Wetland Feture - Wet & Wild: 

The Amazing Truth about Whistler’s Wetlands

A Hip Awareness Series brought to you by

AWARE’s Valley Bottom Wetlands and Greenbelt Committee

This Week’s Topic:

What the Heck are Wetlands and Why Should I Love Them?

Why did the student excavate the wetland? For peat's sake. How do you identify dogwoods (Cornus spp.) in a wetland? By their distinctive bark (rough, rough)! Okay, enough bad wetland jokes that only the nerdy biologists in the crowd will appreciate (yes, I told these jokes to a biologist friend and she actually laughed out loud). Now let’s get serious…

Seriously, wetlands are one of the grooviest ecosystem types around. That’s why AWARE (the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment) is writing this awareness series about wetlands – we want everyone in Whistler to share the joy of learning about how awesome our local wetlands really are.

It seems to us that wetlands have received the short end of the stick in terms of the kinds of natural spaces that people really appreciate. I mean, who doesn’t love walking through the splendor of a mossy old growth forest and who doesn’t break into song at the sight of an alpine meadow in full bloom – but what about the wetlands of the world? Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. We’d love for everyone in Whistler to look at a wetland and see more than just a bunch of water, mud and soggy brown plants. We want you to see DIVERSITY and LIFE!

Let’s start with some basics. First, exactly what the heck are wetlands? Let’s break down this extremely technical term and see what happens: WET and LAND. Well, that pretty much sums it up.

Wetlands are areas of land covered with water for long enough periods throughout the year for aquatic processes to occur. All wetlands have at least three basic characteristics in common: water, very moist soils, and plants that really like water. Pretty simple. Now, you might be asking yourself, "Why should I care about wetlands? What are they good for, anyway?" Great questions! People often overlook the importance of wetlands, but give us a chance to make a believer out of you — wetlands RULE! Here are some reasons why…

Wetlands reduce the impact of floods by slowing and storing floodwaters. Often called the sponges or the kidneys of our planet, wetlands soak up rain and snow-melt and then slowly release the water in drier seasons to keep streams and rivers flowing and groundwater aquifers full. Wetlands also help prevent soil erosion by slowing the runoff from storms and thaws.

Another amazing function of wetlands is that they actually help purify water! Wetland soils and plants filter out sediment, chemicals, pollutants and toxic materials (e.g. pesticides and road salt). The pollutants settle on the bottom of the wetland where they are gradually absorbed by wetland plants and converted into non-toxic materials. As much as 80-90% of matter is removed from water as it flows through a wetland – this is great news for fish and other aquatic creatures that need clean, clear water to live.

Speaking of critters, wetlands are rich with populations of fish, birds, reptiles and other wildlife species because of the abundance of food (it’s a natural smorgasbord), vegegative cover and water. Many migratory bird species, such as the Trumpeter Swan, depend on wetlands for feeding, breeding and nesting. Did you know that most of Whistler’s endangered, threatened or vulnerable species use local wetland habitat at some stage in their life cycle?

If this next fact isn’t a reason to LOVE WETLANDS, I don’t know what is. Wetlands play an important role in balancing global atmospheric conditions! Microbes, plants, and wildlife populations are part of global cycles for water, nitrogen, and sulfur. Wetlands store carbon within their soil and plant communities instead of releasing it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, thus helping to moderate global climate conditions.

See? Wetlands really do rule!

Whistler has lost much of its wetland habitat to development. However, there remain several incredible wetland complexes in the Whistler Valley, including the Millar Creek Wetlands, the Rainbow Park/River of Golden Dreams wetland corridor, and a special little wetland complex near the village called the White Gold Wetlands. All of these wetlands will be highlighted in the coming weeks as this awareness series continues.

The White Gold Wetlands will be the main squeeze for our AWARE Valley Bottom Wetlands Committee this spring as we strive to increase community awareness about wetland habitat in Whistler. Take the first step in loving and learning about wetlands – discover Whistler’s wetlands with us! Join us for a tour of the White Gold wetlands. We will be meeting at 10 a.m. in the parking lot of the Boot Pub every Sunday in May, beginning May 5. Call AWARE at 604-932-4457 or email aware@direct.ca for more information.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode, which will feature the fabulous White Gold Wetlands, which is now safely in the hands of a new partnership between AWARE and the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group.


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