Restoring Wetlands

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Restoring Wetlands

Wetlands have always been important to me from childhood through my teen years, early adulthood, mid-life, retirement, now. Protecting what’s left first took all my energy, but now learning, perfecting, applying new restoration measures to needy areas has priority.

Saving what’s left is important, but is not enough by itself. It is too late for that.

I have restored wetlands in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Colorado, never alone, of course, but always with the aid of other dedicated people – landowners, friends, volunteers, non-profits, financial backers and dedicated agency personnel, local, state, tribal and federal. Thank you! Lots of agencies take part in one way or another, but there is no “Wetlands Conservation Service” out there promoting wetlands restoration. That leadership will have to come from individuals like you and me and the organizations we trust and believe in.

To me, Wetland Restoration means resurrecting the full range of geomorphological, hydrologic and ecologic attributes, services and functions an impaired site once provided, and is potentially capable of once again.

True, due to irreversible climatological and other changes, some will never be recovered. But restoration is a process, not a final state. We need to promote the process, while reveling in any apparent progress.

When I return to an ongoing project site to see it functioning once again, rich with wetland vegetation and teeming with birds, small mammals, fish, frogs, midges and dragonflies, my chest swells and my eyes water a bit. We are getting the process started.

Restoration means trapping sediment, spreading and holding water, building hydric soil, nurturing dependent plant and animal communities of common and less common species, having each give back and put back in its own special way, in an ever-expanding cycle of renewal.

How do we nurture the process? Be there when we are needed. Wetland restoration takes time; sometimes more, sometimes less. Some aspects can literally take place overnight, in a few months, a few years or even over a few decades. Re-wet a damaged surface and watch long dormant seeds sprout, rhizomes reach out, flowers bloom and pollen blow in the wind.

Restoration takes time. First reverse the downward spiral. Stop the headcut, plug the ditch, spread the water. “If it ain’t gettin worse, it’s gettin better.” Wetland vegetation will see to that.

Wetlands have been abused for generations. Drained, plowed, over grazed, roaded, encroached upon, buried, inundated, converted,” improved”.

What really happens when you drain the swamp? You lose natural flood control capability. You lose the base flow needed to sustain a live stream through drought. In New Mexico, you lose key habitat needed to sustain most species of native wildlife. You release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and reduce the ability of the soil to sequester it. You turn green places brown.

How can you restore a wetland?

  • Stop the bleeding.
  • Remove the stressors.
  • Reconnect the water source.
  • Raise or stabilize the outlet.
  • Re-spread surface flow.
  • Re-establish native vegetation.
  • Sit back and wait.
  • Tweak the process.
  • Wait.
  • Etc.

I will be describing various treatments used by me and my cohorts in future blog posts. Let’s advance the process! Let’s restore wetlands where we can.

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