Town & Country

April 2020

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WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, SATURDAY APRIL 18, 2020 3 Margaret Laurence Home Open Daily May 16 to Sept 7 10–5 pm Off-season by appointment (204) 476-3232 website: email: 312–1st Avenue Neepawa, Manitoba Find the digital replica of the daily paper at Rain or Shine The Paper's Online Available free with your subscription PHOTOS COURTESY OF DUCKS UNLIMITED CANADA Typically, there's plenty of elbow room for wildlife enthusiasts to enjoy a solitary hike at the marsh, and visitors who learn to identify the different varieties of ducks tend to get hooked on birding. T hanks to a combination of wet- land conservation and restora- tion efforts in recent years, some species have started to show up in increasingly large numbers each spring. At Delta Marsh, just 25 kilometres north of Portage la Prairie, canvasback and lesser scaup have been returning in numbers not seen in decades. Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) director of regional operations for the Prairies Scott Stephens says spring is always an exciting time, as wetlands come alive with a surpris- ingly diverse population of nesting ducks. Typically, there's plenty of elbow room for wildlife enthusiasts to enjoy a solitary hike at the marsh, and visitors who learn to identify the different varieties of ducks tend to get hooked on birding. "Once you have a little bit of informa- tion and you can identify the different species, there's probably 15 to 20 that we typically see in this part of the world. Then you begin to look for when they show up because different species show up at differ- ent times," Stephens says. "Usually the first species to come back for ducks would be things like mallards and pintails. They begin nesting really at the end of April and then once you get into May there will be other species that are coming back, like blue-winged teal and lesser scaup and they nest a little later in the season." In its hunting heyday, Delta Marsh at- tracted both British and Hollywood royalty — King George V and Clark Gable to name a few. When Ducks Unlimited Canada was established in 1938, it sought ways to bolster waterfowl populations with hunting in mind. But today, there are fewer hunters, more restrictions and a greater emphasis on education to raise awareness about the role of wetlands in flood mitigation and many other environmental benefits. "For over 80 years we've been focused on the biodiversity benefits … but I think all those other benefits are probably more relevant to a broader suite of society," Stephens says. "So we continue to try and communicate that and make that common knowledge. You know, even if you don't care about birds these areas are important from a number of perspectives." Southwest Manitoba is part of a vast Prairie pothole region, once marked by millions of wetlands formed as the glaciers receded dur- ing the last Ice Age. It's estimated that Mani- toba has already lost more than 70 per cent of these wetlands, and landowners continue to drain them at an alarming rate. At this time of year, the potential for flood- ing is top of mind for many Manitobans, and wetlands provide natural flood mitigation. They have storage capacity to keep snow melt and rain on the land and out of creeks and rivers. They trap nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen and prevent them from flowing into waterways and causing problems down- stream — including algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg. And because they store carbon, wetlands play a role in climate change. "If we're removing those wetlands from the landscape there's significant release of carbon," Stephens says. "I think we still have work to do in the education process. But we've definitely tried to make the connec- tion that these potholes or wetlands that are out there across much of western Manitoba that were left behind by the glaciers do play important roles." In the past, Ducks Unlimited has bought land outright. Currently, it offers financial incentives for landowners to preserve wetlands on their property. Recently, it has had help from the province's Conservation Trust, which was established in 2018, soon after the province introduced the Sustain- able Watersheds Act in an effort to improve water management. Part of that effort is the Growing Outcomes in Watersheds (GROW) Trust, which is now accepting applications for projects such as wetland restoration. About 12 years ago, DUC began working with the province, the federal Dept. of Fisher- ies and Oceans and other partners to address the problem of invasive carp in Delta Marsh. "There are connections between the marsh and Lake Manitoba and one of the challenges that came about was with the introduction of common carp back in the 1940s or '50s. They actually come into the marsh to spawn and carp are really good at stirring up the bottom sediment and mak- ing the water muddy and it sort of blocks the light and keeps the native plants from growing," Stephens says. Having seen significant degradation of the marsh since the 1970s, DUC undertook a research project that involved blocking carp from entering the marsh in some isolated areas while creating access for the fish in other areas. As expected, the areas where carp were free to feed and spawn turned muddy and plants didn't grow. Where carp were blocked, the water was clear and plants were healthy. Since 2013, large gates have been in place and each spring, grates are inserted in order to keep carp out while allowing beneficial native fish like walleye in to spawn. "We've seen dramatic recovery of the marsh on a large scale where the water is cleared up and we see aquatic plants growing," Stephens says. Not surprisingly, abundant numbers of waterfowl have also returned. Stephens notes that there are walkways and interpretive signs just off the highway near Delta Beach, but since the marsh runs for about 30 kilometres at the south end of Lake Manitoba, there's a lot of room for explora- tion. You can even drop in a canoe and go for a paddle. "Most of it is Crown land and wildlife management area so there's lots of access and availability to get out there and see all the cool things that are present, especially at this time of the year," he says. "It's a good place to get a break from self- isolation without putting anyone at risk." If you're looking for an area that's even farther off the beaten path, DUC can pro- vide maps and information about its own wetlands. "Ducks Unlimited Canada has properties that we own, really most of them across western Manitoba, that are also accessible and good places for people to get out and go on a hike and just experience nature," he says. "From our earlier work when we were purchasing land we have a good many properties, and public access is one of the benefits that they provide." To learn more about DUC conservation efforts and ways you can help, visit At this time of year, the potential for flooding is top of mind for many Manitobans, and wetlands provide natural flood mitigation.

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