Conservation and enhancement of wetlands in Saskatchewan, 2016-2017

Project by the Water Security Agency of Saskatchewan

Location: Cactus Lake, Tramping Lake East, Regina East, Lightning, Pheasant Hills, Upper Assiniboine, Virden Sask, SK.

For more information on this project, please contact Glen McMaster, Director, Water Quality and Habitat Assessment Services, Regina, SK. 

Purpose

The abundance and density of wetlands in southern Saskatchewan is unparalleled in Prairie Canada, and provides critical habitat for breeding and migrating waterfowl and other wetland associated species.  The majority of southern Saskatchewan is privately owned, and supports agricultural production of either cultivated crops or cattle.  Farmers and ranchers have very different perspectives on wetlands.  Wetlands provide watering and forage for rancher’s cattle.  In contrast, for farmers small pothole wetlands increase seed and input costs by overlapping applications, and delay spring seeding with increased risk of fall frost damage.  Wetland drainage provides significant private economic benefits to Saskatchewan farmers. 

Agricultural Census of Canada data shows that the area of cattle forage in Saskatchewan has increased significantly over the last 15 years due to conversion of annually cultivated cropland to tame pasture and hayland.  This increase in forage area was supported in part by NAWMP programming, and by increasing the availability of upland nesting habitat has made a major contribution to the accomplishment of those NAWMP habitat objectives in Saskatchewan. 

An additional critical, but less recognized, benefit of cropland conversion to forage, is that risk of drainage for existing wetlands within the forage area is eliminated, and opportunities are created to restore previously drained wetlands.  Conversion to forage also eliminates input of sediment and nutrients from annually tilled cropland into the wetland, enhancing the condition of existing wetlands.  Therefore forage conversion is a low cost, and landowner-friendly wetland conservation and enhancement tool which complements other binding tools such conservation easements. 

Through voluntary partnerships with ranchers, cultivated cropland will be converted to forage to conserve and enhance existing wetlands, and enhance upland habitat for nesting waterfowl and other grassland nesting shorebirds and landbirds.

Long-term conservation impacts and benefits

Conversion of cropland to perennial forage increases waterfowl production and wetland conservation.  This project will convert a large acreage into perennial forage increasing the likelihood of this landuse persisting in the long-term.

New tools, methodologies, landscape practices or protocols

Conversion of cropland to perennial forage is a well accepted practice for the enhancement of upland waterfowl nesting habitats.  Agronomic practices for the successful establishment of perennial forage are well known and proven across the Prairie provinces.