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Five Island Lake Assoc.

Benefits of Wetlands

By Staff | Nov 17, 2020

A wetland is a natural formation that provides habitat for wildlife and fish, bird nesting, is good for groundwater, is home to beneficial plants that act as nitrate filters near lake water and reduces flooding. Wetlands are more commonly known as marshes, ponds, swamps, deltas, lagoons, bogs and floodplains. Sometimes the eye cannot distinguish a wetland because during the growing season it is covered with native plants such as ironweed, St. John’s wort, flat-topped aster, blazing star, blue vervain, giant manna grass and other grasses and forbs.

If you walk onto a wetland you understand its definition. It is an area where water covers the soil or is just beneath the surface most of the year or at various times during the year. A wetland can be located near coastal areas or inland.

The Wetland Initiative states that “Wetlands provide an array of valuable ‘services’ for society and the environment. Besides sustaining a huge number of plant and animal species, they can improve water quality, reduce erosion and even moderate the effects of climate change.”

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa has lost most of its natural wetlands. “Prior to European settlement, wetlands covered four to six million acres or 11% of Iowa’s surface area. Wetlands were naturally a part of every watershed in the state but nearly 95% of them have been drained.”

Projects around the state have targeted the restoration of wetlands. In late 2016, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) purchased 185 acres adjacent to Silver Lake in Palo Alto County. The Foundation has implemented a 5-year restoration of the wetlands, meadow and prairie. Heather Jobst, INHF’s senior land conservation director, said of the project, “A major portion of the water flowing into Silver Lake flows through this property. So, from a water quality standpoint, restoring this area allows natural filtering of the water that feeds into the lake.”

The fifth island at the north end of Five Island Lake has marshy areas which makes it home to various birds, deer and a host of small mammals. The Audubon society has credited wetlands for providing habitat for mallards, Canada geese, bobolinks, black terns, herons, swamp sparrows, sedge wrens and white pelicans. Why is it important to maintain space for these fowl? Birds keep systems in balance, pollinate plants, disperse seeds, scavenge carcasses, and recycle nutrients. It isn’t just water that benefits from a wetland.

The Wetlands Initiative explains that, “Wetlands have the power to clean water. Because water moves more slowly in a wetland and the vegetation is rich and diverse, there’s time and opportunity for physical, chemical and biological processes to occur.”

The wetlands that are in this part of the state work to improve both groundwater, lake water and wildlife habitat. It is interesting to witness what nature can do if we only cooperate.

Questions – occasionally this column will end with a question to challenge your water knowledge. This week’s challenge – What is the original historical name for a wetland?

Submitted by Diane Weiland