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Protection of vital Manitoba wetland ensures aid for summer drought

Sunday, July 25th 2021, 12:21 pm - Douglas Marsh is 'key' to water regulation in the Assiniboine Delta in Manitoba, says the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

The Douglas Marsh plays a critical role in water management in the Assiniboine Delta in Manitoba, conveniently located in the drought-prone province.

This is according to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), which recently purchased the vital wetland complex near Brandon, Man. With the acquisition, the group has doubled the size of its Douglas Marsh protected area with an extra 115 hectares. The conservation boost ensures the largest wetland system in the Assiniboine Delta can continue to sustain and offer protection from snow melt in the spring and summer droughts.

SEE ALSO: First-of-a-kind study reveals Canada’s most vulnerable eco-regions

According to the NCC, Douglas Marsh is teeming with rushes, sedges and cattails, intercut by scattered areas of open water. Within it is an aquifer that flows through the land toward the Assiniboine River. The wetland and surrounding summit provides key nature-based services to the community such as filtration, storage, drought mitigation and habitat for wildlife.

Douglas Marsh, Manitoba/Nature Conservancy of Canada Douglas Marsh. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

“[This] is something that the Nature Conservancy of Canada feels is very important. It is a very diverse area and a lot of the marshes are private, so being able to work to conserve that is one of the higher priorities that we’ve identified within the natural area," said Josh Dillabough, NCC natural area manager for Douglas Marsh, in a recent interview with The Weather Network.

DOUGLAS MARSH IMPORTANT FOR WATER REGULATION

This year has been a particularly tough year for agriculture in the province, with extreme drought and numerous wildfires recently.

Douglas Marsh receives water from surrounding lands, and is one of the few locales where the waters within the Assiniboine Delta aquifer take place at the surface. This process provides a vital role in sustaining and protecting the water quality of the aquifer.

“Not only is this important for the surface filtration of water and the slowing during high water times, but this marsh sits directly on top of the Assiniboine Delta aquifer, which a lot of residents rely on for their drinking water," said Dillabough.

DouglasMarsh daytime/Nature Conservancy of Canada Douglas Marsh. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

He said it’s critical to have those “robust, whole marsh systems” during times of drought. To create a completely resilient area in Manitoba, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is collaborating with other environmental groups.

Marshes are "quite resilient to drought," acting as sponges to hold onto water for a long time, he added.

"But they still form that filtration function. With the Nature Conservancy purchasing this particular property, it abates the threat of development, and certain impacts that are seen within the property itself," said Dillabough.

WETLAND BOOSTS BIODIVERSITY

The protected area has other benefits, too, as it is a great asset for biodiversity.

The wetland been designated an important bird area, home to wildlife on the Species at Risk Act (SARA) including one of the largest groups of yellow rail (special concern) in the prairie region. The yellow rail is a nocturnal, wetland bird rarely visible, known for its odd “clicking” call that mimics the sound of two pebbles being tapped together, according to the NCC.

Douglas Marsh in Manitoba/Nature Conservancy of Canada Douglas Marsh. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

"With NCC purchasing [Douglas Marsh], we can directly manage this property for a particular species. There are some other adjacent habitats to it that we can really focus and dial in on those, [as well]," said Dillabough.

Douglas Marsh also boasts a stretch of upland native prairie -- one of the most endangered terrestrial ecosystems on the planet. More than 150 species have been observed on the site, the nature group says.

“We’re working on an interpretative site with the watershed district, with the intent to be able to allow people to experience the marsh and learn about it. It’s definitely in that top 80 per cent of the projects and work that we do," said Dillabough.

Thumbnail courtesy of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

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