Thank you very much.
Good morning, everybody. Wet weather is always welcome when you're in the wetland conservation business.
Good morning, Mr. Chair and committee members. I'm Jamie Fortune. I'm the chief operating officer for Ducks Unlimited Canada and the executive responsible for our corporate and grassroots fundraising programs. I'm very pleased to speak to you today about our organization's 77-year legacy of meaningful and effective private sector partnerships in support of local wetland habitat conservation across Canada. We're a registered Canadian charity, and we operate in partnership with private businesses and all levels of government in Canada.
Ducks Unlimited was founded by a group of forward-thinking and conservation-minded business leaders who took action when North America's wetland populations and waterfowl populations were on the brink of collapse at the height of the Great Depression and the prairie dust bowl. Those were very trying times for our economy, our industry, our governments, and our wildlife. However, it was the vision of those business leaders that helped to advance wetlands and waterfowl conservation across the continent.
My remarks today will focus on four key areas that illustrate how private sector leadership has been the driving force behind our work since then. These four areas are: private land partnerships; voluntary offsetting by industry; our partnerships with industry; and lastly, sponsorships and affinity relationships.
The first area is partnerships with private landowners. First and foremost, private land partnerships are at the very heart of our mission. Since 1938 we've been working with farmers, ranchers, rural property owners, private businesses, and governments at all levels to ensure that those who are interested in wetland conservation can get the science-based information, conservation advice, technical services, and financial support they need. Today, we're engaged with 18,000 private landowner partners across the country, coast to coast to coast.
A recent and local example I'd like to share with you is that of Susan Prior, who lives just west of the city here, near Carp, Ontario. A few months ago, Ms. Prior signed a long-term agreement with Ducks Unlimited to rehabilitate drained wetlands on her historic farm property near Carp. That farm was settled in the very early 1800s. It's just 30 minutes west of Parliament Hill. In this partnership, thanks in part to support from the federal government's national wetland conservation fund, Ms. Prior retains full ownership of her land, and we're able to restore critical habitat for the benefit of fish and wildlife and also for species at risk. In the case of Ms. Prior, we used sound science when we worked with her to secure this habitat. Also, while we restore habitat, we're employing public sector and private sector funds to achieve her goals alongside ours and to achieve our mission and thus generate ecological benefits for Canadians over the long term.
Next is voluntary offsetting by industry. Canada's corporate leaders are looking for ways to reduce their environmental impacts and to transition towards more sustainable ways of doing business. Where our interests converge, Ducks Unlimited is proud to engage the private sector in these efforts through our voluntary offsetting initiatives. Loosely defined, a voluntary offset is a combination of measures or investments made by organizations to reduce or eliminate negative environmental impacts. This is all done outside a legislative regulatory framework that otherwise would force them to do so. Other elements of voluntary offsets include prepayment or banking of offsetting initiatives against future commercial undertakings. Many organizations and companies feature these activities as part of their corporate social responsibility programming. A number of leading companies involved in the development of the Alberta oil sands have land reclamation strategies in place to offset the impacts of their mining and processing activities. While these are long term and the efforts to fully rehabilitate the landscape are ongoing, in order to minimize their overall impacts right now, these companies purchase conservation offsets aimed at maintaining the ecological integrity of lands near their operations.
I'll share an example with you. This one is in southern Alberta, where Shell Canada contributed $3 million towards the securement of our Buffalo Hills conservation ranch. It is located just outside Calgary. It includes 4,130 acres of pristine native grasslands and close to an additional 1,800 acres of hay lands that are supporting breeding, migrating, and wintering waterfowl and 159 species of birds, as well as mammals and amphibians. The Buffalo Hills ranch is the largest contiguous land acquisition that our organization has made, and it was enabled by a voluntary offset payment.
The third area is industry partnerships. One of the most important ways we're working to ensure the long-term sustainability of Canada's wetlands is through environmental education programs. These programs are aimed at students from kindergarten to high school. They provide more than 36,000 participants across Canada with teaching resources for their classroom and real-life, hands-on experiences with local wetland ecosystems in their communities. Our private sector partners have been integral to the success of these programs. These partners are sponsors, meaning that they provide funds for specific initiatives and activities and are associated with our brand.
Last year Giant Tiger Stores and the North West Company joined together for a five-year commitment to us in support of our Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre, a 9,000-acre, world-class, award-winning wetland management area close to Winnipeg. It's 30 kilometres of trails through marshes, croplands, and tall grass prairie. It provides outstanding opportunities for education as well as tourism.
In another example, Talisman Energy began partnering with us on Project Webfoot, our education program in Alberta, in 2004. This program specifically links to grades 4 to 6 curricula across Canada, giving students the opportunity to apply classroom learning and connect with nature through field trips. That outdoor connection is very, very important. Our relationship with Talisman has been ongoing since 2004. In 2011 they became our first national education sponsor, supporting us at the national level. They continue to support Project Webfoot. They've also helped us establish two new wetland centres of excellence, in Quebec and British Columbia.
These companies achieve their corporate goals and we have financial support. It's a win-win situation.
The last area is affinity relationships. In these affinity relationships we license our brand to a corporation. For example, a corporate affinity credit card through MBNA Canada has really helped us drive a lot of conservation impact. This is a major credit card issuer, and I believe we were the first affinity partner they had when they came to Canada years ago. They're now owned by TD Bank. We receive an annual financial payment from MBNA based on the usage of these affinity cards. They've also sponsored our programs. They support conservation fellowships, the grant program that funds graduate research in waterfowl and wetland biology.
The success of these relationships is a real tribute to the commitment of our supporters across the country, who choose to get these products, use them every day, and by doing so support conservation delivery through their day-to-day activities.
These mechanisms and partnerships are just a few examples of how Ducks Unlimited Canada is working with the private sector to deliver results. These relationships are win-win in that both Ducks Unlimited and our partners achieve specific outcomes. By the very nature of the work we do, there are also significant benefits to the environment, to Canadians, and to society.
The work that's already going on through these partnerships is significant. We also believe there are concrete steps the federal government can take right now to encourage new productive relationships.
In particular, the government can expand funding for core existing programs that currently encourage private sector investment. These are matching programs. These include, in particular, the national wetland conservation fund, the natural areas conservation program, the joint ventures of the North American waterfowl management plan, and the recreational fisheries conservation partnership program.
Second, we can legislate and develop national guidelines and best practices for habitat-based offsetting and implement these on federal lands and all federally funded infrastructure projects as per the 1991 federal policy on wetland conservation. The consistent application of firm policy is beneficial to industry and Canadians. Simply put, all governments need to make it easier to conserve and restore habitat than to destroy it.
Thank you for your time this morning and for your interest in this important subject. I look forward to answering any questions you may have later.