Riparian Rescue: Wetland Restoration, Creation and Enhancement
The wetlands are some of the most important ecosystems on earth. Unfortunately the relationship between humans and wetlands has, in the past, been at odds. Before the arrival of the Europeans, wetlands covered approximately 215 million acres of the United States. Today less than half remain. Once considered of little value, the wetlands were drained for development or indirectly degraded by pollution and urban runoff. The fate of these watery environments seemed doomed for destruction. Luckily, the last few decades have brought a change of attitude towards the wetlands, and scientists and policy makers are now taking measures to ensure these unique ecosystems are protected, restored and enhanced.
Why Wetlands?So what makes the wetlands so important? Consider your own body and the unique, specialized function of your liver. All day long it filters the blood coming from your digestive tract before passing it into the rest of your body. Your liver removes the toxins that would otherwise end up in your bloodstream. Well, you could say the wetlands are nature’s liver. Wetlands, also known as riparian zones, are able to capture pollutants and sediments before they reach major bodies of water. Dirty, polluted water goes into a wetland and comes out much cleaner. Many municipals construct wetlands as part of their urban runoff treatment programs.
Diversity of LifeRiparian zones also provide habitat to animal and plant life that exists nowhere else. Waterfowl are dependent on the wetlands for nesting, and more than 400 species of migratory birds make the wetlands their home. Nearly all amphibians in North America rely on a wetland for breeding. Small and large mammals all use wetlands for shelter and food. Many unique and rare plants can be found in riparian zones. In fact, almost half of all the animal and plant species listed as threatened and endangered are riparian-based.
Erosion ControlBesides the diversity of life they harbor, wetland vegetation offers excellent erosion control and reduces the damage caused by flooding. Buffer zones along streams and other waterways help hold back erodible soils, and riparian vegetation next to shorelines work to dissipate wave energy. Wetlands are also able to store large amounts of runoff and storm water, reducing the flows that cause flooding and damage.