Organic grain farmer Karen Klassen asked her dad what the land around their farm used to look like. He told her that when he was young in the 1960s, there were bushes and trees dotting the landscape and creeks running through farmland.
Klassen doesn’t see those things today when she looks around her farm in southern Manitoba, two hours southwest of Winnipeg. Wetlands in the area have been drained and trees have been chopped down to maximize room for crops, she said. Some of her goals for her farm include restoring a creek and reintroducing native shrubs and plants.
That’s why she was excited to hear the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change announced more than C$25 million in funding to conserve, restore, and enhance wetlands and grasslands in the Prairie provinces.
The ministry announced the funding last week, estimating the funded projects could conserve up to 30,000 hectares (roughly 74,000 acres) of wetlands, grasslands, and riparian areas, in addition to restoring up to 6,000 hectares (almost 15,000 acres) and enhancing up to 18,000 hectares (about 44,400 acres).
In a press release, the ministry said protecting nature will encourage natural carbon sequestration in the landscape, along with supporting biodiversity and making communities more resilient to climate change.
Klassen sees opportunities in her own area, in particular restoring wetlands. After wetlands are drained the areas often remain damp and saline. This is not very good for growing crops, which means those areas wind up not contributing much to the profit of the farm, she said. Klassen, who is a member of the Farmers for Climate Solutions coalition, said it would make more financial sense for many farmers to restore those areas as wetlands.
“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 said.
But if a farmer can benefit from this federal funding to restore the area, “that might actually tip the balances to incentivize people to turn it into wetland,” she said. Klassen sees this as an opportunity to get more people to rethink how they farm.
“I know people are trying their best . . . [but] there are a lot of problems with how we are currently farming,” she said. “We are pretty big contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and sustainable ways of growing food is not exactly the norm right now.”
Some people are resistant to changing their agricultural practices, but Klassen said that many agricultural producers want the same thing that these projects aim to do: “making sure the soil is healthy long-term for your children.”
Conservation Can Sequester Carbon and Mitigate Crop Disease
In its announcement, the ministry emphasized how this work will improve the grasslands and wetlands’ ability to store carbon. The investment is part of the Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund, which is a C$631-million fund over 10 years that supports projects to restore and enhance peatlands, wetlands, and grasslands in their ability to store carbon.
“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,” Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson said in a press release.
A 2017 study found nature-based climate solutions could provide up to one-third of emissions reductions needed under the Paris Accord, which intends to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius.
Grasslands and wetlands bring other benefits to people and wildlife, such as flood mitigation and water retention.