have biodiversity, we are less likely to succumb to huge crop failures from pests and diseases.”
Farmers whose crops have been hit hard by record temperatures and drought this year could certainly benefit from the financial relief that this fund offers. The funding is distributed among Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation. Ducks Unlimited is set to receive up to C$19.28 million over a three-year time period. The brunt of this money will go directly to landowners who sign conservation easements and those who sign on to restoration projects.