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. They 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.
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! Whatever the size, wetlands have habitat that is critical for Okanagan wildlife and provide valuable benefits to humans.
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:
Do you know which of these are wetlands?
All of them are wetlands!
Many 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 act as natural filters by cleaning the water before it returns to our rivers, lakes, and streams.
They act as sponges, absorbing large amounts of rainfall which helps reduce flooding.
Wetlands provide habitat for 600+ species of wildlife including 30% of Canada’s species at risk.
They recharge groundwater and provide a buffer against drought
Wetlands give us a beautiful place to enjoy clean air, clean water, and natural spaces..
Wetlands are one of the Earth’s most productive ecosystems.
They cool the surrounding environment and regulate temperatures.
Wetland hold a multitude of medicinal and food plants.
Wetlands are important stop-overs for migratory birds.
HOW CAN YOU TAKE CARE OF YOUR WETLAND?
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.
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-looking shrubs and trees. If you have dead and dying trees, leave them there if it is safe, 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 runoff goes and decide if changes need to be made.
Enhance wildlife habitat
Mature trees are often missing from wetland shorelines. 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
Pacific Willow, Trembling Aspen, Water Birch, and Black Cottonwood.
Large trees and shrubs are extremely important to wildlife for nesting,
perching, and shelter.
Leave dead or dying trees standing where safe to do so. These are
used by birds and other animals for nesting, perching, and shelter.
Install a nest box for birds. 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. Remember to keep the front of the box completely bare of any perches, porches, decorations, or anything else that predators like ravens, snakes and raccoons can use as a foothold to access the box.
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. You can also add logs or basking platforms in the water.
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 your neighbors to participate in invasive plant control too.
For more information visit https://bcinvasives.ca.
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, and aquatic insects
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.
Watch 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.
Contact us if you hear or see a bullfrog. Please don’t kill frogs that you think might be bullfrogs, as the local 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.