In the rolling agricultural landscape around Neepawa, there exists 20,000 acres of unique natural land, known as the Langford Community Pasture — land never broken by prairie settlers for dryland agriculture. The rolling sandhills are a place where cattle have coexisted for over a century with native prairie plants and animals, including the endangered Prairie Skink — Manitoba’s only lizard.
Thanks to the forward thinking councillors of the rural municipalities of Langford and Lansdowne, 9,822 acres of native prairie pasture has been protected by a conservation agreement donated to MHHC — currently the largest CA in Manitoba.
Critical to the preservation of this piece of history is over sixty years of management by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Agri-Environment Services Branch (AESB — formerly known as the PFRA). Local landowners and AESB worked together to establish the Community Pasture on this erosion-prone and environmentally sensitive land. Where Plains Bison once roamed, cattle were turned out to graze, allowing the native prairie ecosystem to thrive. Under AESB’s environmentally sensitive stewardship, a piece of Manitoba’s once vast natural landscape has been left intact and healthy.
With support from the Whitemud Watershed Conservation District and Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk, The Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation was able to complete the work necessary to finish two conservation agreements in October 2010 with the RMs of Langford and Lansdowne for 7,261 acres and 2,561 acres respectively. MHHC has completed over 500 CAs in Manitoba, but this one is four times larger than any before in Manitoba and the fifth largest to ever be signed in Canada. The land remains in municipal ownership but with conditions that ensure it is maintained in its natural state.
Developmental pressures in the area, including large scale potato production, prompted the RMs of Langford and Lansdowne to take steps to protect this large tract of municipal land. “It’s important that we keep pasture lands as pasture,” according to Kathy Jasienczyk, Reeve of Langford, “What we have on this land is a treasure.”
Stakeholders have identified the remaining 10,000 acres of Community Pasture, primarily provincial Crown land, as the next step in protecting the entire tract of land. According to Reeve Jasienczyk, “Our ultimate goal is to permanently protect the entire community pasture, including all provincial lands, thereby creating one solid block.” This sentiment was echoed by William Pottinger, councillor of Lansdowne who stated that, “being part of this conservation agreement has enabled Lansdowne to ensure that the area is protected from development so that future generations may derive benefit from this unique area.”
Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed between AESB, MHHC, and the rural municipalities, the Langford Community Pasture will continue to be managed for its current, environmentally compatible use as pastureland. By protecting the pasture, native prairie, aspen parkland, fragile sandhills, wetlands and a great diversity of native plant and animal species will continue to be protected, as will the high quality water resources beneath the pasture. The MOU ensures that the good work that AESB has done for 60 years can continue without change, continuing to benefit pasture users and the natural landscape.