“If Ryan Pocza hadn’t dropped by, my parents would have never known that this project was a possibility,” notes the Feldbergs’ daughter Lisa Ayres.
Pocza, a conservation program specialist with DUC in Alberta, had been looking for drained wetlands in the Wetaskiwin area that could be restored, as a way to further enhance the waterfowl habitat base that DUC has protected in the area through conservation easements, purchases and restoration projects.
This great project is one of many wetland restorations enabled through the Alberta Wetland Policy.
Implementing a technology-driven approach
In 2019, using satellite imagery and other tools, Pocza determined that a wetland basin on the Feldberg’s land had been partially drained years ago. So he approached Leroy Feldberg to see if he might be interested in a project to restore that wetland to its pre-drainage level.
“We have two quarter sections, a south pasture and a north pasture. Both pastures have natural wetland areas, which are connected by a creek. In the spring, a lot of water comes into the south pasture in that slough area. And when ice breakup happens, we typically see flooding through the creek, over our driveway, and into the north pasture’s slough area,” explains Lisa.
“What really sparked Leroy’s interest in the project was having more control of the water flow.”
Under DUC’s Wetland Restoration Lease Program, DUC works with the landowner to develop a plan for the project. If the landowner and DUC decide to proceed with a proposed project, they sign a 10-year agreement.
“Under these agreements, DUC takes care of all the work and costs related to restoring the wetland,” explains Pocza. “We also pay the landowner 100 per cent of the fair market value for the area covered by the restored wetland. Half is paid upfront, and half is paid in 10 payments over the 10 years. We put a caveat on the title for those 10 years, which allows us to access the wetland to check that everything is functioning properly.”
Landowners retain ownership and management of restored area
For these projects, the landowner retains ownership and management of the restored area. The only restrictions are that the landowner must not remove the control structure on the wetland or till the land within the wetland’s boundary.
“This project doesn’t change how we manage the land; we can still pasture cows there,” notes Lisa. “The only change is that we now have controlled water flow and a new area for wildlife and waterfowl. My parents are both avid bird watchers, and Leroy is a photographer.”
This land has been in the Feldberg family for generations. Leroy, who has lived on this farm all his life, told Pocza that as kids they used to canoe in the marsh and watch the cranes, ducks and geese.
A small part of the restored wetland is on land owned by Colin and Charlene Feldberg, distant relations of Leroy and Mary. Pocza contacted them, and they too signed a restoration agreement.
Controlling the water level in the south marsh required a rock chute and dam, which DUC built to withstand a one-in-a-100-year flood. Pocza adds, “The Feldbergs were awesome to work with, and everyone was happy to see this project come to fruition.”
“All in all, this project was a very positive experience,” says Lisa.
Alberta Wetland Policy provided funding
The Alberta Wetland Policy offers a mechanism by which landowners can be paid for ecosystem services provided by wetlands restored on their properties. Monies collected through the provincial regulatory system when wetlands are drained and filled in are held in a dedicated wetland replacement fund. DUC can access those monies to compensate landowners like the Feldbergs for voluntary wetland restoration.
“This policy has created a mechanism for paying landowners for the ecosystem services provided by their restored wetlands,” explains DUC’s Tracy Scott. “The Alberta Wetland Policy has enabled a true payment for ecosystem services—and landowners are the beneficiaries.”
The policy enables conservation and restoration of a whole suite of ecosystem services provided by wetlands, such as wildlife habitat, flood and drought management, water quality improvement and biodiversity. Under this policy, when a developer cannot avoid wetland loss, one option is to pay a fee for the restoration of a previously drained wetland to replace the wetland being lost.
“The funds derived from the Wetland Policy go almost exclusively to private landowners. As a rough estimate, this policy is putting almost $4 million a year into landowners’ pockets through the compensation payments in DUC’s restoration projects,” says Scott.
“It’s really a win-win-win for the environment, society and landowners.”