Leanna Wiebe shared her knowledge on grasslands in the Pembina Escarpment. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Winkler Times)
Close to 20 per cent of original mixed grasslands are still intact in this province, but within the R.M. of Stanley those areas are increasingly at risk of being destroyed.
Leanna Wiebe cautioned the audience at an A Rocha sponsored event called Grasslands People, held March 21 at the Morden Library.
She said an increase in development and an appetite for aggregate is raising the risk of losing grassland areas on the Pembina Escarpment.
“The grasslands we have left on the escarpment often have large deposits of gravel beneath them,” she said.
Wiebe spent last summer working with the Pembina Valley Conservation District and the R.M. of Stanley, making an inventory of local grasslands and interviewing the people who own the land to find out why they nurture these spaces and the value they see in them.
“I think I’ve always been attracted to the escarpment,” she said before her presentation. “It’s just got a lot of natural areas, a lot of hiking trails. I’ve just enjoyed visiting it.”
The escarpment itself is a unique feature according to Wiebe who said it’s linear nature allows wildlife to move in the landscape in a way that more patchy wildlife habitat might not allow.
While it was the escarpment that drew her in, Wiebe said it was the grassland that became her focus.
“My goal was to do something that was meaningful in the community so I approached a couple of community members and asked them what they thought might be a valuable project or a valuable topic to focus on along the escarpment and they highlighted grasslands as being at risk right now,” she said.
As part of the project, Wiebe said she interviewed 15 people who were involved in managing grasslands.
She’s hoping this will inspire others to learn more and help maintain the grasslands. “There are a lot of people in our community that are very interested and care about the grasslands a lot, but there’s also a need for that conversation to grow... and reach the larger community,” she said.
Mixed grasslands are a haven for many plant species. Wiebe said 70 different types of grass and 50 types of wild flowers are found on mixed grasslands.
Manitoba was also home to Tall Grass prairie, which would have been found on heavier soils which have long been turned into farmland. Less than one per cent of the original tall grass prairie remains.
What’s saved much of the mixed grass prairie so far, is its location. “It was more difficult to cultivate,” she said of the escarpment.
Much of the mixed grass prairie has also been used for grazing livestock, which if managed properly, can be an effective tool at preserving it.
New homes and yard sites on the escarpment can threaten those areas. “It’s important to balance development with conservation,” she said. “There’s an increase in development, especially in the R.M. of Stanley.”
Mixed grasslands also play an important role such as maintaining water quality, allowing for ground water recharge, supplying forages and ecosystem health.
Wiebe said there are still small or larger grassland areas on most farms including many high quality sites. She also found a desire to keep grasslands in the ecosystem.
Part of the project also saw Wiebe map out grassland areas she visited. However she added there is much more out there. “I feel like I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg here,” she said.
Wiebe will also publish a booklet on mixed grasslands, which will be released in Morden in early May.