Peatlands Management

What are Peatlands?

Peatlands are a unique type of wetland ecosystem with organic soil, called peat. Peat is partly decomposed plant material that forms in poorly-drained, low oxygen, acidic environments. Under these conditions, plant material accumulates faster than it decomposes and slowly forms peatlands over thousands of years. Peat is primarily made up of a specific type of moss, called Sphagnum moss, but can also be made from other wetland moss and plant species. By the Canadian definition, peatlands have a minimum of 40cm of peat.

The Canadian Wetland Classification System identifies two main peatland types, bogs and fens.

Bogs are usually slightly raised above the surrounding landscape due to their deep peat deposits and are therefore isolated systems that only receive water from precipitation (ombrogenous). As a result, bogs are mineral and nutrient poor with typically lower biodiversity. Bogs are commonly dominated by Sphagnum moss, but can be shrubby and/or treed.

Shubby treed bog

Sphagnum moss

Fens receive some amount of surface water and/or groundwater and therefore contain more minerals and nutrients (minerogenous). As a result, fens can have a greater biodiversity, with a variety of wetland moss species, sedges, shrubs and trees.

Sedge dominated fen

Swamps are sometimes classified as peatlands since they can develop on mineral and peat soils.

Peatlands in Manitoba

Peatlands began forming in Manitoba approximately ~9,000 years ago, after the last glaciation. They are primarily found in the boreal ecozone, concentrated in the Hudson Bay Lowland, around Lake Winnipeg, The Pas area and the southeast corner of the province. In Manitoba, peatlands can have more than 5 meters of peat.

Manitoba contains approximately 17% of Canada's peatlands. Peatlands represent about 90% of all wetlands in Manitoba and cover over 200,000 km2 or one third of the province1. Click here to see a map of wetland types and distribution in Manitoba.

1Halsey, L., Vitt, D. and Zoltai, S. (1997). Climatic and physiographic controls on wetland type and distribution in Manitoba, Canada. Wetlands, 17(2): 243-262.

The Peatlands Stewardship Act and Regulations

The Peatlands Stewardship Act was proclaimed in June 2015 as Canada's first stand-along peatlands legislation to ensure a balanced approach between peatland conservation and responsible development. The new Act now requires peat harvest licence holders to submit comprehensive Peatland Management and Recovery Plans. The guidelines for these plans are currently under development and will be available for public comment through this website once complete.

The Act also establishes restrictions for future commercial peat developments in provincial parks and wildlife management areas, as well as provides the province with the ability to designate and protect provincially significant peatlands.

Manitoba's Peat Harvesting Industry

Peat harvesting began in Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries as an important fuel source. In Canada, harvesting began in the 1860s in the eastern provinces. Today, Canada's commercial peat industry operates in 6 provinces and mainly harvests peat for horticultural purposes.

In Manitoba, peat harvesting began around 1940 and today, accounts for 18% of Canada's total horticultural peat production. Two types of peat are harvested in Manitoba, sedge and Sphagnum peat. Sphagnum peat is harvested from bogs and is used for household and commercial horticulture. The Sphagnum peat industry includes Canadian based international companies, many of which are represented by the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association. Sedge peat is harvested from fen peatlands and is primarily used as a soil additive for landscaping purposes.

Presently 10 peat companies hold 22 peat harvest licences in the province, 2 sedge companies and 8 Sphagnum companies. Of the total licensed area, 11% is being harvested as of 2017. Click here to see a map of peat harvest licences in Manitoba.

Vacuum Harvesters

Vacuum harvesters are used to harvest peat from the prepared fields. They can only vacuum a few millimeters of peat in one pass, then have to wait for the surface to dry again. Approximately 10cm of peat can be harvested in one season.

Source: Berger Peat Moss Ltd.

Aerial photo of harvested peat field

Aerial photo of harvested peat fields.

Source: Planet Labs Geomatics Corp.

Peatland Research and Recovery

The Peatlands Stewardship Act recognizes the need for continued peatland research and comprehensive recovery strategies for harvested peatlands. In accordance with the Act, peat harvest licensees are required to recover the peatland post-harvesting in accordance with Manitoba's Peatland Recovery Guidelines.

Several peat harvesting companies in Manitoba have already taken on land recovery planning and activities, as well as peatland restoration research projects with academic institutions. Until provincial guidelines are finalized, peat producers utilize the guidelines established by the Peatland Ecology Research Group, an internationally recognized research group based out of Université Laval, Quebec. Many companies are also certified under the Veriflora Standard, which includes rehabilitation planning requirements.

Sphagnum moss from a donor peatland is spread on the harvested peatland to begin the recovery process.

Straw mulch is spread on top of the moss to protect it while the moss establishes on the recovered site.

The restored Bois-de-Bel peatland (Quebec) by the Peatland Ecology Research Group. This photo was taken 12 years after restoration.

Manitoba's Provincially Significant Peatlands

On January 20th, 2023, Moswa Meadows and Fish Lake Fen were designated as provincially significant peatlands in the newly created Provincially Significant Peatlands Regulation in order to ensure the biodiversity of the two areas is preserved. Specified development activities, including mining, forestry, agriculture, and peat harvesting, are now prohibited across the nearly 28,000 hectares that make up Moswa Meadows and Fish Lake Fen and will ensure the areas can continue to provide long-term beneficial goods and services including carbon sequestration and storage, water filtration, and flood mitigation. Moswa Meadows was designated as a provincially significant peatland because it provides an ideal habitat for recovering moose populations in western Manitoba. Located within the traditional territory of Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation and used for hunting, trapping and gathering plants, the area will now have protected status while continuing to be available for traditional Indigenous use. Fish Lake Fen was designated as a provincially significant peatland because it is a calcareous fen characterized by calcium-rich water and a fluctuating water table, and this type of peatland is exceedingly rare.

Click here to view the Provincially Significant Peatlands Regulation

Click here to view a map of Moswa Meadows and Fish Lake Fen