They are celebrating 75 years of conserving wetlands across Canada.
© Submitted photo
Volunteers and farmers work on the Waterhen Marsh project in 1938, the first Saskatchewan project Ducks Unlimited had in the province.
Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), which started in 1938 in Manitoba, has been celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
“All this year, we have been hosting a series of celebrations,” Saskatchewan communication specialist Lori Gasper said. “One of the things we have been doing is we have been having Diamond Signature Galas.”
There have been 10 galas across the country -- the one in Saskatchewan was held on Sept. 17 in Regina.
“It was our opportunity to gather together a bunch of people to have a bit of a celebration and to raise some money with one of a kind auction items,” Gasper said.
There have also been a number of other activities being held to celebrate the milestone.
“We were very proud to publish the Marsh Keeper’s Journey, which was a commemorative 75th anniversary history book,” Gasper said. “It came out this spring and it was authored by Bruce Batt, a longtime employee for Ducks Unlimited.”
Artist Robert Bateman, who is an ardent supporter of DUC, created a one-of-a-kind painting for the organization.
“We are happy to be auctioning off prints of that piece throughout our dinners this year,” Gasper said.
In addition, Jon Montgomery, Canada’s Olympic gold medalist in the skeleton, signed on as the DUC ambassador this year.
“Most people remember him as the guy who drank a pitcher of beer walking down Whistler Mountain,” Gasper laughed. “More recently, he was host of the Amazing Race Canada. He has been very good helping us with a bunch of small little social media clips to help people see different conservation acts and things they can do to appreciate conservation.”
The Year of the Conservation Champion will motivate people to get outside, support DUC and share their stores through interactive and online tools including ducks.ca, Facebook and Twitter, Gasper said.
DUC has been in Saskatchewan since its inception in 1938, Gasper said.
“The first project in Saskatchewan is Waterhen Marsh, which is up in Kinistino country,” Gasper said.
In 2005, when the province held its centennial celebration, DUC was able to honour the Henders family who was involved in the Waterhen project.
“I got to meet Dick Henders,” Gasper said. “He and his brother were longtime supporters for Ducks. He told me about how they were out working Waterhen Marsh with the horse and plow, trying to restore that marsh. It is a big peat land and a bunch of the farmers had worked it up and tried to grow a crop there.”
In the 1930s, the land ended up being a wasteland and magnet for fires, since no crop would grow there, she said.
“In 1938, that was the site of the first conservation project for Ducks Unlimited Canada and it just happened to be a wetland restoration project, where they worked to put water back into that marshland,” Gasper said. “It is really interesting.”
Since 1938, DUC has grown into a world leader in wetland conservation, Gasper said.
DUC has been doing work in the Prince Albert area for about 30 years, Gerry Letain of DUC said.
“We have a lot of projects we have to look after,” Letain said. “In the Prince Albert area alone, DUC owns approximately 2,500 acres of wetlands projects. That is in the immediate area -- about a 10 to 15 miles radius.”
They do not just take care of the immediate area -- within an hour and half of the city, there are about 40 wetlands projects consisting of 60 water control structures and 32,000 acres of wetland.
“It takes a lot of time to look after all of the projects,” Letain said. “Some of the main ones would be (the lake) between Henribourg and Paddockwood, which is 1,500 acres alone. We have another wetland complex north of Shellbrook called the Sucker Lakes. It is about 2,200 or 2,500 acres with nine different water control structures on it.”
They have also been working on fencing all their local projects so farmers can utilize them for grazing, Letain said.
“Local producers will rent the pasture from us and let their cattle graze on the Ducks projects,” Letain said. “Not all are fenced but about three quarters are now. That is what we have been working on lately.”
Letain said it is hard to make people understand the importance of wetland conservation during wet years.
“We look at trying to protect some of the more productive wetlands that are out there,” Letain said. “We don’t just do it for ducks. Everything we do benefits all forms of wildlife. You go to a wetland and are all types of mammals out there -- it is not just birds that are out on the water. It is very crucial for the local wildlife populations that they have places to go to.”
There are many wetlands that would not exist today if it were not for DUC.
“They would have been drained years ago if DUC had not stepped in to mediate what was actually going to take place,” Letain said. “Some wanted to retain the wetlands and others wanted to drain them because they cause a lot of flooding problems. When DUC signed people up on the projects, we provide some farmer flood control. It isn’t guaranteed control, but most years it is.”
Letain enjoys working with local producers in the Prince Albert area in wetland conservation.
“I think overall we have a pretty good working repertoire with most of them,” Letain said. “There is the odd disagreement once in a while, but it is like that with anything in life.”
For more information about DUC and the 75th anniversary, visit http://www.ducks.ca/who-we-are/celebrating-75-years.
Did you know:
• Wetlands function as natural water retention ponds, prevent flooding, filter and purify water, replenish and store groundwater, reduce erosion and protect shorelines.
• Wetlands provide exceptional biodiversity.
• One-third of Canada’s species at risk depend on wetlands for all or part of their lifecycle.
• While they occupy only six per cent of the world’s land surface, wetlands hold twice the carbon found in the tropical forests of the world.
• In Saskatchewan, we lose 28 acres – or nearly 14 CFL football fields – of wetlands every day.