One memorable moment for farmer Clifford Flynn was being in the bush on his property during a spring migration of warblers. Up to 10 species — including the yellow-rumped warbler pictured above — swarmed around him. “Everywhere you looked, you saw warblers ... It was wonderful.”
They make their living from the land and the long-term sustainability of habitat is a priority. Now, after 75 years of good stewardship, a Makinak farm family has permanently protected habitat on their farm.
The landscape in the Makinak area has changed significantly over time, according to Clifford Flynn. Some change is welcome, but not all.
He points to the bush on their property across the road where, during his lifetime, a few spruce trees have flourished and spread into a mature stand of mixed forest.
On the other hand, habitat destruction is not a welcome change.
Concerned with the future of this treasured property, the Flynns decided to act sooner rather than wait. "Nobody is bulldozing my trees down when I am gone," Clifford said.
The Flynns are farmers who raise cattle and purebred sheep near Makinak, about four miles northeast of Riding Mountain National Park.
To permanently protect the habitat on the family farm, Clifford and Pat Flynn, along with their brother Maurice Flynn, have entered into a conservation agreement, or easement, with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) covering part of five different quarter-sections of farm land.
The hayland and any other portions used for agricultural production are left out of the agreement.
"We are protecting the native habitat," said Jean Rosset, a natural area co-ordinator for NCC.
"Remnants of eastern deciduous forest, a rocky oak ridge and a meandering stream lined with mature trees are examples of the special tracts of natural habitat that are protected."
The Makinak area supports a concentration of natural cover characterized by trembling aspen and balsam poplar forest, with a mixture of wetlands. This is part of the Riding Mountain Natural Area, which represents "some of the most intact aspen parkland and boreal forest in Manitoba," according to NCC.
NCC recently conducted a biological survey of the Flynn farm, finding nine species of conservation concern including: Vasey’s oatgrass; red-bellied snake; northern rough-winged swallow; northern leopard frog; green needlegrass; eastern wood-pewee; bank swallow; American kestrel and western wood-pewee.
"I have always had an eye for natural habitat," said Clifford. As a result, little if any clearing has taken place on this farm since they settled here after the Great Depression drove the family from the treeless Saskatchewan prairies.
While Clifford and Pat are farmers, they are also conservationists with a deep regard for nature. They enjoy the wildlife that make their homes on this farm, including moose, bear, coyotes, wolves and white-tailed deer.
However, a wide variety of birds also make their homes here.
In conversation, Clifford mentions a memorable experience he had during a spring migration when a large flock of migrating warblers swarmed around him.
"One time I was lucky enough to be in the bush when they were migrating," he said. "Everywhere you looked, you saw warblers."
The flock included eight or 10 species including Cape May, yellow, yellow-rumped and palm warblers.
"That’s about as colourful as birds get in this part of the world," he said. "It was wonderful."
During their lengthy tenure here, the Flynns have always left the natural habitat intact, being careful to never destroy habitat needlessly. In fact, they have never bulldozed any bush since taking over the farm.
With an eye on retirement, the family started to think about downsizing. Clifford chatted with a municipal official looking for ideas and learned about NCC, an organization interested in protecting local habitat. In fact, NCC’s goals corresponded closely with the Flynns’ own views on native habitat.
It wasn’t long before serious discussions were underway, resulting in the easements.
Additionally, they also sold several parcels of land to NCC. One abuts directly onto Riding Mountain National Park. The other two are viewed as marginal land not well suited to crop production.
A conservation agreement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and conservation organization that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values.
For more information, contact the Nature Conservancy of Canada at www.natureconservancy.ca, firstname.lastname@example.org, or toll free at 1-866-683-6934.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 12, 2014