The many benefits of wetlands
Just because they did not have standing water in them at the time, they were and still are wetlands, said Oklahoma State University Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management Professor and Bollenbach Wildlife Chair, Craig Davis.
“The rain much of the state has received this year has done wonders for the wetlands we still have,” he said. “Even though we’ve lost 60 percent to 70 percent of our wetlands since statehood, the remainder serve many purposes.”
Oftentimes people think of mosquito-infested swampland when they hear the word wetlands. However, that is a misconception as these dynamic systems provide so much more.
“The ability to retain floodwaters is one of the major benefits of wetlands,” Davis said. “As we continue to develop areas along rivers and coastal areas, we lose a great buffer against major storm surges that wetlands provide.”
As recently seen in Oklahoma, the excess water that would have been captured and slowed by wetlands, oftentimes results in significant flooding in some regions.
Protection of existing wetlands and restoration of wetlands can assist landowners with reducing the impacts of devastating floods. Additionally, landowners in Oklahoma may find other benefits from wetlands on their property.
“These areas are great for filtering contaminants and pollutants from water runoff,” Davis said. “There is a lot of fertilizer runoff which could be captured in wetlands, rather than running down stream and eventually flowing into the Mississippi River, where these excessive nutrients contribute to the expanding dead zone at the mouth of the river.”
Wetlands also can recharge aquifers and leave farmers with far less earth to drill through to find groundwater. The standing water is a necessity for migratory birds, as well.
“I think of wetlands as refueling stations for birds migrating from South America up to the Arctic,” Davis said. “The wetlands provide food and fuel for a host of waterbirds, including shorebirds and waterfowl. Simply leaving wetlands on your property creates a great amount of biodiversity whether the wetland is wet or dry. Additionally, these wetlands can provide birdwatching and hunting opportunities for landowners. In fact, many landowners will lease their wetlands to waterfowl hunters”
There are several volunteer programs offered through various agencies, both federal and state, to help landowners see the value of wetlands. For more information on these programs, or to learn about the benefits of retaining our remaining wetlands, visit the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s Wetlands Program website (www.ok.gov/wetlands/) or contact the Oklahoma Natural Resource Conservation Service about conservation programs to enhance and protect wetlands.
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