by JIM ALGIE
A handful of farm groups and Ducks Unlimited have adopted a shared policy position “that Canada can and must do more to protect our country’s wetlands in agricultural landscapes.”
The statement, issued to mark World Wetlands Day, Feb. 2, cites accelerated wetland losses because of rising land values and the recent history of relatively high crop prices. However, Lambton County farmer and Soil Conservation Council of Canada President Don McCabe distanced himself somewhat from the joint statement in a subsequent interview.
Urban expansion in central Ontario and inadequate regulatory concern for established, rural landowners represent greater threats than cropping intensity to endangered wetlands, McCabe said. He also warned of potential “push back” from rural land owners in the face of wetland protection that fails to take account of their needs.
The Soil Council, Canadian Fertilizer Institute and CropLife Canada joined in the statement with Ducks Unlimited Canada, the well-known charity specializing in wetland conservation. The institute represents fertilizer manufacturers and CropLife Canada represents manufacturers of pest control and plant biotechnology products.
“Canadian wetlands provide a first and last line of defense against unintended runoff of agricultural inputs and a sink for greenhouse gasses,” Ducks Unlimited Canada CEO Greg Siekaniec said in the statement, citing recent research by his organization.
Increased agricultural commodity prices and rising farm land values have helped accelerate loss of wetlands which are crucial to environmental protection, the joint statement said. In some heavily settled areas, the statement indicates, the proportion of wetlands lost to development exceeds 90 per cent.
“Protecting wetlands will not only help preserve our soil, they will also protect the quality of our rivers, lakes and drinking water supplies,” McCabe is quoted to say in the joint statement. When interviewed, however, McCabe, who is also Ontario Federation of Agriculture vice-president, emphasized the need for practical balance in wetland protection.
“In Ontario, the stresses are coming from urbanization and from regulation,” McCabe said. “There’s no compensation for it and no recognition of the fact that wetland is there because somebody has been doing a job for it for a long time,” he said, referring to conservation measures adopted by established land users.
Issues vary with the landscape, McCabe said. In Western Canada concerns arise from expanded use of tile drainage and new municipal drinking water systems. In Ontario, tile drainage and municipal water systems are relatively well established, he said.
“Houses are coming out and taking over in new subdivisions, whatever, but . . . no respect seems to be given then to maintaining the functions of the landscape,” McCabe said. “All of a sudden you get regulations coming out the other side,” he said.
“When you start drawing lines without consideration for the people who are actually there, you naturally are going to get push back,” McCabe said.
Wetland loss in Ontario is “more the issue of a changing economy in general and the fact is some of the greatest pressure on our wetland is more in the central region of this province,” McCabe said. “The cropping dynamic is secondary to that and I would say very, very secondary,” he said.
“It’s a job that society has to wake up to because nobody is going to do it alone,” McCabe said of wetland protection. BF