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World Wetlands Day — Restoring the kidneys of the Earth

Every year on February 2nd, people celebrate World Wetlands Day. The day is dedicated to bringing global awareness around the importance of wetlands and the crucial role they play for our Earth and the people on it.


World Wetlands Day title text across wetland ecosystem. World Wetlands Day 2024 theme is wetlands and well-being.
World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year, aiming to bring awareness to these vital ecosystems.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world is losing wetlands three times faster than forests. Since the 1700s, about 90 per cent of the world’s wetlands have been lost or severely degraded.[1]

 

In Alberta, most of the geographical landscape consists of prairie regions and mountain ranges. But wetlands make up around 21 per cent of the province’s surface area. Peatlands, which are bogs and fens, make up about 93 per cent of Alberta’s wetlands and are mainly located in the province’s boreal regions.[2]

 

Wetlands provide invaluable ecosystem services, which are naturally occurring systems that contribute to the overall health of humans, animals, and the environment. In particular, wetlands contribute ecosystem services such as biodiversity, carbon sequestration, erosion control, flood mitigation, drought control, pollinator habitat creation, and the production of clean air and water.


“The ecosystem services are diverse and incredibly important to our long-term sustainability, the environment, and ultimately our planet,” says Thorsten Hebben, manager of provincial operations at Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC).

“We like to characterize wetlands as the kidneys of the landscape. They filter impurities out of the water.”


Wetlands are vital to the Earth and everyone on it—including agriculture producers. For farmers, wetlands provide many ecosystem services that help their operations.


“It's the watering opportunities for their cattle, for example. It's the grass production that wetlands afford. It's the local soil moisture. It's the pollination capabilities or service that the wetlands facilitate. All those things combined make these ecosystems incredibly important on the landscape,” says Hebben.

 In turn, producers play a key role in wetland conservation. For decades, the agriculture community and DUC, one of Canada’s leading national land conservation organizations, have built a longstanding relationship that started during the Dust Bowl, also known as the Dirty Thirties.

 

In the 1930s, dust storms plagued Northern America, causing ecological and economic collapse. Due to the loss of wetlands, waterfowl populations were quickly declining. At the same time, farmers and ranchers were also feeling the dire effects of the drought—with little water on the land, agriculture production was severely affected.[3]

 

Then in 1938, DUC was established to address declining waterfowl populations and the loss of wetlands. With a common goal of restoring water sources and ecosystems such as wetlands, DUC and agriculture producers developed a partnership to restore, conserve, and protect these natural areas.[4]

 

“The lands that ag producers have been stewards of for many generations are the same lands that allow us to continue to deliver our programs,” says Hebben.

 

“Because those producers have been such great stewards, the land is oftentimes in pristine condition, and it allows us to continue to work with those producers to perpetuate the delivery of ecosystem services from those lands.”

 

Today, this partnership continues through a variety of DUC’s programs. For instance, the Marginal Areas Program and the Wetlands Restoration Lease Program, compensate landowners (oftentimes agriculture producers) for either preserving or restoring the wetlands on their land.

 

Another program is the Winter Wheat Program. DUC invests in winter wheat seed to help crop producers maximize their crop yields and profits. Winter wheat and other crops are important to many waterfowl species, and if they thrive, so do the wetlands.

“What we find is that those winter varieties create fantastic cover for nesting waterfowl. At the same time, the producers get an earlier start, and if they get an earlier start, they have an earlier harvest,” says Hebben.

 

An earlier harvest also means reducing the risk of frost and snowfall damage, ensuring that producers are not losing any of their crop or profits. There are many other collaborative programs between ag producers and DUC. It’s a partnership that’s lasted decades and continues to grow.

 

“We have a great relationship with many producers, and we're always looking to expand those relationships by finding ways to promote their success as business enterprises while also advancing our own mission and mandate,” says Hebben.

 

The agriculture community and its producers are just one piece of the puzzle. As we celebrate World Wetlands Day, Hebben reminds us of the importance of wetlands and how humans, animals, and the environment are all interconnected.

 

“All of those are so intricately interrelated and ultimately connected to our long-term sustainability and success as a species,” says Hebben.


“We're not independent. We are not disconnected—we are reliant on those systems, and we need to be aware of that. We need to be managing ourselves accordingly, and we need to be managing these ecosystems accordingly—paying them the respect that they deserve.”


 
Sources

[1] United Nations Environment Programme—World Wetlands Day 2023


[2] Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute—Alberta Wetlands Discovery Field Guide


[3] Ducks Unlimited Canada—Ducks Unlimited finds its wings


[4] Ducks Unlimited Canada—Ducks Unlimited Canada Celebrates support and celebrates Canadian agriculture

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