New conservation trust holds potential

March 20, 2018

The following letter to the editor was published in the Winnipeg Free Press in response to 'Manitobans will get carbon tax back, finance minister promises' (March 12)

The 2018 Manitoba budget makes a historic investment to protect the health of our environment and the many essential services it provides to people and wildlife.

The province will create a $102-million Conservation Trust Fund intended to support the goals and objectives of our provincial climate strategy, particularly those related to conserving ecosystems and using natural solutions — such as restoring wetlands — to improve water quality. The trust will be administered independently from government and will provide resources to municipalities, community groups, non-government conservation organizations and academic institutions.

The timing for this investment could not be better, as the 2018 federal budget allocates $1.3 billion over five years “to expand protected areas and help endangered and threatened species” — a move that reflects its pledge to safeguard at least 17 per cent of Canada’s land and inland waters by 2020. A Manitoba with prosperous and thriving communities depends on healthy natural landscapes that provide pure air, clean water, climate change mitigation and a vast array of wildlife. Thankfully, the Manitoba government has committed to helping Canada achieve this percentage-based conservation target.

Funds earmarked in the federal budget to “help build Indigenous capacity to conserve lands and species” can support Indigenous-led efforts to identify and protect areas of importance to nature, culture and sustainable, low-impact economic tourism opportunities.

If used strategically, the two large provincial and federal funding sources can complement one another in rapidly advancing the needle toward achieving the conservation goals that have been committed to by Canada and Manitoba.

This could translate into the establishment of large protected areas for polar bears along Hudson Bay, an initiative already underway that would benefit from additional resources. It could also mean success for the upcoming process to locate areas to conserve within the Fisher Bay region on the southwest basin of Lake Winnipeg. Increased protection in this area will help safeguard wildlife habitat and maintain the area’s role in filtering excess nutrients that are plaguing our great lake.

To date, Manitoba has protected approximately 11 per cent of our wild land and fresh water. With provincial and federal conservation funds flowing, this could be a great moment for Manitoba to accelerate its historically slow-paced track record on achieving landscape conservation. I sincerely hope that we take full advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

-Ron Thiessen Executive Director Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Manitoba chapter

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