Happy New Year Flatlanders,
Last week’s dance hall issue received a lot of positive feedback, so going forward I plan to schedule some more local history into The Flatlander’s publication calendar.
A first: Speaking of future issues, The Flatlander has officially launched its first journalistic investigation thanks to readers who gave to the mini-fundraising campaign in early December.
Because of reader generosity, I was able to hire Regina freelance journalist John Loeppky who will look into two crown corporations—one in Saskatchewan and one in Manitoba—and shine some light on a problem that we think people should know about. About half of Flatlander readers that voted, expressed they wanted a story about a systemic problem, and this story is that.
John is a disabled freelance writer and theatre artist who now calls Regina home. His work – in outlets such as CBC, FiveThirtyEight, Insider, Defector, and many others – centres on the experiences of disabled people in various ways. He vehemently argues against the industry idea that disabled journalists should only be given space to talk about their trauma and not to be trusted with the craft of documenting life more broadly, hence why he never shuts up.
John was previously the editor-in-chief of the Carillon, the University of Regina’s newspaper, and has since transitioned into non-profit work while he plies his trade. Ever the workaholic, he is also completing an MFA at the University of Regina. In his research he is – shocking no one – researching disability, solo performance, and audience. His goal in life is to have an entertaining obituary to read. He can be reached at [email protected].
Please be patient. The kind of project John is working on does take time to research, so the story won’t be available until early February, and the $600 raised by readers will pay for this work.
Meanwhile, the other half of readers voted for an investigation into an environmental investigation, so I’m going to be working on a story on an endangered species that lives on the Prairies that not many people are aware is here in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Few have ever seen this animal in the wild; even scientists that study them have trouble tracking them down. I like to joke that these creatures are so rare they are the Prairie Sasquatch. The survival of this species has created a bit of a battleground between the federal government, provincial governments, industry, First Nations, and environmentalists. There is a lot to sort out, so I also plan to have this done in February.
So about that little known industry…
A phone call: Several weeks ago, Flatlander reader Miriam, a writer and dog musher from La Ronge in Northern Saskatchewan, messaged me and asked that I call her.
More than Prairies: She asked if The Flatlander only covers southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan—the Prairie parts of the provinces. My answer to that is no. I chose the name The Flatlander tongue-in-cheek, knowing full well that the Prairie Provinces are much more than Prairie.
Did you know?
- More than half of Saskatchewan is covered by forest, more than 34 million hectares. About 15 per cent of this is harvested for commercial timber
- Manitoba forests covers about 26.3 million hectares, so a little less than half the province.
- The Prairies are only a very small part of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as noted on ecoregion maps.
And then there are peatlands
What is happening in the peatlands in Saskatchewan and Manitoba isn’t getting enough attention, Miriam told me, so I said I’d investigate.
Peat, like the kind people use in their gardens, my husband asked me when I told him about the concern over peat after I got off the phone with Miriam. Yes. The peat in gardens.
So why is it an issue?
Peat is mined in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, although most of Canada’s peat is harvested from Quebec and New Brunswick. Peat comes from bogs, also known as muskeg. Basically these wetlands must be drained to access the peat . The trees and shrubs in the bog are also removed in the process, which means animal habitat is lost. The peat is then cut from the earth and dried. Later, it will be bagged and sold, to be used by everyday gardeners.
The peatlands, in places like La Ronge, are important to local Indigenous people because they are a source of traditional medicines, berries and mushrooms. And the bogs are a part of the range that endangered woodland caribou call home.
Peat, in its unmined state, can store a lot of carbon, which helps reduce the impact of climate change, which is why peat moss sales are being phased out in Britain. In fact, the Royal Horticultural Society, reduced peat use by 97 per cent at its four major gardens.
Peatlands represent only three per cent of the Earth’s surface but hold more that 30 percent of all soil carbon and it is better at storing carbon than other types of vegetation.
When peat is removed from the earth, carbon is released into the atmosphere in very high concentrations. Some climatologists liken this to releasing small carbon bombs.
Before the Industrial Revolution – France’s Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences estimate that early farmers, before the Industrial Revolution, unknowingly released about 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere after removing bogland and peat to create farms. This amount is equivalent to seven years of current emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
In present day, it’s believed Indonesia is one of the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters because they have been clearing peatlands and burning them to make room for palm oil plantations.
Where is peat mined on the Prairies?
Carrot River is the Saskatchewan hub for peat mining. Premier Tech Horticulture mines peat from bogs in the Carrot River area in east-central Saskatchewan, and it’s processed and bagged at a local plant. It has another mine near Hudson Bay, Sask. Two other companies, Berger Peat Moss Ltd. and Sunterra Horticulture Inc., also have peat operations in central Saskatchewan.
Peat is vacuumed up by trucks after it’s dried as seen in this YouTube video of Sunterra’s operation in Norquay, Sask.
Despite local opposition, Quebec-based company Lambert Peat Moss has plans to harvest 2,547 hectares of peat moss in four areas around La Ronge, Sask., beginning as early as this year.
Peat mining in Manitoba is occurring around Shoal Lake and near Moose Creek Provincial Forest by Lake Winnipeg.
Moose habitat was destroyed because of peat mining near Lake Winnipeg, says Fisher River Cree Nation Chief David Crate.
The amount of peat mined each year is only a fraction of what is available in the country’s bogs, according to the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association. It says the industry has mined about 73,000 acres out of 280 million acres of the country’s peatlands.
The companies involved in peat mining do restore harvested bogs, which are reflooded. Then they are seeded with shredded moss. The area will recover within five years, and within 15 years the bog will be close to its natural state.
Rehabilitation is slow. It takes several hundred years for a mined site to get to a point where it would be worth re-harvesting it again as the moss layers grow about one-millimetre in thickness a year.
Alternatives to peat moss
I’d never given much thought to peat moss or where it comes from, which is why I enjoy working on The Flatlander. I learn so much from reader story suggestions, so keep them coming.
Your emails help me understand who makes up The Flatlander audience and what you’re interested in. I always write back, but please be patient as it may take a week or two to respond due to the volume of messages I receive.
Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed
- Winnipeg was referenced in a recent Simpsons episode.
- In Atlona, Manitoba signs of an intense labour shortage are everywhere.
- Scott Petrowski of Ancient Raven Records is reissuing The Lake Winnipeg Fisherman — an iconic folk record originally released in the 1970s by Riverton singer-songwriter Sol Sigurdson.
- Hard-to-redevelop heritage buildings in Winnipeg get new leases on life.
- Growth for Manitoba livestock producer controlled by labour availability.
Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed
- CFL Legend George Reed reflects on racism, sport and leaving a legacy.
- Indian Head reaches fundraising goal for Constable Shelby Patton Memorial Park.
- Big oil forced Regina city council to back down from climate action.
- Canadian Ranger reflects on successful Christmas Eve rescue in northern Sask.
- Sask. ‘Farm TV’ YouTubers attract millions of views just acting naturally.
Photo of the week
Until next week…
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Thank you for reading and kind regards,
Important work at a critical time.
Over the last 20 years, on the Prairies and beyond, local newsrooms have shrunk, which means not much investigative journalism gets done in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Flatlander is changing this.
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