If you’re a landowner and you’re interested in reaping the countless benefits of a stewardship project on your property, there’s plenty of funding and experts available to help you.
That was the take-home point during the launch of the Battle River Watershed Riparian Restoration Program, hosted Aug. 9 at Ruzicka Sunrise Farm north of Killam.
“The biggest message is that there’s information and there’s people and money available to help landowners if they’re interested in stewardship projects or if they’re just trying to do something productive, even with some of their marginal lands,” explains Susanna Bruneau, policy research coordinator with the Battle River Watershed Alliance.
“We’re trying to make sure the land is used as best as possible, whether it’s marginal land – even if it’s pasture land – how can we make sure that it is utilized well so it benefits everyone and everything?
“When you take care of the land and the other biological creatures and elements that are involved in making the ecosystem work, that helps with crops, it helps with cattle, it helps with everything. And if you don’t know how to do it, there are people around that can help you.”
Along with the Battle River Watershed Alliance, the launch was also sponsored and organized by the Agroforestry and Woodlot Extension Society (AWES), Cows and Fish: Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society, the Iron Creek Watershed Improvement Society, and Flagstaff County.
|Don Ruzicka discusses his innovative gravity watering system, which includes a swale and massive tank, on his farm north of Killam.|
The five-hour event was attended by a handful of area landowners and included a tour of Don and Marie Ruzicka’s farm, featuring discussions on shelterbelts, eco-buffers, pollinators and riparian plantings.
The Ruzicka farm is an example of what you can do “on a whole bunch of different fronts,” notes Kerri O’Shaughnessy, riparian specialist with Cows and Fish: Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society.
“We saw a lot of it from the environmental side. Don’s been at it from 1997, when he put up his first fence, to all the trees he’s planted over the years (an estimated 100,000). He’s a good demonstration farm, but he’s also a good spokesman for agriculture as well.”
Jeff Renton, project manager with AWES, points out that there’s a variety of benefits that can be achieved through improved land management.
Jeff Renton, project manager with Agroforestry and Woodlot Extension Society, demonstrates willow stake planting.
“For instance, through tree planting in fields, you can have higher soil moisture levels, more pollination, more pest control and potentially improved soil fertility,” he explains.
“As you saw with Don’s shelterbelts, you can have a very specific function – you want to take the wind off your cattle or you want to keep more snow across the field – but if you add a few more elements into the design – having a wider shelterbelt, having more diverse species – you can add so many more of those extra benefits that don’t really cost much more than the initial planting itself.
“From the field perspective or from the riparian perspective we talked about in terms of increasing wildlife, you get a lot of the similar benefits, but you also can retain more of your shoreline, you can have improved water quality. Any sort of planting can have multiple benefits if designed with that intent.”
And the benefits are far-reaching.
“These riparian management strategies are also key and important for livestock health and livestock gains, as well,” notes O’Shaugnessy. “It’s not just about the water quality for the ducks. It’s also about the animals themselves.”
Don Ruzicka says it boils down to the fact that every one of us is responsible to care for the land.
“You don’t even have to be a landowner,” he says. “If you drink water, maybe ask the question: where does this come from, where has the creek run through? And if you can follow that trail, would it lead to the reason our water is so clean is because landowners are taking care of their riparian areas, they’re working together as a community to make the community healthier for those that live there and those that come after us? And if we can continue that small snowball, it gets into a bigger and bigger snowball and it’s just a benefit for all of us.”