Just two days to comment on changes to manure management regulation

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Alexis Kanu, executive director of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, urges people to register their concerns about proposed regulatory changes that will loosen rules related to  manure application.

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LWF manure regulations

Read foundation’s submission

LWF LMMMR

By Jim Mosher

Time is of the essence for those who support or oppose proposed regulatory changes governing the application of livestock manure on cropland in Manitoba.

The Lake Winnipeg Foundation is urging Manitobans to ensure their voices are heard regarding the provincial government’s breakaway a plan to loosen restrictions on hog producers in the province. That plan includes allowing expanded opportunities to spread livestock manure on cropland. It’s a significant departure from a more rigid regulatory framework under the NDP.

There are just two days left to respond to a plan by the provincial government to soften regulations governing the hog industry in Manitoba.

Changes to regulations governing the application of manure on agricultural lands were first revealed when the government tabled “The Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act” March 16. The omnibus bill — one of five pieces of legislation postponed by the Opposition NDP until the fall legislative session — proposes loosening regulations governing hog producers.

The Pallister government plans to lift the NDP ban on winter spreading of manure, among other things such as removing the ‘red tape’ associated with hog barn expansion and new hog barns.

The non-profit Lake Winnipeg Foundation made its own submission to Sustainable Development, the department that is responsible, among other things, to ensure water is protected in the province.

In its submission, the foundation argues cogently there should be no changes to the “Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation” (LMMMR) until ‘robust data’ is available “on the effectiveness of current and proposed regulatory measures to protect water quality.”

“No amendments to the LMMMR and associated legislation should be made until conclusive, peer-reviewed information has been provided,” the LWF submission concludes.

ALGAL BLOOMS BOWLING OVER LAKE

An excess of the plant nutrient phosphorus has spurred on the process of eutrophication that is adversely affecting the Lake Winnipeg ecosystem. Eutrophication is a well-understood process which is driven by an excess of phosphorus in a waterway. Too much phosphorus increases the frequency, duration and intensity of algal blooms, and is linked to a variety of other cascading effects, including changes of biota compositions in affected waterways.

Because phosphorus is a key nutrient in livestock manure, the application of manure to croplands must be limited to the optimal rate at which it can be absorbed by plants. That optimal agronomic rate is routinely exceeded even under existing regulations, the LWF submission to Sustainable Development states.

Alexis Kanu is executive director of the foundation. “We’re concerned because the evidence to demonstrate that the proposed changes will not increase phosphorus loading hasn’t been provided,” Kanu said in an interview Mon., May 8. “LWF is a science-based organization. We believe that decisions we make for Lake Winnipeg should be based on data.

“We’re calling for the evidence that would demonstrate clearly that the industry can be expanded and practices can be changed without increasing phosphorus loading to the lake.”

Kanu says the foundation’s about 1,000 paid members and many non-member supporters have been reaching out to the non-profit to learn what they can do to have their voices heard. It’s important that those voices be heard by government, she says.

She urges people to weigh in on the proposed regulatory changes. People don’t have to write a lot, rather register their views directly. “This doesn’t have to be an essay. This can simply be an indication of a citizen’s concern. It’s a simple way that folks can indicate their position,” Kanu said. “From our perspective, we need to be data-driven in making these kinds of changes.”

Kanu encourages those who haven’t yet offered their views on the regulatory changes to LMMMR to take the opportunity soon. “This is a great opportunity for lake-lovers to speak up,” she concluded. “We are stronger when we are speaking together, collectively, for the health of the lake.”

The deadline to submit a comment on proposed LMMMR amendments is this Fri., May 12.

Submit your comments to:

Public Consultation – LMMMR Amendments

c/o Environmental Approvals Branch Manitoba Sustainable Development 160-123 Main Street, Box 80

Winnipeg, MB R3C 1A5

Publicregistry@gov.mb.ca

Fax: 204-948-2420

For more information, visit lakewinnipegfoundation.org

Researcher has keen interest in health of marsh, lake

Richard-Grosshans

Richard E. Grosshans, PhD, is at home in marshes where he and other scientists have discovered a host of ecological and economic benefits to harvesting cattail, a ubiquitous wetland plant.

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Harvesting cattail for bioenergy

By Jim Mosher

Richard Grosshans has a passion for translating science into action. The translation involves teasing out unconventional approaches, discussing big-picture ideas with colleagues and being open to innovation.

A senior research scientist at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Grosshans, who earned his Masters in 2001 then his PhD, has focused a good part of his career on Netley-Libau Marsh, once a thriving, well-vegetated wetland but lately inundated by swelling inflows from the mighty Red River.

Netley-Libau Marsh is at the critical front end of inflows from the Red, the waters of which make their way through the wetland, northward to Lake Winnipeg. The health of the marsh is closely linked to the aquatic health of Lake Winnipeg.

The marsh research conducted by Grosshans has helped him and other researchers come to terms with a bold new concept. There is a way to twin ecological benefit with economics. The simple idea — while by no means simple when he and others first began tentatively exploring it a decade ago — was to ‘capture’ the energy in the biomass of cattails growing prolifically in Netley-Libau and other wetlands by burning the harvested plant to create energy, then using the residue for application on agricultural land and, as a biochar, for water filtration.

Netley-Libau was a proving ground, when the bioenergy project took its first tentative steps about four years ago. It turned out the energy-capture hunch was borne out by research. But it wasn’t even the focus of the initial work. Rather, the initial research focus was to remove the phosphorus taken up by cattail.

But researchers realized they could not only capture and recylce the phosphorus but use it as a bioenergy resource. As well, the biochar left after burning would provide a valuable resource.

“A lot of the initial research concepts we looked at and developed in Netley-Libau Marsh on a research scale we found could apply to watersheds,” Grosshans said in an interview Feb. 10. “We looked at a pilot scale first, now we’ve gone to actual watershed applications.”

Using cattail as an energy ‘feedstock’ made sense because it is ubiquitous in the province. It’s an extremely invasive, competitive species. Wherever one finds water and nutrients, cattail are sure to follow.

“It’s good for bioproducts and energy,” Grosshans said of cattail.

While the wedding of ecological benefit and a new bioeconomic view of wetlands has yet to inspire commercial-scale development, research near Pelly’s Lake in the Lasalle Redboine watershed in 2012 and 2013 suggest that day is not far off.

But Grosshans and the team of researchers he leads as head of the award-winning and internationally recognized Netley-Libau Nutrient-Bioenergy and Lake Winnipeg Bioeconomy Project have demonstrated that there are ecological benefits to harvesting cattail as a bioenergy product.

A key benefit — but by no means the only one — is that harvesting cattail has the salutary benefit of removing the phosphorus the plants take in from water. Phosphorus is the plant nutrient that is the principal driver in nutrient over-fertilization in Lake Winnipeg. That nutrient overloading has pushed the lake into a well-understood process known as eutrophication. Among the chief signs of eutrophication is the increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of algal blooms; something that’s been witnessed as a progressive phenomenon over the last 20 years, culminating in the last decade.

Over the last three years, what was learned at Netley-Libau has been used in watershed applications elsewhere. Last year, IISD released an important report about that research: “Cattail Biomass in a Watershed-Based Bioeconomy: Commercial-scale harvesting and processing for nutrient capture, biocarbon, and high value bioproducts”. Grosshans was the report’s lead author.

Grosshans was also lead author of an occasional report about the state of Netley-Libau released 10 years before: “Changes in the Emergent Plant Community of Netley-Libau Marsh Between 1979 and 2001”. The conclusion of this report was stark. Unless one could find a way to revegetate the marsh, its function as a healthy coastal wetland would be all but lost.

The harvesting of cattail pursued later may answer the concerns about losing the marsh, though that is a very big kettle of fish. However, at the least, harvesting cattail will provide some room for marsh regrowth. The bigger issue, of course, is how one holds back the flood waters of the Red River, which rises in northern South Dakota and takes in drainage waters from hundreds of kilometres of farmland on its way north to Lake Winnipeg.

Turns out, wetlands and the innovative bioenergy model developed by Grosshans, Ducks Unlimited and IISD may offer a buffer against further loss. Grosshans notes, for instance, that there are massive water retention projects planned or under construction in North Dakota. This is critical to holding back floodwaters until hydrological pressures ease after the spring runoff from the land.

“They’re not only managing it for water, they’re coming to realize that these sites are actively retaining and absorbing nutrients,” Grosshans said.

Grosshans’s work on cattail and the collaboration with other research partners, including Ducks Unlimited and IISD, has contributed to policies on nutrient and surface water management, wetland protection, carbon emission reductions and offsets, and reduction of phosphorus loading in Lake Winnipeg’s vast watershed.

The work has extended beyond the capture and recycling of nutrients to the development of innovative agricultural practices, some still in their infancy on the producer uptake end, says Grosshans.

Beyond burning for fuel, harvested cattail can be shredded as a nutrient-rich biomass to be applied to agricultural land. “If you have manure management issues, we’ve done some research with Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute Saskatchewan with cattail where, using anaerobic digestion, they’re mixing cattail in with the manure to create methane,” Grosshans explained. “But at the same time, you can use cattail as a bulking and fiber agent added to manure. And you can use cattail as livestock bedding.”

“It’s a whole other area of sustainable agriculture.”

There seems no end to the uses of cattail.

The work that began just a decade ago with a relatively limited view to removing phosphorus has advanced into a well-documented process for not only achieving that goal but also adding renewable bioenergy and bioproduct resources to the mix.

OTHER SOURCES

To view or download both the reports referenced in our story, visit iisd.org.

Also see “Cattail may one day become a commercial cash crop”. Interlake Enterprise, Feb. 11, 2015. Available via the Archive link at enterprisenews.ca

Is Lake Winnipeg ‘dying’?

By Jim Mosher

A recent ‘exclusive’ story featured on CJOB Radio in Winnipeg declared, rather boldly, that Lake Winnipeg is dying. CJOB and Global News commissioned a study that led to CJOB’s provocative conclusion.

ALS Environmental conducted four sampling tests at locations in the Red River Basin and found high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus. Nothing new, really. Do the results confirm the lake is ‘dying’?

In the absence of definitive information to the contrary, no one will likely quibble with CJOB’s assertion in its headline that “Tests confirm Lake is dying”. (See http://www.cjob.com/2014/06/23/exclusive-testing-confirms-lake-winnipeg-dying/).

Global News was somewhat more reserved in its “Experts raise concerns over Manitoba waterways”. (See http://globalnews.ca/news/1409948/exclusive-experts-raise-concerns-over-manitoba-waterways/)

The two stories appeared June 23, 2014.

There is little doubt that Lake Winnipeg has its share of ecological challenges.

Nor is there any doubt that we are hastening the death of Lake Winnipeg. The nitrogen and phosphorus that is swept off cropland, particularly in the spring, is over-fertilizing the lake. It’s been happening since at least the 1960s when the use of fertilizers containing the two plant nutrients to enhance crop growth became commonplace.

There are other nutrient sources, including municipal effluent (‘treated’ sewage), and leaking septic and holding tanks.

Senior governments have introduced a variety of initiatives to reduce nutrient flows into our waterways.

However to suggest that the lake is ‘dying’ is, at the least, premature. It’s not entirely outlandish to make the claim, though both recent media pieces suggest, semantically at least, that the lake’s death is imminent.

Is the lake nearing an ecological tipping point — a point beyond which recovery is not possible? That remains an open question. Ultimately, all things die; lakes are no exception.

Consider what the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium has to say. The consortium issues annual ‘state of the lake’ reports, based on lake science.

Media have cited sporadic findings that low oxygen (hypoxic) and no oxygen (anoxic) conditions were found in the water column in the central North Basin of Lake Winnipeg. Hypoxic and anoxic conditions are expected in a lake where eutrophic conditions have taken hold. However these conditions were found in just two surveys of the North Basin in 2008 and 2010.

“Due to the size of the lake, the spatial and temporal extent of low oxygen events remains poorly understood; however, based on the current findings, it appears that Lake Winnipeg does not experience persistent and frequent low oxygen events. Thus, the tendency of the popular press and others who describe ‘dead zones’ in Lake Winnipeg, or that the lake is ‘dying’, is scientifically unfounded to date. Given the seemingly fleeting episodes of hypoxia in the central north basin, mortality of fishes due to low oxygen is likely extremely rare,” the consortium states. (See http://www.lakewinnipegresearch.org/aboutscience.html)

The consortium also addresses implications for the lake’s commercial fishery.

“The impacts of eutrophication, whether negative or positive, on the productivity of the commercial fishery have not been established. Thus, conclusions by the media and others describing a thriving or threatened fishery due to eutrophication are currently not supported by scientific data,” it states.

In the end, it’s difficult for most people to get their head around what appear to be conflicting conclusions. If nothing else, the continuing interest in the lake’s health is a good thing. We should not minimize what is happening to Canada’s forgotten Great Lake nor should its challenges be overstated.

It’s too early to say the lake is ‘dying’ but it is certainly in the midst — or near the endpoint — of a process that is pushing it to the ecological brink.

Concerted and focused collective action is required. Where should this action be focused?

A study published two years ago in The Journal of Great Lakes Research provides a ready answer. It concludes that by far the majority of the plant nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus enter Lake Winnipeg via the Red River.

While federal initiatives have primarily focused on the lake’s almost million-sq.-km watershed, a concerted focus on the Red River Basin is urgently required.

To get a better understanding of the science behind nutrient loading and what we can do about it, grab a copy of The Algal Bowl: Overfertilization of the World’s Freshwaters and Estuaries, co-authored by David Schindler and John Vallentyne. Published by the University of Alberta Press in 2008, The Algal Bowl provides a global perspective of the scope of human-caused eutrophication.

Lake eerie …

Early morning in August 2013, Lake Winnipeg was steely calm as the sun rose. An eerie tableau of colours and forms languished on the eastern horizon, appearing just 1,000 metres off shore.

Billowing black clouds floated above an island … or it seemed. The ‘island’ had magically drifted in overnight. What was one to make of it?

It was a mirage, of course. Created by inversions of temperature, it was magnified by the lens of convecting air. Or some other brutally scientific explanation….

Nature’s artistic flair was full-on that morning.

Would this eerie morning lake have ‘existed’ had no one been there to revel in it?

Never mind. It doesn’t much matter.lake-eerie

 

Do rocks, trees and honeybees have rights?

Rocks at a home on Lake Winnipeg shore.

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BY JIM MOSHER —MAY 2014

Do rocks have rights? This rather odd question was the focus of an essay we considered during a course in ‘eco-philosophy’ at the University of Winnipeg in the late-70s.

There was a lively discussion, mediated by our professor. In the early going, most of us fresh-faced undergraduates agreed that the question was more a sprat to catch a mackerel than a legitimate line of inquiry. In what sense, after all, could we assert that rocks do have rights? We don’t, after all, confer rights on inanimate objects. (A shag carpet does not have rights, notwithstanding its sixties appeal.)

In the context of eco-philosophy, the opening question becomes, if nothing else, a powerful metaphor. The ecosphere involves complex interactions ‘animated’ and mediated by forces and energy flows; while this is reasonably well understood, sensitivity to these intertwined interactions has been slow to take hold. Geological and climatological processes, for instance, while not driven by humans, have significant impacts on our planet’s ecology.

We have, as the industrious and resource-hungry species we are, re-engineered the world to supply our needs or enhance our human environments. We have, for instance, built huge hydroelectric dams without a care for what effect they may have on the natural environment, though effects there are. If we take this single case, we find that the ecological effects of a hydro dam can be significant downstream and upstream, as well as farther afield.

Consider a Canadian case. Lake Winnipeg, smack dab in the middle of the country and near the geographic center of North America, is the world’s tenth largest freshwater lake, by surface area. The lake is plagued by a surfeit of plant nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus. The two nutrients are essential to terrestial life. However, in excess, a cascade of ecological consequences ensue. That’s what’s happened in Lake Winnipeg which is now — as it has been for at least a decade — locked in a process called cultural eutrophication.

Leaving aside the nature of this process, the take-home lesson is that reducing nutrient inputs is key to returning the lake to ecological balance.

Enter Netley-Libau Marsh.

It’s an inland marsh formed in the transition between the inflowing Red River and Lake Winnipeg. Marshes and other less well defined wetlands are nutrient sinks in which native vegetation captures nutrients, thus providing an ecological service to the waterways into which they flow. However, Netley-Libau Marsh no longer functions as a healthy coastal wetland. Its salutary ability to remove nutrients has been significantly undermined because it’s lost a significant amount of its vegetation, both to surging spring flood waters from the Red River and the reversal of natural flushing patterns caused by the hydro dam at the northern tip of Lake Winnipeg. (Endnote 1.)

Both causes can be traced to human forces: the tens of thousands of culverts and other drainages that discharge water into the Red River along its 877-km route from North Dakota north to the marsh and the neglect of engineers who did not take account of the ecological impacts of the regulation of Lake Winnipeg water levels.

Manitoba Hydro regulates lake levels between 711 ft. above sea level (ASL) and 716 ft. ASL. Below this range — usually in a time of drought — the provincial government steps in; any draw-down is prohibited. Above the range, maximum draw-down is required, according to the Crown utility’s lake regulation licence. Within the range, the utility uses the lake — effectively the third largest hydroelectric reservoir in the world — to optimize hydroelectric generation.

Human intervention in lake level regulation changes the hydrodynamics of the lake system.

Before lake regulation began in 1976, there were dry periods when vegetation in Netley-Libau Marsh was able to reestablish itself but that rarely happens post-regulation. Lake Winnipeg regulation and the other factors that affect Netley-Libau were not properly assessed or quantified when Manitoba Hydro received its interim licence to control lake levels in the 1970s. There are significant, costly effects that are not routinely anticipated. That is changing, as engineers realize that ecosystems have not only an intrinsic but an extrinsic value. It’s a notion that’s been percolating through the engineering community for at least the last decade. It’s an approach that was anticipated, if rarely articulated, in the 1960s as a nascent environmental movement emerged.

A wetland has a ‘value’. A honeybee has a ‘value’. Forests, waterways, oceans, volcanoes each have values because they provide ecological services. The vegetation in a wetland captures nutrients, reducing their loading into nearby waterways — an important ecological service because nutrient loading has proved to be a significant problem in waterways burdened by an excess of nutrients. Honeybees are prodigious pollinators. According to a United Nations report, cross-pollination by honeybees accounts for one-third of global food production. (Endnote 2.)

Of course, the ‘value’ also accrues to the plants that have evolved to take advantage of the insects that visit them. (Endnote 3.)

Governments have been slow to recognize the importance of ecological services; most are inclined to pay lip service. Environmental assessments of major projects do not usually require a thorough assessment of the value of ecological services. Mitigation of adverse ecological effects is often ‘recommended’ but projects are usually assessed on the basis of economic benefit, with ecological benefit a poor sister, if considered at all.

It is imprudent to ignore the larger ecological picture — the dynamics of which can and do affect the net benefit of any activity that impinges on the natural environment. As we are seeing in the sad case of Lake Winnipeg/Netley-Libau, ignoring the ‘value’ of non-human habitats and the natural components of those habitats can have unforeseen costs down the road. Those costs are ‘unforeseen’ precisely because they are not assessed in the first place. Framed in this way, the opening question becomes less esoteric, not so much a philosophical exercise as a practical, more ecologically inclusive analytical tool.

The ecosphere is a highly convergent and intricately co-dependent system. It is hypersensitive to change. Even so, a handful of bio- and geo-engineers want to change our ecosphere to soften the impacts of climate change, among other things. If our past engineering missteps are an indication, we may face worse consequences if this type of tinkering becomes commonplace.

Rocks — as every other player in the terrestrial ecosphere — do indeed have rights. Eagles, tortoises, amoeba, trees, waterways have rights. These rights are as real and as important as the human rights we seek and assiduously defend.

ENDNOTES

1.) Grosshans, R. E., D. A. Wrubleski and L. G. Goldsborough 2004. “Changes in the Emergent Plant Community of Netley-Libau Marsh Between 1979 and 2001”. Delta Marsh Field Station (University of Manitoba), Occasional Publication No. 4, Winnipeg, Canada. 52 pp.

2.) “TEEB (2010) The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature: A synthesis of the approach, conclusions and recommendations of TEEB”. Synthesis report prepared by Pavan Sukhdev, Heidi Wittmer, Christoph Schröter-Schlaack, Carsten Nesshöver, Joshua Bishop, Patrick ten Brink, Haripriya Gundimeda, Pushpam Kumar and Ben Simmons.

3.) In the late-1800s, after he’d published his seminal The Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin turned his research to flowering plants and the evolutionary advantage conferred upon them by pollinating insects. Darwin found that plants and their insect pollinators co-evolved, each developing a host of strategies to maximize pollination. See Darwin’s The Various Contrivances by which Orchids are Fertilized by Insects, John Murray, London, 1862. See also Darwin: A Life in Science, Michael White and John Gribbin, Penguin Books, 1997.

A day at Netley-Libau Marsh

charlie boat 2159

 

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Netley-Libau tour 2012

 

BY JIM MOSHER — JUNE 2012

Birder Charlie McPherson guided me on a tour of Netley-Libau Marsh June 2012. The marsh is a transition between the inflowing Red River and Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. Lake Winnipeg is the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world, by surface area.

McPherson is a volunteer bird counter. We log the avian inhabitants of the marsh, as we idle in McPherson’s aluminum punt through the bays and channels. Charlie now angles his punt into an island of reeds. We are speechless as he slowly stands and steadies himself. He puts binoculars to his eyes. He knows the songs of many marsh birds.

He calls out the names of the seen and unseen. I jot them down phonetically because Charlie’s identifications come in quick succession. We’ll discuss this later.

The marsh in an important migratory flyway. Sadly, its habitat has been undermined as inflows from the mighty Red River have carved new channels and created large bays where once marsh vegetation flourished. That vegetation loss has all but crippled the marsh as a functioning coastal wetland, scientists say.

The health of the marsh is related to the health of the lake into which it flows. Functioning wetlands provide an important ecological service: they take up nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus. Cattails and other marsh plants use the nutrients for their life functions and capture them in their extensive roots systems. But with the loss of vegetation that salutary benefit is reduced.

This is particularly important in the case of Lake Winnipeg. The lake is in the midst of a process call eutrophication. This process ultimately ends in death, but limnologists have demonstrated that with the right regimen of nutrient reduction lakes can rebound.

The marsh is an enchanting natural habitat. Bald eagles sit high above, scanning for prey. Pelicans bob in the water.

Charlie points out a handful of Western grebes riding along the gentle waves. There’s a playful pair over there; nearby, others occasionally dive into the water for a bite to eat. The grebes call the marsh home. There are other internationally important birds that stop each year at the marsh during migrations from as far away as South America.

“It is a very important spring migration corridor for Baltimore orioles, Rose-breasted grosbeaks, warblers, sparrows, swallows, snipes, blue-jays and such,” Charlie says of the marsh. “They fly up the Mississippi flyway to the Red River and follow it north to the marsh and then truck on through the marsh to the lake and points northward.”

But many birds — seasonal breeders and migratory birds — have virtually disappeared from the marsh.

“This part of the marsh should be full of yellow-headed blackbirds. I haven’t found one,” Charlie laments as we begin our day-long journey counting the many species of birds at home in the marsh. “Black-crowned night herons are not around anymore, either. They’ve moved to high water up Netley Creek. (The creek flows into the marsh from the west.)”

Charlie has been documenting bird life in the marsh for three years. He identifies birds by sight and sound. “There: write down Common yellow throat,” he says. “I didn’t see it but I heard it.”

Each bird has a distinctive call or song. Birding is about training the eyes and ears to distinguish the many different patterns — patterns and colouring of feathers, wingspan, feet; patterns of sound.

The marsh is an International Bird Area (IBA), one of 38 in the province, 600 across Canada. McPherson also conducts surveys for the province but only documents seasonal breeders in the various designated 10-km squares that are part of Manitoba’s breeding bird atlas initiative. There are 7,000 such 10-km squares in Manitoba.

The health of the marsh is being undermined due to perennial flooding from the Red River. McPherson also believes Manitoba Hydro’s regulation of lake levels is a threat because the marsh does not have a chance to be drawn down. That’s a principal reason vegetation in the marsh is not regenerating as it would naturally.

High water in the marsh has killed trees that were once common here. That’s eliminated nesting and perching grounds for many birds.

Birding is catching on as a hobby for outdoor enthusiasts. “It’s a $1-billion industry — bigger than golf,” Charlie says.

Charlie’s become a birdwatching trainer. He has taken bird enthusiasts out to the marsh. He’d like to expand his marsh tours to include children to teach them about the marsh and why it’s a critical piece in the overall ecological puzzle of both a healthy marsh-lake system and a home to migratory and other birds.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development has pushed a project to harvest cattails in the marsh for biofuel. It believes that would make space for regeneration of the marsh. That’s important because the marsh has been losing vegetation. Scientists studying the marsh say that vegetation loss has undermined the marsh’s ability to function as a healthy coastal wetland.

“Although only an idea (still), some of the thinking at the recent Lake Winnipeg Foundation conference was to winter harvest 75% of each cattail and 60% of the marsh; turn the harvested material into pellets; burn it as a biofuel, reducing coal consumption; reclaim the globally limited phosphorus in the ash and re-use it as a fertilizer,” explains McPherson. “Harvesting 75% of each cattail and 60% of the marsh would leave one to two feet of stubble field. Wind tides can be three feet. All cattail nesting birds within the harvested area would be or could be wiped out. Some of the new thinking, since winter harvesting would be costly and impractical, is to harvest ditches and marshes upland instead.”

Charlie opposes the harvesting plan. “My contention is we don’t dare harvest the cattails. We need them,” he says. The dead cattails serve as nesting ground for birds and protection for such migratory birds as snow geese.

Who knows where it all will lead.

Charlie hopes for the best. He believes his efforts will amount to something. It’s all, he says, about appreciating our natural environment as a sacred trust.