Dan Kraus, Senior Conservation Biologist, Nature Conservancy of Canada. Photo submitted.

Editorial: Wetlands are disappearing fast

Urgent action is required

Canada is home to 25 per cent of the world’s wetlands, which are important for the health of Canada and the health of our planet. In Alberta, we see proof all around us. The Bow River to and the North Saskatchewan River, which flow through Alberta’s largest cities, are two examples of crucial ecosystems that support a multitude of plant and animal life while providing both valuable uses for local economies and great recreation spots.

These ecosystems, however, are disappearing very quickly due to residential and commercial development, conversion to agriculture, invasive species and pollution.

Every day, important wetlands are being lost across Canada.

Since 1900, more than 64 per cent of the world’s wetlands have been lost. Nearly 50 per cent of this has occurred since 1970.

In Canada, we have seen wetlands disappear in the places where we need them the most. In settled areas of Alberta, 64 per cent of the slough and marsh wetlands have disappeared, according to the Institute of Wetlands and Waterfowl Research.

As we lose these places, we also lose both the natural world and the important environmental services that healthy wetlands provide.

Many wildlife species rely on wetlands. When wetlands disappear, the species that depend on these habitats have nowhere else to live. Some species then become endangered, or no longer live wild in Canada.

Wetlands are disappearing so fast that urgent action is needed to conserve the ones that are left. Wetlands are among the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) most important habitats that we are working to conserve. We also work to restore wetlands that have been damaged to improve these natural spaces for migratory birds, amphibians, fishes and other wildlife.

To date, NCC has secured over 379,000 acres (153,375 hectares) of habitat for migratory birds and other wetland species under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

Wetlands play an important role in the health of our country and our communities. They play a critical role in absorbing and storing carbon pollution. They also remove sediments, excess nutrients and even bacteria from our drinking water. Like a giant paper towel, they absorb and hold water to buffer our cities and farms from floods and droughts.

In addition to their importance for nature, many of NCC’s wetland areas inspire Canadians to connect with nature. Wetlands are great for hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing and canoeing.

The federal government, through the Natural Areas Conservation Program, and the provincial government’s Alberta Land Trust Grant program have been important partners of NCC and other conservation groups in helping to preserve wetlands. By encouraging these investments in nature, we can protect vital habitat and services that wetlands provide to Albertans.

Canada has committed to protecting 17 per cent of its land and inland waters by 2020. We need to focus this conservation on the places that matter most for nature and matter the most for people. Private land conservation helps both by conserving places that are important for species protection, and for local communities.

Each of us can help Canada be an example across the world by saving our wetlands, helping to address climate change, and by building a natural legacy for our children and grandchildren. By supporting conservation efforts and by sharing your thoughts with friends and various levels of government and the business community, every person can help make every day a wetlands day.

Dan Kraus

Senior Conservation Biologist

Nature Conservancy of Canada

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