I’m writing this after a walk on the still frozen Assiniboine River that meanders through our neighborhood. This time, accompanied by the soft squeaks of nuthatches; last week it was a fleeting glimpse of a low-flying bald eagle; the week before, a fox. Like magic, winter extends Wolseley’s walkable real-estate and offers an alternate vantage of this vital point of connection with the natural world. No doubt, by the time this is read, spring will have transformed the frozen stillness into a great clamour of shifting plates crowding the surface as they navigate downstream. Still pocked with our footprints, the exodus of ice is a reminder that this connection to the landscape stretches far beyond our afternoon river walks.
Once melted, this water flows to the Forks then north on the Red River and is released into Lake Winnipeg where it circulates for three to five years before it is drawn up by the mouth of the Nelson River. For 640 km it flows past communities and through a thriving Boreal landscape. An expansive patchwork of thriving forests, wetlands and waterways, the Boreal covers 80% of Manitoba and is one of the largest, in-tact forest ecosystems left on the planet.
The Nelson terminates at its brackish estuary. This interface between fresh waters and the marine environment of Hudson Bay forms, among other things, the summer habitat for an estimated 37,000 beluga whales (roughly 65% of the world’s largest population of the species).
This journey of the water that staged our urban winter activities serves an inescapable reminder that our connection to the Boreal is direct, and our often underestimated influence is as real as our responsibility as stakeholders in the health of this landscape.
The boreal is the world’s largest source of unfrozen fresh water, the northern lungs of the planet and Earth’s largest terrestrial carbon storehouse, which helps curb global climate change. In Manitoba, as elsewhere it supports traditional land use practices undertaken by Indigenous people as well as dozens of communities and valuable economies. Healthy populations of fish, bear, wolf and muskrat as well as species seeing declining numbers like moose and woodland caribou, all depend on the Boreal.
Though the health of this ecosystem has been largely preserved up to now with little formal protection, the steady northward movement of development will no doubt begin to change that. Planning ahead for land use and land protection in this region, in partnership with affected communities is in the best interest of everyone in Manitoba.
This season, that message carries added relevance as the province readies to elect a government that will lead the next four years of policy and priorities. The lead up to the April 19 election is your unpassable opportunity to ensure the issues of relevance to all of us are front and centre priority for all parties.
Over the coming weeks, candidates will be making appearances at events and on your doorstep speaking to the issues important to them and hopefully, looking to uncover the issues important to you. It’s an opportunity to listen but more importantly, it’s an opportunity to be heard, to shape the discussion, to get answers, and to let your candidates know what THEY should be thinking about. The best thing you can do is be prepared.
As a 2015 poll indicated that 88% of the province wants the majority of the Boreal protected, it’s an issue all parties should be prepared to talk about.
Recently, there have been numerous commitments made that, if implemented could have incredibly positive impacts for the future of the Boreal in Manitoba; commitments toward the recovery of Woodland Caribou, financial support for Indigenous land use planning, protection of 17% of lands and inland waters from industrial development by 2020 and the safeguarding of habitat for the Western Hudson Bay belugas through the protection of influential upstream environments.
To find out if and how candidates plan to move forward with these commitments or to find out how they plan to approach the conservation of a healthy Boreal landscape…it’s your job to ask.
To find out more about where parties stand and to inform your questions for candidates, click here.
This article originally appeared in the Wolseley Leaf April 2016