Man. study puts dollar values on wetland work

Research in southern Manitoba suggests that a farmer looking to restore previously drained wetlands could expect to pay $400 per acre on average — and that it’s a cost generally within their reach.

A study done by Katherine Packman, a master’s student in the University of Alberta’s department of rural economy, used a test group of Manitoba farmers to produce the $400 figure.

As well, when asked to submit blind bids on what they’d be willing to pay or thought it would cost, they came within that price range, Packman said in a U of A release.

To reach a dollar cost, Packman studied the natural features and production characteristics of 36 farms in southern Manitoba, then estimated how much money would be needed to re-establish wetlands on those lands. Machinery costs, loss of crop land production, labour and consulting fees were all factored in.

Soil quality and other factors may vary the cost slightly in different regions, but the findings highlight the costs farmers would bear to restore wetlands, and could be used to create policies that promote wetland restoration on the Prairies, she said.

“By putting cold, hard dollar signs to projects like wetland restoration, farmers, other landowners, governments and the public will be encouraged to open their wallets to pay for a healthier environment,” the U of A said of its study, funded by Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“By putting an actual cost to wetland restoration, the element of the unknown is removed. The information may encourage farmers to make the investment when they realize it is within their budgets,” Packman said.

Natural wetlands, which provide food and living habitat for ducks and other waterfowl and insects, are usually drained and sometimes filled with soil to prepare the land for crops, but have a “significant environmental benefit when brought back to the Prairie landscape,” she said.

“Receptiveness

A separate survey conducted by the U of A and DUC through Ipsos Reid found that more generally, Manitobans are willing to pay for wetland conservation and want the province to play “a more proactive role” in wetland conservation.

“The survey was designed to gauge the public’s receptiveness to an ecological goods and services program in Manitoba,” DUC biologist Shane Gabor said in a separate release of the January 2008 Ipsos Reid survey.

The survey participants in this case, nearly 2,000 Manitobans, were not as familiar with the issues surrounding wetland loss in comparison to other environmental issues in the province, the study found.

“This is attributed to the significant media coverage of water pollution in Lake Winnipeg and the current hot topic of climate change,” said U of A’s Peter Boxall, also with the department of rural economy. “What the public doesn’t realize is wetland drainage contributes to Lake Winnipeg’s problems.”

Nevertheless, almost 90 per cent of respondents suggested “some level of concern” about the issues of wetland loss in Manitoba, the study showed.

What’s more, Boxall said, “Manitobans are willing to pay $294 per household per year over a five-year period for wetlands, according to the survey results. If 100 per cent of wetlands are restored in the province, the public is willing to pay $358 per household per year over five years. This is even after those polled were told this money would come out of their own pockets.”

Willingness to pay for wetlands is higher than other studies he has recently done concerning environmental services, Boxall said, adding that such a result is likely because “wetlands are viewed as providing more environmental services relative to others in the same category.”

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