Celebrating World Wetlands Day Today!
Why Wetlands Matter, and How They Can Be Restored Naturally.
(Spoiler Alert: It’s Beavers!)
Wetlands are among the most biologically-productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to coral reefs and rainforests. World Wetlands Day, which takes place on February 2, aims to raise global awareness of the vital role wetlands have for people and our planet, with a call to action to save the world’s wetlands from disappearing and restore those we have degraded.
And wetlands are more important than ever, given the mitigating effect they have on climate change. Far from wastelands, these soggy havens store valuable water, reduce wildfire damage, speed habitat recovery and reduce flooding damage from catastrophic storms. Yet, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, over 50% of America’s freshwater wetlands have been lost to draining and/or filling, and much of the remaining wetlands have been degraded.
Fortunately, the best wetland restoration specialist in the world is available to help. This potential partner is eager to restore some of the valuable wetland acreage that was lost, and they will do it for free. Who is this wetland restoration hero? The beaver!
Castor Canadensis, the North American beaver—which was nearly trapped to extinction hundreds of years ago for its fur—is making a comeback, and with it, so are many of our wetlands. Beavers use mud and sticks to build dams that turn small streams into ponded wetlands teeming with life. These beaver ponds filter streams and remove runoff fertilizers, suspended particles and toxins, making the downstream water cleaner. These valuable freshwater wetlands have been referred to as the “Earth’s kidneys.” Beaver-created wetlands also preserve, protect and grow our treasured biological assets, including plant and animal genetic diversity, and serve as critical habitat for many endangered species.
All these benefits of beavers make sense. Beavers have been creating wetlands for millions of years. Innumerable species co-evolved with the beaver to take advantage of the lush habitats they create with their dam building. This is why biologists classify beavers as “keystone species,” critical for our planet’s health.
Unfortunately, beavers are often killed when their natural dam building and tree cutting activities adversely affect human properties. It’s time to reexamine that reaction, in light of all the benefits beaver bring to our world. It is possible to peacefully coexist with beavers, thanks to many beaver conservation organizations across the country that have the expertise and tools to mitigate the unwanted effects of neighboring beavers. By letting the beaver do what they do best, we can bring back our valuable wetlands.