Let’s celebrate Iowa’s wetlands on World Wetlands Day

Today is World Wetlands Day, a day when we can celebrate the fantastic ecosystem services provided free of charge, 24/7 by wetlands, the great unsung heroes of our landscape.

Restored wetland in Iowa.

Restored wetland in Iowa. (Photo: Lynn Betts/NRCS)

The story of Iowa’s wetlands is not all dragonflies and lillypads (that is, it’s not all happy).  At one time, Iowa had between 4 and 6 million acres of wetlands, but over time, 90% of more of them have been drained.  Many wetlands were drained to make way for agricultural production, but historically some were also drained based on the misconception that wetlands were related to disease and many other reasons.

But we’re learning more and more about wetlands, and today we know they’re something to celebrate.  To support that idea, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources created a wetland action plan in 2010 to  set out ways the state can protect and enhance its wetland resources.

Today, we wanted to focus on one part of the Wetlands Action Plan for Iowa, which talks about the benefits wetlands provide.  (We encourage you to download your own copy of the action plan and read the full version on pp. 10-16.)

  • Intrinsic value:  “Every wetland has its own unique look and its own unique assemblage of plants and animals.  Wetlands are part of our natural landscape and thus, a part of Iowa’s heritage.”
  • Flood mitigation:  “The role of wetland areas in floodplains was–and could be again–substantial.  Their ability to capture, store, and slow the release of excess waters is critical to curbing the effects of flooding, though not a cure-all for the immediate effects of extreme flash flood events.”
  • Water quality treatment:  “Wetlands naturally treat much of the pollution from agricultural run-off, a benefit many communities need.”
  • Wildlife and Natural Places-Related Recreation:  “Wetland areas provide year-round critical habitat for many types of wildlife, even during the harshest winter season…. Acre for acre, they are probably the most dynamic areas we have ecologically.”
  • Carbon sequestration to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions:  “Like forests and prairie, wetlands’ natural functioning also extends to the sequestration of excess carbon emissions via plant absorption.”
  • Control of pests and invasive species:  “Diverse wetlands actually help prevent overpopulation of pest and invasive species…while strong native plants leave less room for invasive plants to  take root.”

And keep your hip-waders ready:  Sharing information about the value of wetlands is a significant priority for the Iowa Environmental Council all this year; this is the first of many blog posts to come on the topic.

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