Conservation of wetlands key to protecting wildlife, water and our communities
Dan Kraus is senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
Earlier this winter I watched as a record amount of January rain filled the swamp at the back of our property. With the ground still locked in a hard freeze, there weren’t a lot of places to hold this deluge, but the swamp was doing its job.
Wetlands, like my swamp, play an unsung role in water management. They are our water towers, flood-control reservoirs and filtration plants. They are the green sponges that hold water when we have too much and slowly release it into our streams and aquifers when we need it the most. When we lose wetlands from our landscape, we lose this important service. Protecting wetlands is also critical for biodiversity: marshes, swamps, fens, floodplains and bogs provide habitat for wildlife, plants and hundreds of Canada’s species at risk.
Future generations will look back on the 20th century for the most extraordinary change to our planet. Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached record levels, most of our large intact forested landscapes disappeared, up to one million species became threatened with extinction and we lost well over half of the world’s wetlands. And while burning forests in Brazil and Australia rightfully capture the headlines, our planet’s wetlands have been lost three times faster than forests.
In Canada’s North, we still have some of the largest and most important wetlands left on the planet, a wetland wilderness that provides habitat for species like caribou and holds more carbon than any other ecosystem. Keeping this carbon under lock and key is one of the greatest gifts Canada can give the world as we start to work toward re-stabilizing our climate.
In Canada’s South we have lost over 80 per cent of the original wetlands, along with the flood protection, vital habitat and carbon storage they once provided. There are still important wetlands — from salt marshes in the Maritimes to Great Lakes coastal wetlands to prairie potholes — but to save these, we need to act fast. We need to ensure that as part of Canada’s new pledge to protect 30 per cent of our lands and inland waters by 2030 that important wetlands are conserved.
In the Maritimes, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and its partners and donors have helped protect both freshwater wetlands and salt marshes, with nature reserves in Kingsboro and Abram Village, PEI; Musquash and Miscou, New Brunswick; and Brier Island and Pugwash, Nova Scotia, to name a few. We can build on these successes by supporting efforts of conservation organizations and leveraging funding from the Government of Canada’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program and the North American Wetland Conservation Act.
If we get wetland conservation right, we move toward solving many other issues. Wetlands protect biodiversity, help communities adapt to a changing climate and they are an essential part of our Canadian landscape.
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