I teamed up at the Legislature today with Gaile Whelan Enns (Manitoba Wildlands), Eric Reder (Wilderness Committee), and Jon Gerard (Manitoba Liberal Party) to stand up for peat's sake.
The recent proposal to develop a new peat mine inside Hecla / Grindstone provincial park had underscored the long-standing desperate need for a peat lands protection strategy in Manitoba.
Provincial Parks are intended to be protected areas. Places to preserve natural landscapes. A place where natural ecosystems can thrive and wildlife can be safe. Manitobans want their parks free of industrial developments like mines. The idea of a peat mine inside a provincial park is contradictory to the entire concept of a protected area.
To provide an analogy: think of a school as a “bully free protected zone,” yet which also has zones in the playground where bullying is knowingly allowed. The “bully-free” label, then contradicts actual practice!
A peat mine in a provincial park, is no less absurd – This would not be allowed in a National Park!
Adding insult to injury: the Manitoba Government enacted the Save Lake Winnipeg Act in June 2011, claiming it would protect Manitoba's wetlands by, inter alia, “banning the rapid expansion of peat extraction from wetlands.”
I was concerned about the potential of peat mines being developed despite the moratorium. When I presented in response to Bill 46: The Save Lake Winnipeg Act to the Manitoba Standing Committee on Social and Economic Development June 13, 2011, I asked:
“...several peat mines ... are [already]... in the licensing process. ... I'd like ... a clear indication of whether those ones that are partway through the licensing process will be allowed to finish, or whether they will not?”
Unfortunately at the time I did not realize the true magnitude of the situation. I thought perhaps a few peat mines with pending applications might be licensed. The magnitude of the situation, however, is much worse.
The Government of Manitoba has granted peat quarry leases on more than 30,000 hectares (~75,000 acres) of Manitoba peat land. Holders of existing peat quarry leases in Manitoba can still develop new peat mines despite the provincial moratorium.
To put this into perspective, “[a]round 17,000 ha [~42,000 acres] of peatland are used for peat moss extraction in Canada, and an additional 5,000 ha [~12,500 acres] will be harvested within the next 10 years.”
This means the total area of land in Manitoba with registered peat quarry leases, is nearly twice as large as the total area used for harvesting peat across Canada.
If the plan was to “ban the rapid expansion of the peat extraction from wetlands?” vis-a-vis the Save Lake Winnipeg Act, then I am afraid the barn door was shut long after all of the horses ran out.
Peat lands are important because they: 1) filter water - reduce the harmful nutrients entering waterways; 2) serve as carbon sinks - mining peat lands releases carbon and methane into the atmosphere; and 3) are habitat for species - including rare orchids, whooping cranes, and piping plover.
Of course many people use peat moss in their gardens, but perhaps less of us think about where this substance comes from, and the impacts that extracting it might have. However with a little bit of research many backyard gardeners might realize that alternatives to peat exist.
Chipped bark, shredded tree prunings, or straw are great mulch alternatives to peat, and peat has little or no nutrient value, so compost often works better than peat as a soil enricher.
Using compost and other alternatives, rather than peat whenever possible, reduces greenhouse gas emissions on both fronts: methane emissions from landfills are reduced, and emissions associated with peat mining are also reduced.
A provincial strategy to compost organic matter could, therefore work in tandem with a peat protection strategy. Yes this idea does require some further study, but these are the type of innovative ideas that hold the potential to create jobs, protect Manitoba's ecosystems, and reduce Manitoba's greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.
Now there is only so much we can do in our own Manitoba back yard - 90% of Canadian peat production is exported. “The United States is the main market, however peat products are also exported to many Asian, European and the Middle Eastern countries.
Although Canada has an abundance of peat land, not all of it is suitable for peat mining. A true assessment of the long-term impacts of peat mining need to be considered. The industry in Canada has made great advances in partial reclamation of bogs, but even still, placing a mined peat bog back to its original ecological integrity is impossible – the biodiversity of a reclaimed pond is never as rich.
With so many questions, it is perhaps smart to step back and re-think. Perhaps the moratorium on peat mining should be extended to the issuance of Environment Act licenses as well?
Protecting peat is a wise investment. Peat is a precious planetary resource, which takes centuries to develop, and is a vital tool to preserve the health of our waterways, and the temperature of our planet.
We need to let the Manitoba Government know that it is time to get on with long overdue promises. We need more than some report that will sit on a shelf; more than an ambitiously named statute that makes miniscule amendments, which only amount to smoke and mirrors.
There just has to be a better way than mining peat from our public parks. Make sure that your voice and ideas are heard!
Comments and further enquiries regarding the “Hay Point Peat Mine Development (Public Registry file #5548.00)” can be forwarded to Darell Ouimet (darrell.ouimet[at]gov.mb.ca) 945-7067. Comments must be submitted before February 3, 2012 and must include the “Public Registry file #5548.00” in the subject line or title. The Wilderness Committee has some helpful advice on their “Letter Writing Tool Page.”
1 Larry Kusch: Winnipeg Free Press (January 6, 2011), “Peat Mine Proposed for Manitoba Park.” Online: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/peat-mine-proposed-for-manitoba-park-136796553.html
2 Manitoba Wildlands (June 25, 2011), “Save Lake Winnipeg Act Receives Royal Assent.” Online: http://www.manitobawildlands.org/water_lakewpg.htm#savelakewpg
3 Government of Manitoba News Release (June 2, 2011), “Premier Unveils Plan to Save Lake Winnipeg.” Online: http://news.gov.mb.ca/news/index.html?archive=2011-6-01&item=11639
4 Manitoba Hansard - Standing Committee on Social and Economic Development (June 13, 2011). Online: http://www.gov.mb.ca/legislature/hansard/5th-39th/sed_06/sed_06.html
5 Université of Laval: Peatland Ecology Research Group (April 28, 2009), “Peat Industry.” Online: http://www.gret-perg.ulaval.ca/industrie-gret.html
6 Prepared by SNC Lavalin for Jiffy Canada (April 2010), “Environment Act Proposal for Development of Poplar Creek Bog, Haute Bog, and Boggy River Bog” (p. 4). Available through Manitoba Department of Conservation Environmental Assessment and Licensing Branch public registry locations.
7 Wilderness Committee – Manitoba Chapter, “Write Wild - Provincial Park Threatened by Peat Mining Operation.” Online: http://wildernesscommittee.org/manitoba/write_wild_provincial_park_threatened_peat_mining_operation