It’s difficult to think about wetlands in the Elk Valley when there is a blanket of snow covering the ground, but Friday February 2 is World Wetlands Day. This day is celebrated every year since 1997 to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance on February 2, 1971. In 2018, World Wetlands Day aims to promote wetlands and the critical role they play in sustainable urban development.

Wetland keepers learning about stewarding

How do wetlands play a role in urban settings and help local municipalities pass on these natural ecosystems to future generations while managing sustainable development? Communities need these water-logged areas, wet for all or part of the year, and the unique life adapted there to provide many important services for us. Planning urban development to include them, can save taxpayers money, protect us from the negative effects of floods and droughts, and enhance recreational experiences leading to more healthy and fulfilled lives.

For example, envision a heavy rain event, where impermeable surfaces in town like roads, parking lots and sidewalks, are rushing with water that is picking up particles and pollutants as it races into storm drains. Alternatively stormwater systems could be directed into wetlands that can slow water down, filter out sediment and treat pollutants. Direct runoff of urban water to the Elk River can decrease water quality and impact aquatic life.

Wetlands are natural community assets. Once established they are put to work with little maintenance required. Water filtered and cleaned before release, helps to protect water quality and in some places worldwide, drinking water protection. Further, wetlands act as sponges and can help reduce the negative effects of floods, soaking up excess water and then slowly releasing it during drier times. In face of climate change, wetlands can provide both flood and drought protection.

Wetlands also provide community recreational opportunities, including some of the best wildlife viewing available. Wetlands are amongst the most productive ecosystems on Earth, similar to coral reefs and rain forests. Many species in BC depend on wetlands for a portion of their life cycle. Surprisingly, wetlands and associated wet transitional forests between the Elk River and drier upland, are essential for species like grizzly bear, American badger, great blue herons, western painted turtles, western toads and dragonflies. As well, migratory birds flying north to breed and south to winter depend on wetlands for resting and feeding on these arduous journeys. Wetlands are meccas to simply watch birds.

To continue to reap the benefits that wetlands provide, take a moment to appreciate them, even though they are buried under snow. What can you do?
– Support municipalities in the Elk Valley to use constructed wetlands and retention ponds to treat stormwater before direct discharge to the Elk River.
– Get involved with stewardship of wetlands joining other Wetlandkeepers to eradicate noxious weeds, plant native vegetation, wrap trees to prevent beavers felling, maintain suitable water levels, enhance wildlife habitat, and collect harmful trash.
– Learn more about wetlands reading the signs installed in Sparwood along the Elk River Interpretive Trail.
– Plan to visit a wetland in the Elk Valley this spring to watch birds, beavers, muskrats, turtles, toads, salamanders and darting dragonflies.

To maintain wetlands in our watershed and even make new ones, the Elk River Alliance and Nature Conservancy of Canada recently constructed a 5 ha wetland in an abandoned gravel pit near Hosmer. Once the wetland has matured and taken root, it will provide all the wetland benefits described above. In order to help community better appreciate the wetland, a bench and interpretive kiosk will be installed this spring along the Elk Valley Trail. There will also be several volunteer opportunities to help vegetate and monitor the wetland. If you are interested in learning more about wetlands and what you can do to help contact the Elk River Alliance.

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