Wholesale Marketing E-Business Consultant, guest blogger, and Green Team member Joanne Lasnier is back with another post! This time, she shares why wetlands are important and what you can do to help preserve this unique ecosystem. (—KVT)
It’s a 10-minute walk from my home to the Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District (LGVSD) ponds, one of my favorite destinations. With trails that border the ponds and branch out into the adjacent wetlands, the picturesque area is favored by hikers, joggers, dog-walkers, cyclists, birders, and photographers.
The area is also host to a wide variety of vegetation and wildlife, which change with the seasons. Over the last two years I’ve seen mute swans, Eurasian wigeons, Eastern and Western kingbirds, and a Ross’s goose stop in to rest and feed before continuing their migration. Last fall I watched four river otter pups work their way around the pond, busily feeding while eyeing me with great curiosity. Many dabbling and diving ducks visit in the winter, and a variety of shorebirds pass through in spring and fall.
The cattails, brown and broken after the dry summers, turn green and lush with the winter rains, ready to house the nests of the marsh wrens in the spring. Barn and tree swallows return each year to breed, feasting on the insects that are abundant all summer.
The surrounding wetlands link the land with San Pablo Bay, just north of San Francisco Bay. Here the pickleweed and grasses provide shelter for the shy and endangered California clapper rail, who, along with herons, egrets, white pelicans, cormorants, song sparrows, northern harriers, and black-necked stilts, is a year-round resident.
But these ponds and wetlands are more than just beautiful places to visit; they are rich ecosystems that provide important services for people, fish, and other wildlife. In honor of American Wetlands Month, which celebrated its 22nd anniversary during May this year, we’re taking a closer look at wetlands in the U.S.
A Eurasian wigeon (second from left) communes with his American counterparts. (Photo: Joanne Lasnier)
White pelicans engage in cooperative feeding. (Photo: Joanne Lasnier)
What is a wetland?
Wetlands are unique ecosystems that provide a transition zone between land and water. In the U.S., wetlands fall into four categories—marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens. Marshes may be tidal (coastal), of which salt marshes are the most prevalent, or non-tidal (inland), with freshwater. Swamps can be in freshwater or saltwater floodplains, and are classified as forested, shrub, or mangrove. Bogs are freshwater and are fed only by rainwater. Fens are ground-water-fed.1
There are also constructed treatment wetlands, such as the ponds near my home. These are treatment systems that use the same processes found in natural wetlands to treat wastewater.1
Why are wetlands important?
- Often referred to as the “kidneys” of the landscape, wetlands improve water quality by removing excess nutrients, toxic substances, and sediment before they reach rivers, lakes or oceans.2
- Wetlands help to absorb and slow floodwaters, and reduce storm surge.2
- Many industries, including commercial and recreational fishing and agriculture, benefit from or produce products that are dependent on wetlands.2
- Wetlands provide habitat for thousands of species of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Many birds depend on wetlands for breeding and as rest stops during migration.2
What threatens wetlands?
More than 50% of U.S. wetlands acreage has been drained and converted to other uses since the late 1700s1. Human activities continue to threaten our remaining wetlands. Threats include:
- Pollutants such as sediment, fertilizer, human sewage, animal waste, road salts, pesticides, heavy metals, and selenium3
- Changes in water flow, such as dredging and damming, diversion of flow to or from wetlands, drainage or deposition of fill for development3
- Learn more about our wetlands and the role they play in our environment at the following websites: EPA Wetlands (be sure to check out their wetlands fact sheets), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Wetlands
- Explore a wetland near you. If you’re not sure where to find your local wetlands, check with a local conservation group working to restore and protect local wetlands
- Plant native vegetation in your yard, and limit the use of fertilizers and pesticides2
This month and every month, consider the importance of our wetlands and take time to enjoy, preserve and restore these beautiful and varied ecosystems, wherever you live.
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