Arrived home yesterday from the two-day Alberta Institute of
Agrologists (AIA) meeting in Banff, where I was made an honorary member. Not
sure if they are trying to “buy” the media with this award, but I can’t be
bought. However, I can be rented at a very nominal rate. So feed me lunch and
give me an award and AIA has just earned a large number of Media Reward Points,
which can be used towards many future stories. Anyway, it was a very nice honor
quite a few openings if anyone else would like to honor me).
AIA also asked me to give the closing remarks to the
conference — the conference wrap up— and while I am not a great speaker, I
didn’t hesitate to give my two cents worth.
While the conference theme was managing wetlands and
agriculture, there wasn’t a huge agricultural component – it surprised me just
how many agrologists now are involved in the environment side of things. Many
are involved in oil and gas reclamation, as opposed to straight crop
Various speakers at the conference focused on the importance
of wetlands, whether they are potholes, sloughs, ponds, riparian areas along
creeks in farm and ranch country, or vast tracks of swamps and muskeg in the
Nobody denied that ALL these wetlands are important and have
varying degrees of value. They play an important role in flood control,
purifying surface water, providing habitat for waterfowl and wildlife, and
I think most farmers and ranchers see value in wetlands. A
lot of ranchers see direct benefit as sloughs and wetlands provide water, feed
and shelter for cattle. As long as the site isn’t producing a ton of poison
plants, they are generally good.
Most farmers learn how to manage crop production around
ponds, lakes and creeks, but being such a profit-driven, time-sensitive horde,
I suspect most view the temporary potholes and sloughs that appear in fields
largely as a pain in the ass.
They can’t seed them, if they get too close with machinery
they get stuck, and even with GPS and autosteer they are still a pain to work
around. I remember doing stories several years ago now with a young Alberta
Agriculture conservation specialist Douwe Vanderwel and the focus then was on
landscaping fields for slough consolidation and developing grass waterways to
carry water off fields without erosion.
Apparently those approaches are no longer kosher and the
thinking is to embrace every slough and wet spot as an important part of an
Much of the conference focused on the importance of all
wetlands, creating a value system to rank some wetlands more important than
others, developing a provincial government policy on wetland management, and
the need for more research. Everyone emphasized it is a very complex issue that
needs to be studied and talked about — we need more dialogue with a wide
range of stakeholders — two buzz words that drive me nuts.
Regardless of my last comment, I agree that it is an
important and sometimes complex issue. But I really do think that wetland
management can get bogged down in the process.
As I told the AIA folks, you can research proper wetland management
until the cows come home, but unless there is a strong commitment through
government policy, a serious commitment from industry to fix what has been
damaged, and a buy in from private land owners who see value in preserving
every pot hole, the research isn’t going to have much value.
I have some specific solutions that I will reveal in a later
blog, but this one is getting too long and I have to go polish my honorary AIA
Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or
by email at [email protected]