With snow persisting across much of southern prairies this
week, probably the last thing farmers want to read about is wetland management.
If ducks can’t find a prairie pothole to nest beside this year, they shouldn’t
be out there reproducing anyway. I suspect for many, the challenge will be to
find a dry spot to lay eggs.
My wife said the other day me getting an honorary membership
in the Alberta Institute of Agrology is much like the Scarecrow getting a brain
I just THINK there is something in there. (I am further reminded of that Mark
Twain quote: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you
are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” But my new brain has overruled that common sense approach.)
In my last blog, I described how speakers at the recent AIA
conference emphasized the importance of protecting, maintaining and restoring
wetlands, whether they be prairie potholes and sloughs, or vast tracks of
muskeg and swamps in northern regions. And I don’t doubt that conclusion —
evolution, nature and/or God created all this for a reason.
With the oil and gas sector, or any industrial activity, my
or 25 acres of a farmer’s field, or a million acres of muskeg to extract a
resource, that’s great, just put it back the way it was, as best you can. Too
often the excuse for avoiding or minimizing the disturbance in the first place,
or in properly repairing what was torn up is that it is too expensive. Well,
“duh”, let’s call that the cost of doing business. An AIA conference speaker
from the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank, said their economics
showed the cost of restoring or replacing oilsands wetlands — what they
refer to as a no-net-loss policy — would cost the energy industry 50 or 60
cents for every barrel of oil removed. If these guys can’t find 50 cents or
even $1 from every $100 barrel of oil to repair the environmental damage, they
shouldn’t be out there in the first place.
Now, for the poor old farmer, I think they should be allowed
to rape and plunder the landscape because they are good people doing God’s
Okay, on a more serious note, farmers need to do a proper
job of land management and that includes protecting and preserving wetlands on
their land. And I believe most do that now. I believe they respect permanent
lakes, ponds, rivers and streams and riparian areas, and begrudgingly tolerate
usually-seasonal sloughs and potholes, not so much because they love ducks, but
because these wet areas are a fact of farming life.
Three big differences I see between agriculture and the oil
industry: 1. Farmers operate on private land they bought; 2. I don’t think too
many producers sit around at the proverbial coffee shop, or curling rink
comparing notes on whether this fourth quarter profit was larger than the last;
3. And I haven’t heard of any producers making applications to drain the 9500
square mile Lake Winnipeg so they can snatch an 80 bushel canola crop off that
prime growing sight.
For the most part, farmers are just trying to be as
efficient and hopefully as profitable as possible producing crops on their
land, working around and with the natural landscape as practical as possible.
In a perfect world they might embrace every slough and pothole as a wonder of
nature, but in reality they have to optimize their land use to be as efficient
as possible. Saving every slough and pothole may be nice in theory, but that
warm feeling that comes with knowing that through your efforts another 27 ducks
were able to fly south, really doesn’t pay the fertilizer bill.
To me it comes down to, if society thinks every slough and
pothole is important and wants to direct producers on how to manage their
lands, then society should pay for it. And that could be through either direct
compensation for loss of production or inconvenience, or perhaps through tax incentives.
Someone came up with this goofy carbon credits system that pays farmers to do a
good job of land management to cover the ass of some industrial activity that
can’t or wont. So maybe there should be a Duck Credit that pays one producer in
Pothole Alley to maintain as many sloughs and wet spots as he can on his land,
while his neighbor farms fencepost to fencepost.
I don’t want to see either the energy sector or agriculture
disabled or disadvantaged to a point of non-profit. I enjoy driving someplace
to have a coffee and a donut, so I rely on them both. It may sound like a
double standard to on one hand expect the oil and gas industry, for example, to
clean up the mess it makes, and on the other say society should pay or
compensate farmers to protect potholes. But in my logic it is really the
different edges of the same wetland management sword being applied.
Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or
by email at [email protected]