Manitoba Wildlife Federation is working with ranchers to restore grasslands in the Langruth and Broomhill WMAs
The Manitoba Wildlife Federation is working with ranchers on a pilot project that will use grazing cattle to help restore native grasslands for the benefit of wildlife. The grazing will take place in two wildlife management areas, or WMAs, on a rotational basis, essentially replacing the role bison and wildfires once played.
The targeted areas are the Langruth WMA on the west side of Lake Manitoba, and the Broomhill WMA in the far southwest of the province near Melita. Both tracts of crown land are losing native prairie because of a process known as succession, in which grasslands gradually turn into forested areas over time.
“Native prairie evolved with grazing bison and wildfires,” says Nolan Sawatzky, the MWF’s manager of conservation stewardship. “It would be frequently maintained by natural processes, but those are no longer occurring because the surrounding landscape has all been fully developed, and we don’t have bison. Now that we’ve unintentionally removed these natural disturbances, habitat is just left alone and the rate of succession is amplified unnaturally. Shrubs move in really quickly.”
By essentially using grazing cattle as a proxy for the now absent bison, these essential disturbances will be restored. “Grassland needs a lot of disturbance to be maintained,” Sawatzky says. “It’s a very sensitive habitat and provides tons of benefit to wildlife in terms of shelter and food.”
To gauge the project’s success, the two WMAs will be surveyed in five years and the results will be compared to baseline data collected on in 2021. Manitoba’s first WMA was established in the southeast of the province in 1961, and the system has since grown to encompass almost two million hectares of valuable wildlife habitat throughout the province. Public access for hunting is generally permitted in these conservation areas.
Learn more about the MWF’s programs and positions at www.mwf.mb.ca.