Winter 2008
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Woods of Wisdom

Winter 2008

 

"All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise; that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.  The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively, the land ... a land ethic changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land - community to plain member and citizen of it ... it implies respect for his fellow members, and so also respect for the community as such."

                                                                                                        --- Aldo Leopold, "Sand County Almanac"

 

 

The Worship of Nature

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

The harp at Nature's advent strung
Has never ceased to play;
The song the stars of morning sung
Has never died away.

And prayer is made, and praise is given,
By all things near and far;
The ocean looketh up to heaven,
And mirrors every star.

Its waves are kneeling on the strand,
as kneels the human knee,
their white locks bowing to the sand,
the priesthood of the sea!

They pour their glittering treasures forth,
Their gifts of pearl they bring,
And all the listening hills of earth
Take up the song they sing.

The green earth sends its incense up
From many a mountain shrine;
From folded leaf and dewy cup
She pours her sacred wine.

The mists above the morning rills
Rise white as wings of prayer;
The altar-curtains of the hills
Are sunset's purple air.

The winds with hymns of praise are loud,
Or low with sobs of pain,
The thunder-organ of the cloud,
The dropping tears of rain.

With drooping head and branches crossed
The twilight forest grieves,
Or speaks with tongues of Pentecost
From all its sunlit leaves.

The blue sky is the temple's arch,
Its transept earth and air,
The music of its starry march
The chorus of a prayer.

So Nature keeps the reverent frame

 

Wetlands – a priceless natural resource

This article is from the Environmental Protection Agency site on Wetlands. To view the EPA

information about wetlands on the Internet, go to this site:

http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/vital/nature.html

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs.

Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season.

Water saturation (hydrology) largely determines how the soil develops and the types of plant and animal communities living in and on the soil. Wetlands may support both aquatic and terrestrial species. The prolonged presence of water creates conditions that favor the growth of specially adapted plants (hydrophytes) and promote the development of characteristic wetland (hydric) soils

An immense variety of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals can be part of a wetland ecosystem. Physical and chemical features such as climate, landscape shape (topology), geology, and the movement and abundance of water help to determine the plants and animals that inhabit each wetland. The complex, dynamic relationships among the organisms inhabiting the wetland environment are referred to as food webs. This is why wetlands in Texas, North Carolina, and Alaska differ from one another.
Wetlands can be thought of as "biological supermarkets." They provide great volumes of food that attract many animal species. These animals use wetlands for part of or all of their life-cycle. Dead plant leaves and stems break down in the water to form small particles of organic material called "detritus." This enriched material feeds many small aquatic insects, shellfish, and small fish that are food for larger predatory fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals.
The functions of a wetland and the values of these functions to human society depend on a complex set of relationships between the wetland and the other ecosystems in the watershed. A watershed is a geographic area in which water, sediments, and dissolved materials drain from higher elevations to a common low-lying outlet or basin a point on a larger stream, lake, underlying aquifer, or estuary.
Wetlands play an integral role in the ecology of the watershed. The combination of shallow water, high levels of nutrients, and primary productivity is ideal for the development of organisms that form the base of the food web and feed many species of fish, amphibians, shellfish, and insects. Many species of birds and mammals rely on wetlands for food, water, and shelter, especially during migration and breeding.
Wetlands' microbes, plants, and wildlife are part of global cycles for water, nitrogen, and sulfur. Furthermore, scientists are beginning to realize that atmospheric maintenance may be an additional wetlands function. Wetlands store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Thus wetlands help to moderate global climate conditions.

 

 

Wetlands and People

Only recently have we begun to understand the importance of the functions that wetlands perform. Far from being useless, disease- ridden places, wetlands provide values that no other ecosystem can, including natural water quality improvement, flood protection, shoreline erosion control, opportunities for recreation and aesthetic appreciation, and natural products for our use at no cost. Wetlands can provide one or more of these functions. Protecting wetlands in turn can protect our safety and welfare.

Water Quality and Hydrology


Wetlands have important filtering capabilities for intercepting surface- water runoff from higher dry land before the runoff reaches open water. As the runoff water passes through, the wetlands retain excess nutrients and some pollutants, and reduce sediment that would clog waterways and affect fish and amphibian egg development. In performing this filtering function, wetlands save us a great deal of money. For example, a 1990 study showed that, without the Congaree Bottomland Hardwood Swamp in South Carolina, the area would need a $5 million waste water treatment plant.
In addition to improving water quality through filtering, some wetlands maintain stream flow during dry periods, and many replenish groundwater. Many Americans depend on groundwater for drinking.

 

Flood Protection


Wetlands function as natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, snowmelt, groundwater and flood waters. Trees, root mats, and other wetland vegetation also slow the speed of flood waters and distribute them more slowly over the floodplain. This combined water storage and braking action lowers flood heights and reduces erosion. Wetlands within and downstream of urban areas are particularly valuable, counteracting the greatly increased rate and volume of surface- water runoff from pavement and buildings.
The holding capacity of wetlands helps control floods and prevents water logging of crops. Preserving and restoring wetlands, together with other water retention, can often provide the level of flood control otherwise provided by expensive dredge operations and levees. The bottomland hardwood- riparian wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored at least 60 days of floodwater. Now they store only 12 days because most have been filled or drained.

erosion control, opportunities for recreation and aesthetic appreciation, and natural products for our use at no cost. Wetlands can provide one or more of these functions. Protecting wetlands in turn can protect our safety and welfare.

 

 

 

Shoreline Erosion

 
The ability of wetlands to control erosion is so valuable that some states are restoring wetlands in coastal areas to buffer the storm surges from hurricanes and tropical storms. Wetlands at the margins of lakes, rivers, bays, and the ocean protect shorelines and stream banks against erosion. Wetland plants hold the soil in place with their roots, absorb the energy of waves, and break up the flow of stream or river currents.

 

Fish and Wildlife Habitat

River Otter

Lutra canadensis


More than one-third of the United States' threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands, and nearly half use wetlands at some point in their lives. Many other animals and plants depend on wetlands for survival.
Estuarine and marine fish and shellfish, various birds, and certain mammals must have coastal wetlands to survive. Most commercial and game fish breed and raise their young in coastal marshes and estuaries. Menhaden, flounder, sea trout, spot, croaker, and striped bass are among the more familiar fish that depend on coastal wetlands. Shrimp, oysters, clams, and blue and Dungeness crabs likewise need these wetlands for food, shelter, and breeding grounds.
For many animals and plants, like wood ducks, muskrat, cattails, and swamp rose, inland wetlands are the only places they can live. Beaver may actually create their own wetlands. For others, such as striped bass, peregrine falcon, otter, black bear, raccoon, and deer, wetlands provide important food, water, or shelter. Many of the U.S. breeding bird populations-- including ducks, geese, woodpeckers, hawks, wading birds, and many song-birds-- feed, nest, and raise their young in wetlands. Migratory waterfowl use coastal and inland wetlands as resting, feeding, breeding, or nesting grounds for at least part of the year. Indeed, an international agreement to protect wetlands of international importance was developed because some species of migratory birds are completely dependent on certain wetlands and would become extinct if those wetlands were destroyed.

food web

 

Natural Products for Our Economy

 
We use a wealth of natural products from wetlands, including fish and shellfish, blueberries, cranberries, timber, and wild rice, as well as medicines that are derived from wetland soils and plants. Many of the nation's fishing and shell fishing industries harvest wetland- dependent species; the catch is valued at $15 billion a year. In the Southeast, for example, nearly all the commercial catch and over half of the recreational harvest are fish and shellfish that depend on the estuary- coastal wetland system. Louisiana's coastal marshes produce an annual commercial fish and shellfish harvest that amounted to 1.2 billion pounds worth $244 million in 1991. Wetlands are habitats for fur-bearers like muskrat, beaver, and mink as well as reptiles such as alligators. The nation's harvest of muskrat pelts alone is worth over $70 million annually.

 

Recreation and Aesthetics

 
Wetlands have recreational, historical, scientific, and cultural values. More than half of all U.S. adults (98 million) hunt, fish, birdwatch or photograph wildlife. They spend a total of $59.5 billion annually. Painters and writers continue to capture the beauty of wetlands on canvas and paper, or through cameras, and video and sound recorders. Others appreciate these wonderlands through hiking, boating, and other recreational activities. Almost everyone likes being on or near the water; part of the enjoyment is the varied, fascinating lifeforms.

 

Status and Trends

Current Situation


The lower 48 states contained an estimated 105.5 million acres of wetlands in 1997. This is an area about the size of California. In the 1980s, an estimated 170-200 million acres of wetland existed in Alaska-- covering slightly more than half of the state-- while Hawaii had 52,000 acres. Next to Alaska, Florida (11 million), Louisiana (8.8 million), Minnesota (8.7 million), and Texas (7.6 million) have the largest wetland acreage.

In the 1600s, over 220 million acres of wetlands are thought to have existed in the lower 48 states. Since then, extensive losses have occurred, and over half of our original wetlands have been drained and converted to other uses. The years from the mid-1950s to the mid- 1970s were a time of major wetland loss, but since then the rate of loss has decreased.

Between 1986 and 1997, an estimated 58,500 acres of wetlands were lost each year in the conterminous United States. Various factors have contributed to the decline in the loss rate including implementation and enforcement of wetland protection measures and elimination of some incentives for wetland drainage. Public education and outreach about the value and functions of wetlands, private land initiatives, coastal monitoring and protection programs, and wetland restoration and creation actions have also helped reduce overall wetland losses.

In addition to these losses, many other wetlands have suffered degradation of functions, although calculating the magnitude of the degradation is difficult.

These losses, as well as degradation, have greatly diminished our nation's wetlands resources; as a result, we no longer have the benefits they provided. The increase in flood damages, drought damages, and the declining bird populations are, in part, the result of wetlands degradation and destruction.

Wetlands have been degraded in ways that are not as obvious as direct physical destruction or degradation. Other threats have included chemical contamination, excess nutrients, and sediment from air and water. Global climate change could affect wetlands through increased air temperature; shifts in precipitation; increased frequency of storms, droughts, and floods; increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration; and sea level rise. All of these impacts could affect species composition and wetland functions.

 

Major Causes of Wetland Loss and Degradation

Human Actions
- Drainage
- Dredging and stream channelization
- Deposition of fill material
- Diking and damming
- Tilling for crop production
- Levees
- Logging
- Mining
- Construction
- Runoff
- Air and water pollutants
- Changing nutrient levels
- Releasing toxic chemicals
- Introducing nonnative species
- Grazing by domestic animals

Natural Threats
- Erosion
- Subsidence
- Sea level rise
- Droughts
- Hurricanes and other storms

 

Wetlands Protection

The federal government protects wetlands through regulations (like Section 404 of the Clean Water Act), economic incentives and disincentives (for example, tax deductions for selling or donating wetlands to a qualified organization and the "Swampbuster" provisions of the Food Security Act), cooperative programs, and acquisition (for example, establishing national wildlife refuges). You can find out more about these mechanisms by calling the Wetlands Hotline (1-800-832-7828).
Beyond the federal level, a number of states have enacted laws to regulate activities in wetlands, and some counties and towns have adopted local wetlands protection ordinances or have changed the way development is permitted. Most coastal states have significantly reduced losses of coastal wetlands through protective laws. Few states, however, have laws specifically regulating activities in inland wetlands, although some states and local governments have non-regulatory programs that help protect wetlands.
Recently, partnerships to manage whole watersheds have developed among federal, state, tribal, and local governments; nonprofit organizations; and private landowners. The goal of these partnerships is to implement comprehensive, integrated watershed protection approaches. A watershed approach recognizes the inter- connectedness of water, land, and wetlands resources and results in more complete solutions that address more of the factors causing wetland degradation. The government achieves the restoration of former or degraded wetlands under the Clean Water Act Section 404 program as well as through watershed protection initiatives. Together, partners can share limited resources to find the best solutions to protect and restore America's natural resources.
While regulation, economic incentives, and acquisition programs are important, they alone cannot protect the majority of our remaining wetlands. Education of the public and efforts in conjunction with states, local governments, and private citizens are helping to protect wetlands and to increase appreciation of the functions and values of wetlands. The rate of wetlands loss has been slowing, but we still have work to do. You can be a part. Approximately 75 percent of wetlands are privately owned, so individual landowners are critical in protecting these national treasures.

School Children and Other Groups Visit Wetlands to Learn About the Environment and its Relationship to Wildlife Protection and Water Quality

What You Can Do
Despite the efforts of governments and private conservation organizations, pressures that destroy wetlands will continue. The problems of degradation of wetlands from pollution, urban encroachment, groundwater withdrawals, partial drainage, and other actions also require attention.
Many opportunities exist for private citizens, corporations, government agencies, and other groups to work together to slow the rate of wetland loss and to improve the quality of our remaining wetlands. First, state and local governments need to be encouraged to establish programs to effectively protect wetlands, especially inland wetlands, within their borders. Second, because individual landowners and corporations own many of the nation's wetlands, they are in a key position to determine the fate of wetlands on their properties. Finally, all citizens, whether or not they own wetlands, can help protect wetlands by supporting wetlands conservation initiatives.
Wetlands are an important part of our national heritage. Our economic well-being and quality of life largely depend on our nation's wealth of natural resources, and wetlands are the vital link between our land and water resources. As wetlands are lost, the remaining wetlands become even more valuable. We have already lost many of our nation's wetlands since America was first settled. We must now take positive steps to protect wetlands to ensure that the functions and related values they provide will be preserved for present and future generations.

 

What You Can Do


Despite the efforts of governments and private conservation organizations, pressures that destroy wetlands will continue. The problems of degradation of wetlands from pollution, urban encroachment, groundwater withdrawals, partial drainage, and other actions also require attention.
Many opportunities exist for private citizens, corporations, government agencies, and other groups to work together to slow the rate of wetland loss and to improve the quality of our remaining wetlands. First, state and local governments need to be encouraged to establish programs to effectively protect wetlands, especially inland wetlands, within their borders. Second, because individual landowners and corporations own many of the nation's wetlands, they are in a key position to determine the fate of wetlands on their properties. Finally, all citizens, whether or not they own wetlands, can help protect wetlands by supporting wetlands conservation initiatives.
Wetlands are an important part of our national heritage. Our economic well-being and quality of life largely depend on our nation's wealth of natural resources, and wetlands are the vital link between our land and water resources. As wetlands are lost, the remaining wetlands become even more valuable. We have already lost many of our nation's wetlands since America was first settled. We must now take positive steps to protect wetlands to ensure that the functions and related values they provide will be preserved for present and future generations.

How Can I Make a Difference?

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·         Get involved find out where wetlands exist near your home, try to learn more about them, and support educational efforts.

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·         Support wetlands and watershed protection initiatives by public agencies and private organizations.

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·         Purchase federal duck stamps from your local post office to support wetland acquisition.

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·         Participate in the Clean Water Act Section 404 program and state regulatory programs by reviewing public notices and, in appropriate cases, commenting on permit applications.

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·         Encourage neighbors, developers, and state and local governments to protect the function and value of wetlands in your watershed.

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·         Rather than draining or filling wetlands, seek compatible uses involving minimal wetland alteration, such as waterfowl production, fur harvest, hay and forage, wild rice production, hunting and trapping leases, and selective timber harvest.

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·         Select upland rather than wetlands sites for development projects and avoid wetland alteration or degradation during project construction.

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·         Maintain wetlands and adjacent buffer strips as open space.

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·         Learn more about wetland restoration activities in your area; seek and support opportunities to restore degraded wetlands.

 

Additional information concerning wetlands protection can be obtained from the EPA Wetlands Hotline (contractor operated)

 at (800) 832-7828 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm EST.
E-mail address: wetlands.hotline@epamail.epa.gov

·

Additional information concerning wetlands protection can be obtained from the EPA Wetlands Hotline (contractor operated)

at (800) 832-7828 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm EST.
E-mail address: wetlands.hotline@epamail.epa.gov

 

Additional sources of information about wetlands can be found on these Internet sites:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

http://www.fws.gov/nwi/

 

This Fish & Wildlife site has extensive resources about wetland plants, including an interactive identification program, as well as links to other resources on the Internet

http://www.fws.gov/nwi/plants.htm

 

Wetlands International

http://www.wetlands.org/

 

United States Geological Survey (USGS) National Wetlands Research Center (NWRC)

http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov /

 

NWRC Education, Outreach, and Training

http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/educ_out.htm

 

Illinois Department of Natural Resources – wetlands

http://dnr.state.il.us/wetlands/ 

 

Prairie Rivers Network

http://www.prairierivers.org/

 

Chicago Wilderness – Illinois Wetlands

http://www.chicagowilderness.org/explore/see/wetlands/index.cfm

 

The Nature Conservancy – Illinois

http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/illinois/

 

Illinois Department of Natural Resources

http://dnr.state.il.us/wetlands/ 

 

Of Frogs and Salamanders

    Spring Peeper

    Pseudacris crucifer

The sound of spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) signals to us the end of winter. These small eastern frogs, whose call signals the change of seasons, need the wetlands to survive as do many of the frog and salamander species found around the globe. This is why frogs disappear when their habitats are altered or destroyed by land development and pollution.

Why be concerned about frogs and salamanders? You can probably come up with a number of reasons, but a primary consideration is that all life is sacred and connected to all other life. Frogs consume many insects that we don’t like to have around, such as mosquitoes. In turn, frogs become food for great blue herons, river otters, largemouth bass, kingfishers and other wildlife.

Frogs and salamanders are also some of the best indicators we have of the general state of the Earth. Because these amphibians can tell us when the land is unhealthy, or the air is unclean, many scientists believe that frogs and salamanders are issuing a global warning to humankind. Decreasing populations worldwide, as well as the extinction of many species, have lead scientists to study the distribution, abundance and health of frogs to try to determine if habitat problems are the cause. Scientists are even more concerned about salamanders. Many of them live in two worlds, moving back and forth between uplands and wetlands. They come into a marsh to breed, then crawl up into the forest to feed, search for a safe shelter, or spend the winter. Destruction of either habitat is fatal to them.                                                   

Wood Frog

                                                                                        Rana sylvatica

Water pollution, air pollution, acid rain, and destruction of the wetland environments lead to disappearance of frogs and other amphibian species. If you can no longer hear the song of frogs where you have heard them before, you know that the environment is in trouble – the frogs are gone because the wetland could no longer support them. This indicates that something is missing that they need – clean food and water, shelter, and a place to raise their young. Their absence in the environment also means that species that depend on them also will disappear.

Like scientists, you can take field notes on frog populations. Besides conducting frog counts, you can also record their sounds with a tape recorder. Some research money is available for this work, so contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to find   out how you can participate. If frogs are abundant in the wetland, pond or stream area that you visit, the air and water quality are probably good. If there seems to be a shortage of frogs, it is time to improve the air and water.

Remember that amphibians are valuable to the places where they live. Populations of many species of animals have been harmed by over collecting, so keep your frog or frog egg collecting to a minimum. A few frogs are great for aquarium observations, but if we take too many from their homes, they will vanish, just as they do from pollution.

Resources:

Save Our Wetland – An Audubon Book, by Ron Herschi

Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Illinois, by Christopher A. Phillips, Ronald A. Brandon, & Edward O. Moll

The Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians, edited by Dr. Tim Halliday & Dr. Kraig Adler

            Plains Leopard Frog

Rana blairi

 

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last updated on December 9, 2011