Manitoba Ecosite and Rangeland Health Initiative

Problem and Opportunity

Commonly asked questions related to Manitoba pastures and rangelands are “How many cows can I put on this land?”; “Are current land management practices sustaining ecological function of this parcel of land?”; “How do we acquire evidence to support our land management decisions and policies?”

The key to understanding the answers to these questions is to describe the plant community that currently exists and compare it to the potential community that could exist on that site, using a Range and Pasture Health Assessment. The difference between these 2 communities gives an idea of how much improvement in rangeland health and function may be possible with modifications to land management practices. It has significant implications for a site’s ability to provide ecological services, such as forage production, biodiversity, habitat, nutrient cycling, water holding capacity, and resiliency to climate change.

Alberta and Saskatchewan have already developed science-based health assessment methods and workbooks, and the rangeland plant community guides needed for reference. They are used regularly by land managers, forage extension specialists, environmental assessment contractors, and researchers for determining potential plant community composition, forage production, stocking rates, and impacts of various land management practices on the ecological functions and services of rangelands.

Manitoba does not have access to a Range and Pasture Health Assessment method that is applicable to its climate and geography, nor does it have its own set of plant community descriptions for its rangeland ecosites.

Participants

A multi-stakeholder steering committee was established (2010) to guide the development of the Rangeland Classification and the Rangeland Health Assessment method. In an initial scoping meeting, many government and non-government organizations from agriculture and conservation sectors expressed interest in having better access to ecological site and plant community information, and a method for assessing the health of rangelands under various land uses. While there is a wider interest and participation in the project from various stakeholders, the present steering committee is composed of the following individuals and their organizations.

Jane Thornton, Bill Gardiner…………………. Manitoba Agriculture (MA)

Chris Friesen……………………………………… Manitoba Sustainable Development (SD)

Rebekah Neufeld………………………………… Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC)

Terence McGonigle…………………………….. Brandon University (BU)

Duncan Morrison, Chris Yuzdepski…………. Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association (MFGA)

Mae Elsinger, Bev Dunlop, Kerry LaForge… Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)

Jeff Thorpe………………………………………… Retired, Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC)

Progress

In 2014, Jeff Thorpe (SRC) completed the classification of ecoregions and ecosites based on soil characteristics (i.e. climate, geology, soil texture, soil moisture, topography, salinity). The Rangeland Classification for Agri-Manitoba (limited report) and summary are available on the MFGA website. The data analysis and report were funded by AAFC, NCC, and Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council (MRAC), with funds being managed by MFGA. Additional in-kind support was provided by MAFRD, DUC, CWHP, MCWS, NCC, and AAFC in the way of data contributions and time and travel.

For the 2016/2017 phase of the initiative, Growing Forward 2 Manitoba, and Nature Conservancy of Canada have provided funds towards 3 objectives: draft and field test a Range and Pasture Health Assessment method for Manitoba, develop a rangeland plant community guide, and publish ecosite maps and a spatial dataset.

The drafting of a Range and Pasture Health Assessment Method for Manitoba was initiated in November 2016, with a workshop to introduce stakeholders to Range and Pasture Health Assessment methods used elsewhere and to discuss how the technique can be adapted for the needs of Manitoba. Drafting will continue over winter, with a prototype for testing in the field in summer of 2017. An example of a Rangeland Health Assessment Workbook can be found on the Alberta Environment and Parks Department website.

A rangeland ecologist has been contracted to develop and publish the rangeland plant community guide, which will act as a prototype for plant community guides in other Ecoregions. This guide will describe actual and potential rangeland plant communities for 4 key ecosites (Sand, Moist Sand, Dune, and Loam) in the Aspen Parkland Ecoregion, by assembling plant community data from the stakeholders, and providing guidance for targeted field collection of missing data. This document will describe the ideal reference plant communities, plus any early to mid-successional plant communities or plant communities modified by an increase in woody species or exotic forages that can be expected for each ecosite under a variety of management regimes. An example of a plant community reference guide can be found on the Saskatchewan PCAP website.

Another rangeland ecologist has been contracted to create the maps and the GIS dataset of Manitoba’s Rangeland Ecosites. The maps will show where a user can expect to find the different ecosites that are defined by soil texture, geological origin, salinity, slope, and drainage. The maps and GIS data are based on the definitions of ecosites laid out in The Rangeland Classification for Agri-Manitoba (2014), and a GIS dataset that contains the spatial polygons and data created by the Manitoba Soil Survey.

Future Work

After the current phase, funding and resources will be required for further development of plant community guides for other Ecoregions and Ecosites within Manitoba, and the Draft Range and Pasture Health Assessment Workbook will need to be widely tested and refined, followed by wide promotion and demonstration.

If you are interested in learning more about this initiative, please contact Mae Elsinger at 204-578-6634.

Download the printable pdf.

Last updated: 30-November-2016

Project Contact: Mae Elsinger, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Ph:  (204) 578-6634
Start Date: 2010
Completion Date: Ongoing
Funding Partners:
Project Results: Ongoing

Related Resources and Projects:
Manitoba Rangeland Classification: Ecoregions and Ecosites