Conservation Prospectus for the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve

by: Nathan Vadeboncoeur



I would like to thank both Doris Ames from Native Orchid Conservation Inc and Carl Smith from the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation for their assistance in completing this report.  Without their contributions I could not have articulated the history of the wetland nor could I have properly addressed its value as a culture / cultural heritage site.  Doris Ames has also been instrumental in directing me to important ecological data on the area.  Many thanks to you both.

Definitions of Selected Terms

Cultural site: An area of instrumental importance to the maintenance of a group’s culture in the forms of traditions, histories and material culture.

Devil’s Lake Project: A highly controversial project that plans to divert water from Devil’s Lake in North Dakota into the Sheyenne River, which flows into the Red River and empties in Hudson’s Bay.  The environmental impact of such a project is poorly studied however many Manitobans believe it could cause serious harm to ecosystems in Manitoba by introducing excess nutrients and pollutants.

Ecosystem services: Services provided by nature that help sustain human life and society.

Flagship species: A charismatic species used to promote conservation.

Keystone species concept: A species that is vital to the maintenance of an ecosystem.  If a keystone species is removed, collapse of the ecosystem is likely.

Table of Contents

1.0 Introduction
2.0 History
    2.1 “The Wetland”
    2.2 Scanterbury Bog
    2.3 Gull Lake Wetland
    2.4 Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve
3.0 Ecology
    3.1 Rare Flora
    3.2 Rare Ecosystem
    3.3 External Influences
4.0 Conservation Planning
    4.1 Objectives
    4.2 Target Features
    4.3 Threats
    4.4 Other Considerations
5.0 Evaluation and Monitoring
    5.1 The Conservation Success Index
    5.2 The “Conservation Circuit”
6.0 Incorporating Sustainable Use into Conservation Planning
    6.1 Use by the Brokenhead Ojibway
    6.2 Education and the Interpretive Trail
7.0 Recommendations

1.0   Introduction

The Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve is a 563-hectare parcel of land located approximately 70 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg, on the southern shore of Lake Winnipeg.  The protected area encompasses the northernmost third of the Brokenhead Wetland ecosystem.  The aim of this report is to aid in the preparation and implementation of a management, monitoring, and evaluation plan for conservation of the Brokenhead Wetland ecosystem.

2.0   History

The area known today as the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve has existed as four distinct entities over time.  While the water, soil and flora of the area have remained relatively constant since the wetland took on its present physical shape sometime after the last ice age, the construction in the human mind of this area as an “environment” has been a dynamic process.  The ways the area has been perceived as an “environment” has resulted in different assignments of value that have affected the relationships between different human groups and the land.

2.1   “The Wetland”

The Brokenhead Ojibway have been using this area for approximately 300 years.  A treaty was signed in May of 1871 recognizing the land to the southwest of the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve as the land of the Brokenhead Ojibway people.  This land exists, and has existed, as a place of great cultural importance.  It has been used traditionally, and continues to be used today, for harvesting a variety of plants and as a site of spiritual importance.  Traditionally, the area used for these purposes was much greater but due to local development only patches of the original use area remain.  “The wetland” is presently used for collecting medicinal plants, tea, berries, and cedar by large numbers of the Brokenhead Ojibway.  Trapping and hunting of beaver and muskrat persisted until the early 1970’s when many ponds housing these animals disappeared, due in part to the construction of highway 59 and to the regulation of Lake Winnipeg levels by Manitoba Hydro.

This area is used to educate youth of the Brokenhead Ojibway and the general public about the history and culture of the area though a cultural tourism programme.  A partnership exists between the Brokenhead Ojibway and neighboring First Nations groups for the sharing of expertise in land-use practices.

Separate from the high cultural and educational / tourism value of this area, the Brokenhead Ojibway rely on wells affected by the level of the water table of the Brokenhead Wetland for their water supply.

2.2   Scanterbury Bog

This is the first label given to this area by white people.  Named after the nearby town of Scanterbury, the relationship between the land and many generations of non-native peoples would be shaped by the cultural implications of the word bog.

Prior to the beginning of the environmental movement in the mid-1800’s, and arguably until very recently, Western society imagined the concept of “wilderness” very differently than it does today (Cronon, 1996).  Adjectives describing wilderness today include “pristine,” “majestic,” and “unspoiled” however, for the majority of human history adjectives such as “savage,” “terrible,” and “destructive” predominated.  Humanity was seen as the underdog in a constant battle to survive against the wilderness.  The “swamp” or “bog” was one of the most deplored physical features of our common environment.  Useless for farming and dangerous to traverse, the dwelling place of evil spirits and trolls, these areas were thought to have no value to society.

Stereotypes handed down from generation to generation contributed to the classification of Scanterbury Bog as a useless, ugly place of no value.  It became “just a bloody swamp” and in large part remained so until the modern environmental movement took flight.

2.3   Gull Lake Wetland

The shift in the way many people perceived their environment can be seen by the name of the area in question shifting from “bog” to “wetland”.  A wetland has none of the connotations of a bog.  It is a modern term generally connected to the provision of important ecosystem services such as water filtration, flood control and habitat for a wide variety of animals.

A wetland is an area that is perceived as worthy of protection from the modern, often destructive, human machine.  While the Scanterbury Bog was likely seen as worthless to the overwhelming majority of non-native people, the Gull Lake Wetland was not.  As the Gull Lake Wetland, the greater population saw for the first time both the biodiversity and use value of this area.  As respect increased for traditional use rights of First Nations peoples, the area’s use value became salient in the minds of the general public.  The value held in not only this wetland, but in wetlands all across the southern basin on Lake Winnipeg was beginning to result in wetlands being designated as protected areas.

2.4   Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve

The Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve is a combination of the value seen in the area known as “the bush” and as the Gull Lake Wetland.  The reserve was created in response to a threat manifested by a pumping station proposed by the Gull Lake Management Board.

In 1995 a pumping station was proposed that would tap into the source of springs essential to the wetland ecosystem (Ames, personal communication).  The Gull Lake community, comprised predominantly of cottagers, was unhappy with the condition of Gull Lake.  Water levels would fluctuate resulting in exposed mud flats in the summer when the water was low and erosion of the banks in the spring when the water was high.  The pumping station was intended to help raise water levels in the summer to improve the aesthetic of Gull Lake, make it safer for recreational boaters, and combat the threat of eutrophication.  Surplus water was to be sold to farmers for profit (MB conservation, 1999).

Native Orchid Conservation Inc (NOCI) was concerned that pumping water from the wetland would result in the extirpation of many, if not all native orchid species within the ecosystem (of which there are 28).  NOCI received a grant from Manitoba Hydro to conduct a botanical survey of the area to explore its conservation value.  This report was presented in 1999, the same year a similar report from Manitoba Environment was released.  As a result of these reports a movement began to make the area an ecological reserve.  In 2000, the Gull Lake Management Board was denied a permit to pump water from the wetland.

The Brokenhead Ojibway officially joined the conservation effort in 2001 and held meetings with NOCI to discuss the future of the area.  In 2002 a committee was formed to explore the possibility of granting the area protected status.  The committee was comprised of members of NOCI, the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation, Manitoba Natural Resources, Manitoba Model Forest, Little Black River First Nation, and Hollow Water First Nation.  Information on the plan to give the area protected status was distributed to the residents of Gull Lake as well as the Brokenhead Ojibway reservation.  Board meetings were held in public and options were discussed publicly.  The Brokenhead Ojibway initially expressed concerns that they would not be able to use the land for traditional practices if it were declared a reserve however it was determined that they would be able to continue to use the area with permission from the Minister of Environment, which they received.

On June 14th 2005, 563 hectares, the northernmost third of the wetland (the area that would be affected by the Gull Lake pumping station) was designated an ecological reserve.  This reserve’s name, Brokenhead Wetland, is symbolic of the value of the ecosystem under its protection.  For the first time value was defined relatively uniformly across groups and the claim to the area by the Brokenhead Ojibway was recognized by both the provincial government and the general public.  In January 2007 a new not-for-profit organization, Debwendon, was created to help preserve the ecosystem and the important cultural practices that depend on it.

The ecosystem services provided by the Brokenhead Wetland, with the exception of the extremely important service of water provision, are of chiefly social importance.  Just as physical ecosystem services such as oxygen production and pollination are essential to our physical well-being, cultural ecosystem services are essential to our spiritual well-being and cannot be replaced by technology (Daily et al. 2000).  The present generation has a responsibility as members of the intergenerational community (de Shalit, 1995) to maintain ecosystem services considered important today, such as traditional use, for future generations.

A community is a form of cultural institution whose members uphold some central traditions over time even as values change (de Shalit, 1995).  Cultural heritage is important in maintaining a historical sense of community.  The traditional use of the Brokenhead Wetland by the Brokenhead Ojibway is a way in which tradition permits a community to become intergenerational.  We cannot know what the world will be like 50, 100, or more years from now or what values a particular community may hold.  Traditions that have transcended a multitude of generations and contribute to culture can persist well into the future so long as they continue to remain salient.  Conserving the Brokenhead Wetland is an important step towards conserving Brokenhead Ojibway culture.  To allow this valuable area to disappear would be to impoverish the descendants of the Brokenhead Ojibway of a part of their culture and deprive future generations of Manitobans a part of their natural heritage.

3.0   Ecology

This area is of high conservation value.  It is culturally important to local people, contains a variety of Provincially rare and very rare plants, and an ecosystem type that is rare in North America.

3.1   Rare Flora

The Brokenhead Wetland Contains 28 species of orchids and 8 species of carnivorous plants including 23 provincially rare species.  Fifteen rare species were documented by the botanical survey conducted by Manitoba Environment and 23 were documented by the botanical survey completed by NOCI.  The discrepancy in the number of rare species can be attributed to the way data were collected.  Manitoba Environment described complete inventories of four, ten square meter test plots while NOCI conducted a general survey of the entire area.  Of the rare species, one, carex sterillis (sterile sedge), is designated S1 by the Nature Conservancy, meaning that there are 5 or less known population occurrences in the province.  The remaining 22 rare plant species received ratings of either S2 (6-20 known occurrences provincially) or S3 (21-100 known occurrences provincially) (Jones et al. 1999).  Provincially rare flora received global conservation ratings of G4 and G5 by the Nature Conservancy, meaning these species are not threatened globally, making the conservation of flora in this area of predominantly provincial significance.

3.2   Rare Ecosystem

The Brokenhead Wetland contains a calcareous fen, considered rare in North America and possibly the world.  There are an estimated 500 calcareous fens on earth (Sierra Club, 2007).  Fens of this type are characterized by a neutral to alkaline ph (7 or higher) and are rich in bicarbonate, calcium, magnesium, and sulfate released from sand or gravel lenses (Bryan, 1993; Bowels et al. 2005).  Calcareous fens also have a low availability of nitrogen and phosphorus (Miner and Ketterling, 2003).  Fen wetlands are fed primarily by groundwater springs and thus likely cannot survive a depleted water table.

3.3   External Influences

Highly developed areas surround the Brokenhead Wetland.  An important consideration in conservation planning is the agricultural fields directly to the east and nearby potential sources of pollution such as the Libau dump and a hog farm.  Calcareous fens must maintain a certain ph and water composition, both of which may be affected by contaminants or excess nutrients in runoff that drains into the wetland.

Ensuring water flow into the fen while maintaining water ph and composition is essential to the health of the wetland.  A project to restore and maintain water flow may be needed to ensure the long-term survival of the fen especially in light of the potential threat of climate change.  Fens can become acidic during droughts and this could threaten the rare species within Brokenhead Wetland since, “the acid/base and nutrient status of rich fens are important determinants of vegetation composition and distribution” (Van Haesebroek et al. 1997).  Maintaining groundwater spring discharge on which the fen depends is of central importance to the wetland.  Given the threat of drought, restoring water flow by allowing springs on each side of the highway to flow into the wetland is advisable.  Such a restoration project could also permit runoff water to enter the fen as it has historically.

It is crucial to ensure that any runoff that enters the fen does not contain excessive nutrient loads that may result in eutrophication or an increase of cattails (Boeye et al. 1996).  A large population of cattails can easily out-compete the rare species within Brokenhead Wetland.

Species richness in wetlands has been shown to decline when nutrient availability exceeds a certain threshold however this threshold, is unknown (Bedford et al. 1999).  Application of the precautionary principle by preventing water with much more nutrients than are observed in the fen to enter is recommended as “too many nutrients or other chemicals can irreparably damage fens” (Bryan, 1993).  This may be accomplished by designing a runoff collection pond where water may accumulate before being released into the wetland.  Such a pond could be managed to maintain a very high plant density to absorb excess nutrients accumulated in the runoff.

A possibility exists where conservation planners could develop a relationship with local farmers and formulate a strategy to minimize the nutrient content of agricultural runoff.  Increased levels of organic matter in cropland soil can help retain water, nutrients and carbon (Foley et al. 2005).  This can help control the flow and nutrient content of water entering the wetland while increasing the productivity of local cropland.  The possibility of a partnership between conservation practitioners and local farmers merits further exploration.

Cattails and Bulrushes also can serve as an early warning sign for excessive nutrients.  These plants respond favorably to increased nutrient influx and an increase in their numbers could be a sign of some change in local nutrient dynamics (Nellessen, 2006).  Disturbances such as changes in groundwater quality and quantity and “any human activities that disturb the vegetation, substrate, or water supply” may cause cattails to displace “calcium loving” species (Kearsley, 1999; Faber-Langendoen, 2005).  If concentrations of these plants are seen to increase, water flow from the runoff collection area can be cut off and analyzed for nutrient content.  Once nutrients return to an acceptable level, runoff flow into the wetland may resume.

4.0   Conservation Planning

Conservation planning is most effective when it targets both biodiversity and ecosystem services (Chan et al. 2006).  The Brokenhead Wetland is not only valuable to the province of Manitoba for its biological diversity, but also for the services it provides the Brokenhead Ojibway (traditional use) and the general public (aesthetic value).  The small area of this ecological reserve provides an opportunity for it to be well managed for the provision of important ecosystem services.  In the following two sections, specific conservation goals are described and translated into quantifiable targets.  A framework is then presented that follows the principles of systematic conservation planning (Margules and Pressey, 2002).

4.1   Objectives

The goals of the three major stakeholders and Debwendon can be seen in Table 1.  The goals of Debwendon reflect all the goals of all three major stakeholders with the exception of research.  Conducting research in the area via or separate from the management process can be of great benefit not only to the conservation of this ecosystem, but of other similar ecosystems throughout the world.

Table 1.  Summary of stakeholder goals.

Organization / Group Goals
Brokenhead Ojibway Conservation / Preserve culture/cultural heritage
Conservation Manitoba Conservation / Education and research
Native Orchid Conservation Conservation / Education / Enjoyment
Debwendon Conservation / Preserve and educate people about culture/cultural heritage / Education about and enjoyment of the wetland

4.2   Target Features

The objectives presented here are based on the goals presented in table 1.  There are two target features to be protected within this reserve, 1- rare flora, and 2- rare calcareous fen ecosystem.

The keystone (Paine, 1969) in this ecosystem is the calcareous fen.  If the fen is compromised, the rare plants contained within will decline or die off as they depend on its unusual water composition.  For example, if a calcareous fen were to be replaced with nutrient-rich water, the area would be likely overtaken by cattails (Bryan, 1993).  These plants would throw shade over the rare plants, some of which are not shade tolerant, or simply out-compete them, eventually eliminating them from the ecosystem.  If this were to occur, both target features, the calcareous fen and the rare flora, would be gone and this area would lose much of its value.

The flagship species of this reserve are the orchids.  A flagship species is a charismatic species that can be used for promoting conservation and raising donations for the management / protection of an area.  Orchids are beautiful flowers and attract attention from the general public and groups such as NOCI.  Without the orchids the appeal of this area to the general public may decrease.  The orchids found in this reserve can be useful in promoting ecotourism, education and conservation.

4.3   Threats

4.3.1   Major Concerns

Land use is the biggest threat to ecosystems worldwide (Vitousek et al. 1997) and this case is no exception.  Effective management of this ecosystem will depend on the extent to which a conservation plan can adapt to threats resulting from land use in the surrounding areas.  The primary threat identified by stakeholders is the potential construction on highway 59.  There are plans to twin a section of highway that passes through the ecological reserve.  When the highway was first constructed, it severely restricted water flow from 2 springs and runoff from the surrounding fields.  Currently, only 15 percent of original ponds have water cover.

The potential twinning of highway 59 could actually help restoration efforts in the reserve.  The highway construction could potentially facilitate water flow restoration to the wetland to its north.  With proper planning, the section of road in the ecologically sensitive wetland area can help collect and direct water from the south of the highway to its north.  If proper action is not taken, important water sources for the reserve could be completely cut off.

Other threats identified by the stakeholders include the extraction of gravel immediately east of the reserve and the extraction of timber in the south of the wetland complex.  Both these threats are low.  Riverside Gravel, the company that holds a long-term lease on the northeast portion of the ecosystem has generously relinquished an 80m by 800m segment of land to the reserve for the construction of a boardwalk and interpretive trail.  While Riverside Gravel maintains the right to use its leased land if it wishes, the threat of harm to the ecosystem via gravel extraction is minimal.  The threat of timber extraction is also low as the species composition in the area renders it of little value to the forestry industry.

4.3.2   Internal Threats

The main internal threat to rare species in the Brokenhead Wetland is shade.  The growth of reeds and bulrushes must be monitored and controlled.  The area could also benefit from selective cutting of trees in certain areas.  Further research is needed to determine which individual trees in what locations are best suited for removal.

4.3.3   External Threats

As mentioned above, the water pH and composition in the wetland is the keystone.  Water flow and nutrient content can be greatly affected by land use in the vicinity and by the Devil’s Lake project.  A conservation plan must be able to adapt to these threats by exploring a water flow restoration plan as discussed above.

4.3.4   Previously Unrecognized Threat

Climate change poses a major threat to the Brokenhead Wetland Ecosystem.  To date, the various stakeholders have not identified this as a threat.  In the summer of 2006 Southern Manitoba endured a major drought.  The Brokenhead Wetland and surrounding area received only 59% of the average annual rainfall and areas nearby received as little as 32% of annual rainfall (MB Water Stewardship, 2006).  This resulted in low soil moisture and little runoff in the fall of 2006.  In late March 2007, the Winnipeg area experienced near record-high temperatures followed by near record lows.  This resulted in a rapid melt that drained across the frozen land and into the rivers and lakes.  Rapid melt, combined with low soil moisture from the dry summer in 2006 will likely lead to very little runoff in the spring of 2007.  Changes in climate patterns, such as the one described above, pose a threat to the wetland by changing the amount of water available for the fen ecosystem.

4.4   Other Considerations

Other aspects of relevance to this area are its successional stage and size.  Calcareous fens do not undergo noticeable successional change as long as they maintain their water composition, ph and supply.  There is little risk that the wetland ecology will change in the foreseeable future if the fen ecosystem remains intact.

The protected area is small and encompasses only a portion of the wetland complex.  This is a concern as the long-term survival of the wetland depends heavily on the surrounding area.  If the remainder of the wetland complex could be protected the probability of conservation success would likely increase.  This wetland is small enough that it can be consistently monitored and managed.  If this were to occur, management plans could easily adapt to meet new challenges.

5.0   Evaluation and Monitoring

Developing and assessing the success of a conservation plan

Developing a conservation strategy requires a clear set of primary goals.  Once established, these goals can be broken down into specific management targets.  The following is a preliminary conservation plan for the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve.  Under this plan, the general conservation goals are a combination of the goals presented in table 1.

The second step in formulating a conservation strategy is to break down the primary goals into specific management targets, means through which these targets can be achieved, and metrics that can evaluate the success of conservation actions.  Targets, means and metrics for the Brokenhead Wetland can be found in figure A.

Figure A.  Targets, means and metrics.

Specific actions must be taken to achieve the means listed in figure A.  A set of indicators must also be developed to evaluate the success of such actions.  These indicators will be assessed via the metrics listed in figure A.  A set of indicators of conservation success is presented in table 2 along with specific actions that can be taken by the managers of the ecological reserve.  These indicators speak to the success or failure of a conservation plan in achieving its goals.  If these indicators remain within target levels, it is likely that the actions being taken are affecting the fen in a positive way.  This would mean that conservation targets are being met and thus primary conservation goals are being achieved.

In order to objectively measure the success of a conservation plan, clear targets must be established for each of the primary goals.  Good data exist on the ecology of the wetland from the first two surveys that were completed in 1999.  No data exist on the levels of traditional use by the Brokenhead Ojibway or on the success of Brokenhead

Table 2.  Indicators and Actions

Indicators Actions
Target range for water composition and ph Restore water flow
target range for abundance of target species Selective cutting of shade plants
target biodiversity range Conduct surveys
presence of bulrushes Keep records of observations during harvesting

To effectively monitor the success of a conservation programme the degree to which conservation targets are being met must be evaluated for each individual target.  For example, relative distribution and abundance of each of the 23 rare plant species, water level, composition and ph of the fen, as well as levels of traditional use and education must be recorded at regular intervals.  In addition to individual indicators, an overall measure of conservation success can be very helpful.  Such a measure cannot be relied upon without data from each individual indicator, and is not of much use otherwise.  However, when used properly, an overall measure of conservation success can be a very useful tool for measuring general success of a conservation plan and for communicating its success to the greater community.

5.1   A general measure of conservation success: The Conservation Success Index

The Conservation Success Index was developed for the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve as an overall measure of success for the conservation programme presented in this report.  The goal of a conservation programme should be to restore an ecosystem to its best possible condition and maintain that condition while maintaining or improving benefit flow to people.  Presently, no quantitative data exist on pre-non-native disturbance, or “ideal” condition of the Brokenhead Wetland ecosystem.  In many conservation plans, conservationists attempt to restore a protected area to its “pre-human” form.  This is not only unrealistic but often affects the rights of people who have traditionally used the land (Nelson, 2003; Newmann, 2004).  In many instances of extremely long-term sustainable use of an area by people, human actions become central to ecosystem functioning and ecosystem damage has resulted from their removal (Eugene Anderson, personal communication).  Thus, the presumed condition of the ecosystem during traditional use by the Brokenhead Ojibway will be considered its ideal state.

Individuals familiar with the area can aid in developing a rough estimate of the state of the wetland prior to the construction of highway 59 through interviews.  These estimates can also be guided by a projection of the traditional distribution of flora based on presumed soil conditions when all of the ponds originally containing water were full.

The Conservation Success Index works by calibrating the desired level of conservation success at 1.  For the moment, let 1 equal the abundance of all species as well as the water composition and ph recorded during the 1999 surveys as they provide the only data that exist to date.  Once more data are obtained and a projection of the state of the ecosystem pre-highway 59 construction is complete, conservation goals can be amended to re-calibrate the “ideal score” of the Conservation Success Index to reflect pre-highway 59 levels.  This will involve changing the “ideal” score of the Conservation Success Index from one to a higher number indicative of the desired state of the wetland.  If, for example, it is presumed that before highway 59 there were uniformly 50% more incidences of rare plants, an “ideal” Conservation Success Index score may equal 1.5 rather than 1.  An example of the conservation success index is presented in table 3.

Table 3.  Translation of raw data into a Conservation Success Index score.


year Orchid ‘a’ (# of occ.) # of cattails / bulrushes* Water ph
1999 20 103 7.65
x 20 105 7.6
x+1 18 98 7.35
x+2 23 160 7.55
x+3 21 105 7.28
Index Score

year Orchid ‘a’ (# of occ.) # of cattails / bulrushes* Water ph
1999 1 1 1
x 1 0.98 0.92
x+1 0.9 1.05 0.58
x+2 1.15 0.45 0.84
x+3 1.05 0.98 0.43

The translation of raw data into an index score.  Year “x” = years post-1999 where data were collected.  For “orchid a”, index score is calculated as: # of observed occurrences during year x / # of occurrences during 1999.  For “# of cattails / bulrushes”, index score is calculated as: # of observed occurrences during year x / # of occurrences during 1999 = A, (1/A)= index score.  For “water ph” index score is calculated as the proportional change after the first decimal.  A green number denotes a desirable score (a score within a particular range).  Red denotes a score outside the desired range while orange denotes a score marginally outside the desired range.  (*= only in specified sensitive areas of the wetland).  Note: a score of 1 = 0% change.

A complete Conservation Success Index for the Brokenhead Wetland will contain 26 variables.  These are the 23 rare species, water ph, water composition, and the level of bulrushes / cattails.  The final Conservation Success Index score will be the sum total of all the variables after being weighted.  Each variable will be weighted by conservation planners according to its contribution to the overall conservation goals.  Weighting will be applied by multiplying the raw score (the index score described in table 3) for each variable by a number representative of its importance.  It is important to keep in mind that a higher score isn’t necessarily better, the aim is to achieve and maintain an ideal score.  Following the plan presented herein, the raw index score of plants listed as S1 will be multiplied by three, the raw score of plants listed as S2 will be multiplied by two while the raw score of plants listed as S3 will not be multiplied.  This is because S1 plants are the most rare, and thus the most valuable to the goal of rare species conservation.  Plants rated S2 are the second most rare and are the second most valuable.  Plants rated S3 are valuable, possibly as valuable as the S1 and S2 rated plants, however they are more abundant and thus do not merit as much attention as the very rare S1 rated species.

The presence of bulrushes and cattails are not only an indicator of the level of nutrients in the ecosystem but are also a threat to many rare species.  The raw index score of the presence of cattails and bulrushes will be multiplied by three.  The reason for the weight of three is that the shade provided by bulrushes and cattails is a potential threat to multiple rare plants.  The potential harm of increased shade in the sensitive areas of the wetland is considered to be proportional to the benefit of conserving a very rare, S1 plant species.  Thus, the same weight is applied.

The health of the fen is essential to the health of the ecosystem.  The raw scores of both the ph and composition of the fen will be multiplied by six.  The reason the fen is weighted so heavily is because of its central importance to the ecosystem.  If a particular rare plant becomes extirpated from the wetland and the fen remains intact, there exists a possibility or re-introduction of that species.  If the fen is compromised, however, not only will large-scale species loss likely occur, but also recovery of the fen and re-introduction of all extirpated species would be a monumental task.

Once weighting has been applied, all weighted index scores will be summed.  The total score will reflect the overall success of the conservation programme.

It is important that the overall Conservation Success Index score is used only as a supplement to the data from each species and each indicator.  The overall Conservation Success Index score is a weighted average and cannot show important information from each indicator.  The raw score as well as the raw data for each variable are essential to monitoring conservation success and should be incorporated into appraisals of success.

The methods used in weighting the variables are subjective.  This subjectivity is a deterrent for many conservation planners and is omitted from many conservation programmes.  This is a mistake because not all variables analyzed in an area will be of equal conservation value.  A subjective yet rationalized weighing of variables is better than a system where all variables are treated equally, regardless of actual importance (Failing and Gregory, 2003).

5.2   The “Conservation Circuit”

The model presented here for a conservation plan for the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve can be described as a modified control feedback circuit.  The general structure of the Conservation Circuit, created for the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve, is presented in figure B and can be applied to a variety of different conservation programmes.

Figure B.  The Conservation Circuit


Describing Figure B

This “circuit” is a continuous feedback loop.  It may appear to be a closed system but it is not.  The Conservation Circuit is constantly producing and monitoring an output.  This output is manifested as the effects a conservation plan is having on the land that it is managing (named the “plant”).

The Conservation Circuit begins when data is taken from the “reference / archive” and entered into the “comparator”.  In the first year of a conservation plan the only data in the “reference / archive” will be the reference data.  This is a set of all the relevant data collected on the area in question to date.  The “controller” analyzes the contents of the “comparator,” at this point only the reference data.  The “controller” is the individual or group that is in charge of managing the conservation area.  Based upon the data analyzed by the “controller,” the “controller” produces a management plan.  Management actions are taken regarding the “plant,” which is the conservation site.  The result of these management actions, such as for example, prescribed burning, selective removal of trees, construction of fences etc., are the output of the Conservation Circuit.  Examples of output include increased growth of desired flora, reduction in unwanted grazing, and increased water flow in desired areas.

Sensors, described in figure B as “Sensor A” and “Sensor B,” measure the output.  The number of sensors will vary depending on the needs of each conservation plan.  In some instances there may be only one sensor and in other cases there may be several.  A “Sensor” is a set measurements prescribed by the management plan.  These can be, for example, measures of species diversity, abundance of desired species, or level of water flow.  These measurements, referred to previously in this paper as “metrics,” are grouped according to the conservation targets they address.  The sensors (monitoring a combined set of metrics) are the monitoring aspect of the “means” of a conservation project (the other part of the “means” are the actions taken in implementing the management plan).

Information acquired by the sensors is then consolidated into a report.  Once this report, termed “new data” in figure B, is complete, it enters the “comparator” along with all the information in the “reference / archive”.  At this point, the “controller” will compare the new data with the reference data and be able to judge the success of the conservation plan by comparing how the area has changed since the reference data were collected and by evaluating how well actions taken through the management plan are achieving conservation goals.  With this new information, the controller will adjust or maintain the management plan and the cycle will begin anew.  At this point, the “new data” will enter the “reference / archive” as the first piece of archived data.  When the second set of new data is complete, after another cycle of the circuit, it will enter the “comparator” and be compared with the both the original reference data and the archive data (now containing information from the first year’s report).

Each cycle of this control loop contributes more data to the archive, allowing a detailed analysis of how a management plan is affecting a conservation area.  Some management actions may be good for meeting some targets and not as effective at meeting others.  By constantly updating the archive with new information, conservation practitioners can allow their plan to evolve to best achieve their conservation goals.

Constant monitoring and accumulation of data also allows researchers to study how environmental influences outside of the control of a conservation plan, such as major drought, affect species within a conservation area.  Data obtained through a management plan as described in Figure B can help contribute to a greater understanding of the ecosystem under management.

The Conservation Circuit for the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve

Figure C is a copy of figure B with the technical terms of the segments of the circuit changed to reflect the management strategy described above for the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve.

Figure C.  The Conservation Circuit for the BWER


Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation is abbreviated as “BOFN”.

In figure C, the “controller” becomes a “park board”.  Debwendon Inc could serve as the park board in the management of the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve if it incorporates a board member from Manitoba Conservation.  If not, a park board could be assembled with members from both Debwendon and Manitoba Conservation as members.  The “plant” becomes the Brokenhead Wetland and the two “sensors” become scientific surveys and use level reports by the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation.

6.0   Incorporating Sustainable Use into Conservation Planning

Conservation plans that eliminate human activity from the target area can carry a high social cost if that area is a traditional use site for local people (Conklin and Graham, 1995; Sundberg, 1998; Nelson, 2003; Newmann, 2004).  Such “fortress conservation” (Nelson, 2003) sites, are not practical in and around many populated areas.  Conservation in areas of traditional use or moderate proximity to settlements may function best as “managed gardens” (Janzen, 1998) where human use is incorporated into the management plan.  The Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve is an ideal example of an area that can benefit greatly from becoming a “managed garden”.

Janzen (1998) argues that “wild nature” must be incorporated into our society if it is to survive.  Shifting how we perceive nature can accomplish this.  By classifying nature as a “garden”, society can find value in it even if it does not contribute to “our paycheck” or some other instrumental goal (such as regulating the water levels in Gull Lake).  Strict economic valuation is not a good tool for valuing ecosystem services as they exclude cultural and spiritual values (Gatto and de Leo, 2000; Ludwig, 2000) and tend to neglect their potential value to future generations.  The “wildland garden” can transcend strictly economic valuations and grow ecosystem services and biodiversity services, in this case, culture / cultural heritage, a rare ecosystem, and rare plants.  The value seen in those services can help drive conservation as the value of a protected area becomes more salient to the general public.

The classification of wildlands as “gardens” includes in it the idea that they should be carefully managed.  They can be managed by controlling the biology of an area (active management of the land) and also by controlling use of the land.

6.1   Use by the Brokenhead Ojibway

Traditional use is central to the conservation value of this protected area.  A monitoring strategy examining the levels of traditional use in this area can help ensure that the Brokenhead Ojibway maintain a desirable level of use.  A way of monitoring use levels is to set a desirable range for harvest levels and keep records of how much of what is harvested from the wetland each year.  As long as use remains within desired levels (use can be measured in units of harvest) a conservation plan can be evaluated for how well it is serving the goal of sustainable traditional use.

The water table beneath the wetland is also crucial to the water supply for the Brokenhead Ojibway community.  Monitoring of these water levels will be important not only as a conservation goal, but for the well-being of the community.  Any plans that may affect the water table must take into consideration the effect this will have on the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation,

6.2   Education and the Interpretive Trail

Education is important to stakeholders of the Brokenhead Wetland, especially to the Brokenhead Ojibway.  Developing an educational strategy that minimizes environmental impact can be accomplished through the construction of a boardwalk that will serve as an interpretive trail.  The plans in place for the construction of a boardwalk reflect this goal and anecdotal evidence from analogous projects in Quebec suggest that a boardwalk will permit maximal educational value with minimal environmental impact.

The construction of a boardwalk is high and a plan to maximize its use (eg: An educational strategy) is recommended.  Guided tours are already available through Native Orchid Conservation and the Brokenhead Ojibway cultural tourism programmes.  Carl Smith, the Cultural Director of the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation, has a wealth of experience in cultural tourism and is an excellent candidate for leading future education efforts.

7.0   Recommendations

The following is a summary of the general recommendations for the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve.

1 – Develop and implement a conservation strategy that will: i) focus on restoration of water flow to the wetland, ii) actively manage the area for the rare species and rare ecosystem contained within, iii) provide a constant flow of new data to a central data set to facilitate adaptive management of the area and research on the ecosystem and flora contained within, iv) work towards restoring the area to a state consistent with pre-Highway 59 construction, v) monitor the area surrounding the wetland to identify potential external threats, vi) work with local landowners to reduce the impact of practices nearby the reserve, vii) secure funding to carry out quality assessments of the area.

2 – Expand the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve to encompass the entire Brokenhead Wetland ecosystem.

3 – Ensure that traditional use of the area by the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation is maintained at a desirable level set by the Brokenhead Ojibway.

4 – Ensure that a strong plan is in place to take advantage of the construction of the interpretive trail so that educational returns can be maximized. 


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