Wetland Mitigation: A Bridge between Industry and Conservation

Ten years ago, The Mosaic Company and Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) entered a new partnership.

At that time, Mosaic was proposing a number of mine expansion projects, and as part of their regulatory commitments to Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, prepared a wetland compensation plan. This plan included details associated with wetland avoidance and minimization, as well as an offset in the form of a series of wetland restorations.

As a world leader in the crop nutrient industry, Mosaic mines, produces, and distributes millions of tonnes of potash and phosphates products each year, employing close to 12,000 people in six countries. The company has made a clear and deliberate commitment to doing business sustainably.

DUC was a natural industry partner to support Mosaic’s wetland plan and to act as the delivery agent for restoring the required wetlands. Jessica Theriault, Mosaic’s Director of Regulatory Affairs in Saskatchewan, was involved in the agreement from the beginning: “The name DUC comes with a reputable history and level of trust… along with technical and practical expertise, the combination of these attributes made it an easy decision for Mosaic.”

A decade later, Mosaic has provided $2M in funding as a contribution toward DUC’s conservation programs, and DUC has restored roughly 500 acres of wetlands in the area Mosaic operates.

Why Mitigate?

Across the country, wetland ecosystems are under pressure from agriculture, industrial development, urbanization and other land uses. As we learn more about the full suite of natural values that wetlands provide – including improved water quality, flood and drought protection, and carbon sequestration – conservation of these systems is increasingly recognized as being an important goal for industry and the public alike.

In recent years, a new and promising tool emerged for maintaining wetland functions in the face of continuing development: wetland mitigation. The use of the mitigation process is based on the premise that development and wetlands both provide benefits to society and should be maintained.

Mitigation is a process for achieving wetland conservation through the application of a hierarchical sequence of alternatives, from most to least preferred:

  1. avoidance of impacts, through choosing an alternate project, alternate design, or alternate site for development
  2. minimization of unavoidable impacts, through reducing adverse effects of development on wetlands, at all project stages
  3. offset for impacts that cannot be avoided or minimized; a variety of alternatives that attempt to “make up for” unavoidable wetland loss, usually by restoring or enhancing wetlands at another location.

Mitigation approaches help by balancing unavoidable wetland losses or degradation with wetland restoration, creation, and enhancement, such that development and conservation both find a viable path forward.

Building Bridges

In the past, industry and the environmental community have sometimes been at odds over the trade-offs between conservation and development. The agreement between Mosaic and DUC demonstrates how engaging in a mitigation partnership can serve as a bridge-builder. Having a seat at the same table creates opportunity to collaborate on solutions and achieve outcomes that are acceptable to both interests.

The environmental outcomes of Mosaic’s mitigation process were significant. Roughly 500 acres of wetlands were restored. This maintained and protected 500,000 cubic metres of runoff storage, filtration capacity of 1800 kg per year of phosphorus and 18,000 kg per year of nitrogen, and 20,000 tonnes of carbon sequestration to date. These benefits are protected in perpetuity thanks to conservation easements placed on the restored lands.

Through this process, Mosaic not only met their compliance requirements, but furthered their reputation as a sustainability leader. For Theriault, a big part of mitigation goes beyond environmental stewardship, “We recognize our external stakeholders and the role that we have in the area as their neighbours, members of the community, and environmental stewards of our shared spaces, with particular priority on water”.

This concept of the “good neighbour” sets an example for all sectors. As Michael Champion, DUC’s Head of Industry and Government Relations, puts it: “Consistent mitigation standards that meaningfully address development impacts on wetlands are needed across the board, in order for us to achieve a sustainable balance”.

Building a few more bridges doesn’t hurt either.