BIODIVERSITY & WILDLIFE
Biodiversity is the scientific word describing the study of living things and their relationships with other living things as well as with the earth, air, water and land. It is concerned with the variety of individuals within populations, the diversity of species within communities, and the range of ecological roles within ecosystems.
We depend on living species for our food, clothing, shelter, sources of medicine, control of erosion, prevention of floods and droughts and production of natural fertilizers. Many benefits go beyond economic: the beauty of plants and animals, the lessons that we learn from nature and the inspiration of seeing and being a part of the natural world.
Since taking a course in Holistic Management in 1995, we have focused on the importance of biodiversity on Sunrise Farm. It has become a barometer that tells us how well we are doing in managing the farm landscape.
We have learned that riparian areas, those “green zones” around creeks, sloughs and wetlands, are where 80% of fish and wildlife spend part or all of their lifecycle. We keep our livestock out of these sensitive areas by using a solar powered portable water pumping system to deliver water to wherever the cattle are grazing. If and when we do graze these areas, it is in the fall when conditions are dry and the forages are mature. Livestock still gain some benefit but the majority of the forage is left for habitat and filtering spring runoff.
Wetlands play a critical role in maintaining and improving water quality. They are one of the most biologically diverse habitats because they support both aquatic and terrestrial species. They have the potential to remove and store greenhouse gases from the Earth’s atmosphere. Grazing in pastures around our seven acre wetland is deferred until July 15th or later to enable waterfowl as well as upland game to nest and raise their young.
Our native pastures are grazed after September 15th to once again allow undisturbed habitat for a variety of birds to nest in the spring and raise their young.
We have planted trees almost every year since 1984. Many of these trees have been planted in two row shelterbelts with one of the rows planted to a variety of berry bushes. When berry bushes flower, they attract insects and the insects attract birds. Grass is planted between these rows and cut once in July in order to give the trees the benefit of the moisture. The grass is then allowed to grow and mature and provides forage for white tail and mule deer throughout the winter months. All of our shelterbelt trees are fenced off from livestock access which provides approximately 51 acres for wildlife habitat.
In 2006 we adopted a new way of planting trees on our farm called “wildlife plantings.” Ten rows of trees were planted in six, 1.2 acre plots. Approximately sixteen varieties of trees make up this “bush” that provides a variety of cover and feed to accommodate an abundance of wildlife.
Each spring we plant three plots of mixed grains; wheat, oats, barley, peas, corn and sunflowers. The grains in these half acre plots are left to mature and provide feed for fall migrating birds as well as native birds that spend the winter here on the farm.
Since 2001, over 200 bird houses have been placed around the farm and are attracting a wide variety of birds. We have had bird species counts done every spring since 2004. These counts are a measuring stick of how successful our management practices are in increasing biodiversity. Biodiversity is also an integral part of our quality of life.
In 2005, we completed an Environmental Farm Plan. This process helped us to identify potential environmental risks on our farm and to have a plan to deal with them if and when they should arise. This experience was a logical step in our ongoing commitment to maintain water, soil, and air quality as well as biodiversity.
In 2007, our farm took part in the “Natural Advantage: On Farm Wildlife and Biodiversity Planning” service program. This program is sponsored by Ducks Unlimited Canada and assists us in developing a comprehensive habitat plan for the farm. The objectives:
Ø Help to protect and manage wildlife habitat
Ø Offer a more thorough look at habitat resources
Ø Increase understanding and level of planning related to biodiversity and habitat
Ø Assist with integration of habitat management into the farming operations over the short, medium and long term
This plan will help us to continue our efforts toward stewardship of the land and water resources, including the conservation of on-farm habitats.