How often do you think about wetlands? The answer for many of you will probably be once, maybe, twice a year. And for a few of you, you’ll have tilted your head and asked – why would I think about wetlands?
At the Department of Environmental Protection, we think about wetlands a lot: how much benefit they provide to wildlife and our water quality, the health of our local wetlands, and how to educate their importance to County residents.
This is why we love May so much. May is American Wetlands Month, a time when we celebrate wetlands and teach others about their importance to our environment, health and economy.
Wetlands are where land and water meet – they are soaked with water at least part of the year, and in many places, all year long. The prolonged saturation of the soils plays an important role in determining the types of plant and animal communities that live in wetland habitats. According to the EPA, wetlands can be found in every county and climate in the U.S.
Wetlands are extremely important ecosystems, and they include marshes, swamps and bogs. Just a few of the benefits they provide include:
One of the rewards of being a Water Quality Specialist for the County is that I get to spend a lot of time out of doors. Each spring, we conduct a survey of the stream bugs (benthic macroinvertebrates) at select locations throughout the County to aid in assessing stream health. I recently found myself working in Ten Mile Creek, which is considered by many to be one of the better County streams.
As I looked around me I could see that this particular stream was being fed by an intricate system of springs and seeps. Skunk cabbage was emerging in rich green patches from the surrounding wetlands and sun glistened off of little rivulets of water dripping from the stream bank.
These wetland features play a crucial role in the stream system function. First, the wetlands act like a giant sponge to soak up runoff from rain and snow melt. Then, nutrients and fine sediment are filtered out. Finally, the springs and seeps slowly release the water into the stream. Here, one of our specialists is shown mapping the extent of one of the wetland features.
Some of the wetland areas around Ten Mile Creek are seasonal pools – depressions which collect and store water on a temporary basis. They promote infiltration of groundwater and provide temporary refuge and breeding locations for some species of salamanders, frogs, toads and newts. On a recent trip to view the seasonal pools we were too late in the season to observe spotted salamanders breeding. However, a closer look revealed hundreds of tadpoles swimming amongst the leaves.
The surrounding wetlands help maintain the health and habitat of Ten Mile Creek. They provide this vital service to streams like Ten Mile Creek across the County and the Country.
In honor of American Wetlands Month this May, try to make the journey to see a wetland, or think about the various ways you can help protect these important habitats. The salamanders (and DEP staff) will thank you for it!
By Eric Naibert, Aquatic Biologist, Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection