Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, Brandon NAWMP Office, 2034 Currie Boulevard, Box 8, Rural Route 1, Brandon, MB, R7A 5Y1 Canada
HELP is an eight-year, $3.0 million cooperative habitat initiative which began in 1987 and is supported by Wildlife Habitat Canada (50%) Ducks Unlimited Canada (25%) and Manitoba Natural Resources (25%).
The HELP initiative is a pilot project for the implementation of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP). It is, therefore, the objective of HELP to devise, deliver, and evaluate innovative habitat securement and enhancement initiatives in the intensively farmed prairie pothole landscape. The Rural Municipality of Shoal provided a typical prairie-parkland landscape on which to test the habitat initiatives of HELP. Specific objectives of the program are: (a) to protect small wetlands with significant waterfowl production capability; (b) to lease and manage under long term agreements (five to seven years), 3,642 ha of adjacent uplands for nesting by waterfowl and other ground nesting species and for soil and water conservation benefits;
(c) to encourage landowners to undertake conservation farming techniques beneficial to wildlife by means of incentives and on farm demonstrations; and (d) to evaluate these habitat maintenance, and development initiatives in terms of waterfowl productivity and landowner acceptance.
By 1991 the HELP program, with its wide array of farmer friendly habitat initiatives, had signed 82 lease agreements with landowners for protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat on some 3,642 ha. Most leases are based on seven-year terms.
A 259 ha parcel of land was purchased under the HELP agreement in 1989 and is being developed as prime wildlife habitat, particularly as nesting cover for migratory wetland bird species. Two pasture management projects were initiated to harmonize cattle and wildlife production on the same land base. In an experiment to create a predator-free piece of nesting cover for wetland wildlife, an electric fence was erected across the neck of a peninsula on Shoal Lake. Some 200 nest structures have been placed on private wetlands to augment nesting habitat in the area.
The biological evaluation component of HELP is continuing to amass useful data on the relative effectiveness of the various habitat options used in HELP. For example, monitoring has shown that density of waterfowl nests has steadily increased and nesting success has remained at higher than predicted levels. Monitoring the use of nest structures has shown an unprecedented use rate of about 60% as compared to the usual occupation rate of about 20%.
The HELP initiative continues to be a shining example of cooperation between farmers who produce wildlife on their land and wildlife agencies who seek to improve that production.