University closes research station

The University of Manitoba has decided to close down a research site that has been around for almost 50 years.

The Delta Marsh Field Station, which was damaged by flooding last spring, will no longer eligible for property insurance as of Jan. 1, so the University of Manitoba has decided to permanently shut its doors.

The field station was being used by the faculty of science as a research and teaching facility, with at least 10 ongoing research projects connected to it.
The field station, located 24 km north of Portage la Prairie, has been open since 1966 and is part of a game-bird refuge and wildlife protection area.

The severity of spring storms and flooding this year destroyed or seriously damaged almost every building on the site. The university is now working with the province to clean up the site.

“I count myself among those who love the field station, and among those who undertook the difficult work to maintain it,” said Mark Whitmore, dean of science at the U of M.

Whitmore said the university tried to find options to rebuild the site, but an assessment of the damage showed that it would be expensive and probably futile because future storms may have a similar effect on the location.

Whitmore said the university is confident it will still be able to support ongoing fieldwork, despite the closure of the research station.

“Our commitment to this work remains strong,” he said.

According to Whitmore, the disaster will actually allow the university to enhance their support for the research groups that worked at the station. Providing fellowships for graduate students, support for summer students, and equipment are among the possibilities for enhanced support.

But Whitmore said he will have to discuss the issue with the academic community before deciding on what form the support will take.

“There is a small amount of research and teaching that may not be transferrable to other sites,” Whitmore.

Whitmore said he hopes the field researchers will still be able to conduct research on the site once the station has been cleaned up, even though the land is the property of the province of Manitoba.

“Personally, I am sad to hear that the station will be closed, given the important role it has played throughout the years,” said James Hare, associate head of the biological sciences department at U of M.

Hare added the station closing “will have a negative impact on the research of others who study the marsh ecosystem or the birds that live on beach ridge.”
Hare said the closure of the station does not prevent continued research, but it does remove accommodations for researchers and students as well as the close logistical support the facility provided.

Members of rural municipality of Portage la Prairie community are also concerned about the loss of the field station.

Reeve Kam Blight said the station has been a staple in the community. The main effect will be the loss of students, researchers and visitors going to the site and visiting the municipality, he said.

Blight said there is a possibility that the RM of Portage la Prairie will use the land for something else.

“That is something we as a council will review,” he said. “Judging by the feedback I have received from residents of our municipality, it is something worth considering.”