Save Our Wetlands
Wetlands are amazing places. They are some of the most productive areas for wildlife in the world. Wetlands are cove red by shallow water for all or most of the year. They include saltwater and freshwater marshes, swamps, ponds, fens, bogs, muskegs, lagoons, prairie potholes, and wet meadows, but many of these areas have been dredged, drained, filled with waste, or simply paved over. You can help reverse this trend by creating new wetlands or revitalizing existing ones. But be sure to get some advice from a biologist first.
Conduct a Wetland Dweller Survey
Begin by researching the habitat requirements of wetland dwellers in your area.
Wetland dwellers include the following:
|• Frogs||• Blackbirds|
|• Toads||• Raccoons|
|• Tritons||• Muskrats|
|• Salamanders||• Beavers|
|• Fish||• Turtles|
|• Great blue herons||• Garter snakes|
|• Ducks||• Dragonflies|
|• Teals||• Giant water bugs|
|• Tufted ducks||• Tadpoles|
Stake Out a Saltwater Marsh
Salt-marshes form along the sea-coast in areas where the water is calm enough for suspended sediments to settle. Saltwater vegetation faces many more rigors than freshwater vegetation. Though surrounded by water, saltwater plants — such as sea-milkwort, saltbush, and sea-lavender — actually have little moisture available to them. Animals that frequent salt-marshes include savannah sparrows, marsh hawks, and common terns.
Identify the saltwater plants in your area and investigate what species are attracted to them. What do the plants provide for wildlife?
Identify Aquatic Plants
Conduct a survey of aquatic plants (ones that grow in water) in your area and see how many species you can identify. Invite some members of the community to come along with you.
Aquatic plants can be divided into four categories:
- Floating plants usually have leaves that float on the water's surface. An example is the water-lily, which is a good source of shelter for some animals and an ambush site for others.
- Submergent plants are generally rooted, but their stems and leaves are mostly, if not entirely, covered by water. They grow like trees in a miniature underwater forest. Numerous species, such as bladderwort, flower at the water's surface and bring colour to the marsh.
- Emergent plants grow with their roots in wet soil or water for part or all of their lives. Most of their leaves grow above the water's surface. Sedges and cattails are examples.
- Algae are either free-floating forms that colour the water green or brown or mat-forming ones that appear as pond scum.
Spread Some Seeds
Look around for some aquatic or riparian (growing near water) vegetation that you'd like to plant on or around your site. Consult with a local wildlife or fisheries biologist about when the plants will go to seed, how to collect seeds, how many you should remove, and when to plant them. And make sure that you don't spread exotic species by mistake.
Which Is Which?
Although rushes, sedges, and reeds look similar, they are actually quite different. Find an area with all three and see if you can spot the differences!
- A rush is a grass-like plant with a round, usually solid stem. It has stem-like leaves or no leaves at all.
- A reed is a type of grass, usually tall, with feathery flower heads and strap-like leaves typical of the grass family.
- A sedge looks like a grass but isn’t. Its stem is usually solid and triangular, unlike a grass’s round, hollow stem.
Cattail Pros and Cons
Cattails can stabilize large areas of wetlands by preventing soil erosion. They also absorb large quantities of nitrogen and phosphorus from polluted water, which helps stop algae from growing. And they're very efficient at capturing the sun's energy and storing it as carbohydrates. This stored energy is the foundation of a food chain that supports large populations of waterfowl, fish, and other wildlife.
But cattails can be a problem in large quantities, because they can choke wetlands. So if you find a place that could benefit from some cattails, seek expert advice before transplanting them or scattering their seeds.
Make a Loon Nesting Platform
Common loons prefer a solitary existence, but increased cottage development and recreational use of wooded lakes are encroaching on their territory. While loons normally nest on islands, floating vegetation, and shorelines, they have been known to use man-made structures camouflaged with boughs, water bushes (including roots), sedges, and moss.
If you'd like to build a loon nesting platform, choose a site that is sheltered in a bay or protected by thick emergent vegetation. It should be anywhere from three to several hundred metres from shore in water one to two metres deep. Use a boat to tow the platform to its final position, and store it during the winter so it doesn't get waterlogged or damaged by ice.
Something Might Be Fishy Here!
Consider painting fish symbols on manhole covers to remind people not to pour leftover chemicals like oil, paint, solvents, or pesticides down the drain. These chemicals enter the sewer system and eventually end up in our waterways, where they can harm or destroy wildlife and its habitat.
Build a Brush Bundle
Brush bundles (stacks of cut undergrowth) are an effective source of cover for various types of fish. So why not organize a brush-building party and invite the whole community? Print and post invitations and see if the local media will publicize the event free of charge.
Brush bundles vary in size and design, but the best place to put them is on the lower inside edges of bends, where stream-borne material gets deposited. The bundles will help stabilize the stream's banks, which in turn will help concentrate the flow of water along the outside bends and deepen the channel. You'll have to consult a local fisheries biologist about the spacing of the bundles, as it depends on the types of fish in the stream and the amount of existing cover.
Raise a Riffle
A riffle is a swift, shallow portion of a stream or river where the flow of water is broken, usually by rocks sticking up through the surface. Riffles add oxygen to the water through turbulent mixing, and they provide habitat for aquatic invertebrates that brook trout and minnows feed on.
Find a shallow stream that would benefit from a riffle. Collect a pile of large stones or small boulders (don’t pick up anything too heavy!) and place them in the middle of the water. But don’t put them all the way across — we’re not talking about building a dam! Once again, you’ll have to consult with a fisheries biologist to decide how many riffles are needed.
Plant Some Streamside Vegetation
Streamside vegetation is an important part of wet communities. It includes both aquatic and riparian plants. Some common examples are bulrushes, cattails, water-lilies, ferns, sedges, and reeds.
These are just a few things that streamside planting does:
- Stops erosion.
- Stabilizes stream banks.
- Slows down flood waters.
- Traps silt.
- Supplies places where fish can hide from predators.
- Provides habitat for insects that some animals feed on.
- Regulates water temperatures by shading stream surfaces (this can be crucial in mid-summer when temperatures begin to soar).
No Exotics Please!
Sometimes wildlife species from other countries find their way into Canada. These species, which are referred to as exotic or non-native, can cause serious problems. And in many cases, there are no known ways of controlling or eradicating them!
Purple loosestrife, for example, is a beautiful but invasive wild flower that is choking our wetlands and destroying wildlife habitat. It is thought to have entered Canada in the early 1800s in the ballasts of ships or in sheep’s wool. Purple loosestrife is now a major problem in southern Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba and has started to extend into Eastern Canada. British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan are also monitoring its spread.
Eurasian water-milfoil and European frog's-bit are two other undesirable aquatic plants that have been introduced to Canada. Water-milfoil occurs in parts of British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec and Grows so densely that it tends to displace all other species. Frog's-bit — which also produces a dense floating mat of vegetation — is found mostly in eastern Ontario and western Quebec but is spreading slowly. It often occurs in wetlands that are already overrun with purple loosestrife, dealing a double blow to the ecosystem.
Muscle Out Zebra Mussels!
Zebra mussels are originally from the Black Sea and were introduced into the Great Lakes in the 1980s from the bilges of foreign freighters. The thumbnail-sized molluscs, which have alternating light and dark bands on their shells, cling to surfaces with formidable strength and are extremely difficult to remove. By grouping together, they can quickly form a mass of 750,000 per square metre!
Zebra mussels not only clog water-pipes but also smother fish spawning grounds. And they eat large quantities of plankton, an important food source for young fish. These exotic invaders are disrupting commercial and recreational fishing and boating and are infesting water treatment plants, cottages, and many industries that use water from the Great Lakes. And they’ve already been sighted in some inland lakes in the Trent-Severn Waterway in Ontario.
You could prepare a zebra mussel information campaign for boaters and anglers in your community. It should include guidelines such as the following:
- Be very careful not to transfer zebra mussels when you move your boat or fishing equipment from one body of water to another.
- Thoroughly clean and disinfect the boat and fishing gear before entering waters that are not infested.
- Never pour bait, or the water it was kept in, into another body of water.
- If you see zebra mussels on your boat, scrape them off with a paint scraper before leaving the area. Put them in the garbage so they won’t foul the area and cut bare feet.
- Contact your local wildlife agency if you think you've found zebra mussels. Officials need to know when and where infestation occurs so they can document its spread.
Aquatic Invaders Checklist
- Find out if there are any exotic aquatic plants in your area.
- Research them and prepare an information campaign to present to your school and community.
- Compile a list of do’s and don’ts with the help of an expert.
- After your presentation, call for volunteers to help organize a survey.
- Send the survey results to your municipality and your local wildlife agency, as well as CWF.
- Remember: Always consult an expert before transplanting any aquatic plant species.
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