Peatlands are an important part of a healthy Manitoba environment. Peatlands, which are all wetlands, are natural filters that provide clean, clear water. Peat lowlands also provide important habitat for species of concern, such a moose. The most important benefit of peatlands, however, is that store vast amounts of carbon, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change. Mining peat will reduce or eliminate all of these ecological benefits.
Peat is mined for horticultural and garden use. In a vast majority of applications, peat can be substituted with another soil additive instead. In addition, the peat industry only employs a small number of people in Manitoba, with very modest royalties and taxes collected by the Manitoba government for peat.
Hecla/Grindtsone Provincial Park – Hay Peat Mine Development
As for mining on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, the Manitoba government passed the Save Lake Winnipeg Act in June 2011. The Act put a moratorium on all new quarry leases (the technical mine claim category that peat falls under) or permits for peat in Manitoba. This is the clearest indication that peat mines are a danger to clean water in Manitoba. Unfortunately, the Act does not contain provisions for existing quarry leases, and Sun Gro has had their lease since 2001.
Peat mining has the distinction of disrupting water tables, removing our natural water filtration, and releasing vast stores of carbon. In fact, bogs are thought to store more carbon than all the rainforests on the planet. Peat bogs, then, are an essential climate change mitigation tool. Peat takes centuries to produce, unlike, for instance, forests in Manitoba, that may grow back over a hundred years. Because peat bogs take centuries to form, there is no real way to restore a peat bog. The area can be reclaimed as a wetland, but you can’t restore a mined peat bog to its original ecology.
Over long periods of time, great amounts of carbon have accumulated in peatlands. Since bogs and fens are waterlogged, there isn’t enough oxygen for decomposition and the carbon of dead plant matter remains trapped. (i.e. sequestered) Manitoba has the largest carbon storage in peat bogs of the three Prairie Provinces.There is a danger that much of the carbon that is currently trapped in peatlands will be released due to global warming. It is estimated that “a warming of 4 degrees C will cause a 40 percent loss of soil organic carbon from the shallow peat and 86 percent from the deep peat” of Northern peatlands.This will greatly increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and will amplify the global warming effect.
This is dangerous for three reasons:
- The northern peatlands are believed to store some 320 (+/- 140) billion metric tons of carbon, roughly half of what the atmosphere contains
- Peatlands tend to emit much of their carbon in the form of methane, which is more than 20 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide
- A warming of 4 degrees C this century is all but inevitable if we don’t sharply reverse emissions trends quickly
Reports, Studies and Information
Interesting reports that put some numbers on the value of peatlands as carbon sinks.
• Boreal Forest Carbon Maps.pdf
• The Carbon the World Forgot.pdf
• Peatlands and climate_change.pdf
• Peatland Ecology Research Group at ULaval
Information Hub: Wilderness Committee-MB Chapter
The Wilderness Committee website provides useful information about Peat Mining in Manitoba as well as providing an easy link for contacting the Minister for Conservation and Water Stewardship, to let him know your opinion on this important public land issue.