CARING FOR YOUR WETLAND
Wetlands are lands that are saturated with or covered by shallow water for part or all of the year creating wet soils and supporting water-loving plants.
Wetlands vary from very large complexes connected by streams, to small wetlands that lie in poorly drained depressions in the landscape, to fringes along the edges of lakes and rivers.
Whatever the size, wetlands have habitat that is critical for Okanagan wildlife and provide valuable benefits to humans.
There are five types of wetlands. In the Okanagan-Similkameen, wetlands include shallow ponds, marshes, swamps, fens, and bogs. Even if they dry out completely in summer, they are still classified as wetlands.
Wetlands are one of the rarest and most scenic natural habitats
in the Okanagan and Similkameen regions.
If you would like more information about our initiatives regarding wetlands in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys that may be useful on your working property, please contact us.
soft or soggy ground
seeps or springs
depressions that periodically fill with water
depressions that have different vegetation than upland areas
areas that you ditch to dry out
areas where equipment gets stuck
crop stress related to excess moisture
You may have a wetland on your property or in your community if you have:
Can you figure out which of these are wetlands?
All of these photos are wetlands! Most wetlands have water all year round, but some may appear dry in summer, with water lying just below the surface. If you are unsure of whether or not you have a wetland on your property and would like to know, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Wetlands that dry out in summer are called ephemeral wetlands, and they are just as important to wildlife as ones that contain water year round. These temporary ‘ponds’ hold water long enough to support all or a portion of an animal’s life cycle. For example, frog eggs hatch, turn into tadpoles, and then grow to adult forms by the time the water disappears in summer.
Why is your wetland so important?
Wetlands are one of the Earth’s most productive ecosystems.
They act as natural filters by cleaning the water before it returns to our rivers, lakes, and streams.
Wetlands act as sponges, absorbing large amounts of water from rainfall which reduces flooding.
Wetlands recharge groundwater and provide a buffer against drought.
Wetlands cool the surrounding environment and regulate temperatures.
Wetland hold a multitude of medicinal and food plants.
Wetlands provide habitat for over 600 species of wildlife including more than one-third of Canada’s species at risk.
Wetlands are important stop-overs for migratory birds.
Wetlands give us a lush green place to enjoy clean air, water, and natural beauty.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR WETLAND?
Become a Wildlife Habitat Steward with the Okanagan-Similkameen Stewardship Society!
In the Okanagan-Similkameen, 85% of our historical wetlands have already been lost. Wetlands now cover only 4% of the region, a significantly low area considering the diversity of plant and animal species that wetlands support and the important ecological and economic functions they provide. Studies have shown that wetlands are worth $2,007.00/ha/year. In the Okanagan, wetlands are worth $313,792,030 per year.
Establish a riparian buffer zone
Keep your wetland healthy by establishing a buffer zone along the shoreline. A riparian buffer zone is defined as a permanent strip of vegetation, generally between the wetland and upland habitat or cropland/pasture. It may consist of native grasses and forbs, as well as shrubs and trees. The riparian area should be at least 30 feet (10 metres) wide around the wetland basin.
The landowners of this wetland established a buffer zone and planted it with native riparian vegetation.
Let it grow, don't mow!
Resist the urge to mow the grass to the edge of your wetland. Riparian areas should have tall grasses and wild, messy looking shrubs and trees. If you have dead and dying trees, leave them as they provide food and shelter for many birds, amphibians, and small mammals. Floating logs on the water provide landing sites for turtles and birds.
Prevent water pollution
Hazardous chemicals, fuel, and pesticides can contaminate the water even if applied or spilled far away. Be sure to follow the best management practices for their storage, handling, and application.
Fertilizers, manure and wood piles can leach out nutrients, which make their way into the wetlands. Too many nutrients in the wetland can create algal blooms that affect oxygen levels in the water, thus killing some of the aquatic organisms. Make sure to store these as far away from the wetland as possible.
Road water runoff and storm drains sometimes empty into wetlands. Assess where the water goes and figure out if changes need to be made.
Plant a tree
If your riparian buffer zone looks barren and devoid
of vegetation, consider planting. Find a local nursery
that carries native plants specifically for riparian areas.
Do not use ornamentals or exotic species like Purple
Loosestrife or Yellow Flag Iris as they become a
problem and take over wetlands. Some of the plants
that you could use are Giant Wild Rye grass, cattails,
wild roses, Red-Osier Dogwood, Sandbar or Bebb’s
Willow, Trembling Aspen, Water Birch, and
Enhance wildlife habitat
Mature trees are often missing from wetland shorelines. These are important for animals for nesting, perching, and shelter. All wildlife play important roles in wetlands. For example, bats and birds are excellent at eating adult mosquitoes, while turtles and frogs eat mosquito larvae growing in the water. Having a variety of trees for different wildlife species means your mosquito population is naturally controlled.
Leave dead or dying trees standing where safe to do so. These are used by birds and other animals for nesting, perching, and shelter.
Marsh Wren Red-winged Blackbird Nashville Warbler
Install a bird nesting box. There are many types of bird boxes, each designed for different kinds of birds. A Wood Duck, for example, cannot use a bluebird box with an entrance hole that is small. Likewise, a bluebird is very unlikely to nest in a large Wood Duck nest. We recommend building and installing either a bluebird box or a screech-owl box, which can second as a Wood Duck nest box. Nest box plans are available on several different websites.
Install a bat box! Just one Little Brown Bat can
catch a thousand or more mosquito-sized insects
in an hour. Bats eat many insects including
Cucumber and June Beetles, stinkbugs,
leafhoppers, and cutworm and Corn Earworm
Moths – all well-known pests. For more information,
Western Painted Turtles need sandy areas to nest and lay their eggs in. Create a nesting area by adding weed-free sand/gravel/silt on a south facing slope or shoreline near the wetland. Also put logs or basking platforms in the water for the Western Painted Turtles.
Clean up the garbage
Sometimes agricultural waste such as prunings, compost, or garbage is dumped next to or in wetlands. These can contaminate or add excessive nutrients to the water. Find an alternative location for these and allow the riparian vegetation to grow vibrantly around the wetland.
Invite school or community groups to help clean up your wetland!
Keep ATVs out of the mud!
ATVs damage wetlands. Drive around your wetland, not through it.
Be a weed warrior
Familiarize yourself with invasive non-native
plants and take action against them. Remove
invasive non-native weeds. Plant native
riparian trees and shrubs in areas impacted
by weeds. Monitor recovery of native species
and remove any new weeds. Encourage
adjacent property owners to participate in a
cooperative long-term weed control program.
For more information visit
Keep pet fish out of the wetland
Goldfish are your typical pet fish that has been sold world-wide for use in aquariums, backyard ponds and water gardens for hundreds of years. Too often, goldfish are released into nearby ponds, lakes or streams by people who no longer want them. These non-native invasive fish are able to tolerate fluctuations in water temperature and water with low levels of dissolved oxygen (typical of shallow wetlands). Goldfish have a severe impact on local fish and amphibian populations as they feed on frog eggs, tadpoles, snails, insect larvae, and aquatic plants.
Please don’t dump unwanted pet fish in your natural wetland. Take them back to the pet store. If you are trying to control mosquito populations, please install swallow nest boxes or bat boxes, instead of introducing non-native fish into the wetland. Bats and birds prey on mosquitoes and other insects and need all the help we can give them!
If you suspect that you have goldfish in your wetland, please contact us.
Keep an eye out for bullies
The American Bullfrog is an unwanted invader to the Okanagan. The largest of North American frogs, it can grow to the size of a dinner plate and weigh half a kilogram. Native to eastern North America, it has been transported world-wide for its use as food (ex. sautéed frog legs). Unfortunately, when bullfrogs are released into Okanagan wetlands where they don’t have natural predators, they multiply and devour our native species of frogs, snakes, insects, small turtles, birds, and even small mammals.
Adult males have a distinctive and booming “jug-o’-rum” call that can be heard around lakes and ponds in the late spring and summer.
You can listen to their calls at: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/frogwatch/.
Contact us if you hear or see a bullfrog. Please don’t kill frogs that you think might be bullfrogs. The Columbia Spotted Frog looks similar to the bullfrog and correct identification can be tricky. Frogs are also protected under the Wildlife Act and permits are required to handle them. Contact us for assistance.
Sustainable Agriculture Tip: Nest boxes
Sustainable Agriculture Tip: Wildlife corridors
Sustainable Agriculture Tip: Eliminate pesticide use
The most important thing you can do for your private wetland is protect and enjoy it. Landowners with wetlands are eligible as Wildlife Habitat Stewards.
This program provides landowners with financial and professional support to help take care of wetlands.
Your wetland is unique and very important. You can make a difference by protecting it!