Farmers who run their cattle in Kirkella Community Pasture can rest assured that the grazing land will be protected now and for generations to come. With a new environmental grant, the pasture can expect some improvements for grazers as well.
Head of Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation Tim Sopuck explains the over the next two years, the Kirkella pasture will receive $100,000 to “deliver a combination of range enhancement activities including fencing, livestock watering and control of invasive shrubs among other benefits.”
“The Kirkella Community Pasture is a municipally-owned tract of land that includes grassland, wetland and woodland habitats that have been managed by a municipally-operated grazing cooperative for many decades,” said Garth Mitchell, Wallace-Woodworth’s Chief Administrative Officer. “We see a great opportunity to undertake improvements to the pasture for the purpose of enhancing grazing opportunities as well as the environmental benefits that result from more effective grazing and landscape management practices.”
The 4,000-acre pasture west of Virden is in strong demand. Mitchell says, “The pasture is fully booked each year.” Last year, including heifers, yearlings and cow-calf pairs, the pasture carried 1,365 head.
The improvement program will be directed by the RM of Wallace-Woodworth, a pasture patron group and Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association (MFGA).
Kirkella fits the criteria that The Conservation Trust grant was designed for, in preserving a natural landscape for wildlife while providing value for human endeavours, in this case farming.
This rough prairie landscape is environmentally valuable in several ways says Sopuck. He recognizes the community pasture as a productive, intact tract of grassland, wetland and wildlife habitats within a highly altered landscape (farming, oil, road infrastructure and residential dwellings). While prairie fires of past centuries are no longer allowed to rage, razing bushland, for that reason pasture enhancement (removal of invasive shrubs) will “improve the vigour of native grasses.”
He says the landscape is a vast store of carbon. It is land that retains moisture better and provides a “great diversity of habitat.” There are many species of grassland birds, burrowing owls for example, that require grazed land, not tilled land, for their summer homes.
Virden-area producer Darren Chapman is the chair of the MFGA. As a local resident, Chapman is familiar with the Kirkella Community Pasture. He says the chance to work with Wallace-Woodworth at Kirkella was a great fit for MFGA.
“We are a producer-led organization that advocates for the retention of existing grasslands for all the great reasons this project was approved by the Conservation Trust,” says Chapman. “We’d also like to congratulate the Province of Manitoba, MHHC and the Winnipeg Foundation for the Conservation Trust. It’s quite an accomplishment to bring together all the different groups on common ground. From MFGA’s perspective, it’s a win-win win.”
The Conservation Trust was announced in Budget 2018 and is now permanently endowed so it can support and inspire important conservation projects for generations. The fund is expected to generate about $5 million per year and will be managed by The Winnipeg Foundation, with projects administered, tracked and evaluated by the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation (MHHC).