“For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.”
– Sandra Postel, National Geographic Society and Global Water Policy Project
Every May on the heels of Earth Day, we celebrate wetlands and their enormous value in protecting our health, quality of life and property. This is the first in a series of blogs that will explore the importance of wetlands and what the Patrick Administration is doing on many fronts to study, understand and protect them.
Massachusetts is blessed with a diversity of wetland resources from our inland red maple and cedar swamps, our rivers, creeks, lakes and ponds, to our coastal salt marshes, dunes and beaches. Wetlands filter and cleanse pollutants to protect our drinking water, absorb flood waters and buffer the effects of coastal storms to protect our homes and properties from increasingly frequent and intense storms. In addition to these benefits, wetlands provide critical nurseries and habitat for wildlife, fish and shellfish that are essential to a healthy and vibrant economy. They are also unique places for us to explore and enjoy the wonders of the natural world.
The most recent and compelling research in wetland science reveals the extraordinary role wetlands play in mitigating climate change. Increasing amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide gas is the major cause of global warming – the engine of climate change. Wetland plants, and in particular their soils, function as “carbon sinks” that bind, store and lock up carbon, inhibiting its chemical conversion to carbon dioxide gas. Wetlands occupy 3-7 percent of the global land surface yet store 30 percent of the world’s carbon, and are responsible for 25 percent of the methane emissions each year. Wetlands store an estimated 300 to 700 billion tons of carbon.
Methane gas emissions, another contributor to global warming, are minimized by temperate zone wetlands such as those in Massachusetts. In addition, a recent study from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) determined that salamanders (including those that breed in wetland vernal pools), serve as nature’s climate protecting “vacuum cleaners.” That is because leaf litter from deciduous trees contains an average of 47.5 percent carbon. This carbon, along with methane, tends to be released into the atmosphere, when shredding invertebrates eat them. Salamanders do us a big favor by eating those invertebrates, thereby keeping the carbon in the leaf litter. USFS estimated that the woodland salamanders in their study could store an estimated 179 pounds of carbon per acre of forest litter in the soil, rather than releasing this carbon into the atmosphere. Without wetlands, many salamanders could not provide this unique contribution to slowing global climate change.
Similarly, the urgency of protecting coastal wetlands was emphasized in a 2011 World Bank report that found the drainage and degradation of coastal wetlands released centuries of accumulated carbon, which you can read more about at https://portals.iucn.org/library/efiles/edocs/2011-009.pdf.
Protection and preservation of coastal wetlands, such as tidal marshes, sea-grass, wet meadows and mangrove swamps help to hold and maintain carbon in these coastal plants and soils. Of the 15 coastal deltas studied in this report, seven were found to have released more than 500 million tons of carbon dioxide each since the wetlands were drained and destroyed. Coastal wetlands destruction also compromises these wetlands’ ability to protect against storm surges, rising sea levels and other extreme weather events. With our better understanding of why wetlands are so important – my next blog will focus more specifically on recent field research and wetland assessments being undertaken by MassDEP in collaboration with other organizations that will inform our future policy and regulations. Stay tuned.
2015 DAR Agricultural Calendar: April posted on May 14
A lamb at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton. Photo by David Cawston April’s contest winner was David Cawston who photographed a spring lamb at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton. The Cummings School of …Continue Reading 2015 DAR Agricultural Calendar: April
2015 DAR Agricultural Calendar: March posted on Apr 23
Girard’s Sugarhouse in Heath, MA. The sugarhouse was built in 1887 and produces around 250-300 gallons of syrup annually. Photo by Michael Girard March’s contest winner was Michael Girard who photographed his family’s sugarhouse in Heath. Michael Girard has been a sugarmaker since 1961 when he …Continue Reading 2015 DAR Agricultural Calendar: March
2015 DAR Agricultural Calendar: February posted on Feb 25
February’s contest winner was Amanda Bettle, who photographed sheep at The Natural Resources Trust of Easton. This photo features Dog, a former 4-H show animal and sole male sheep among the nine ewes in the Natural Resources Trust of Easton (NRT) flock. It is the mission …Continue Reading 2015 DAR Agricultural Calendar: February