Letter to Gazette: “The importance of protecting the Valley’s wetlands”

Today’s Gazette publishes a letter from Nancy Wychorski of Northampton. She gives several reasons why wetlands should be protected, among them:

The wetlands do act as sponges when snow melts and rain threatens to overflow riverbanks.

The watershed area, of streams, swamps, etc., acts as a buffer filtering some of the pollutants from roads and housing built adjacent to bodies of water also…

Let us be proud of the natural resources in Hampshire County, such as streams, rivers, ponds and lakes, of which there is no comparison to any other county in Massachusetts, and protect them.

See also:

Wetland Function and Values (PDF, emphasis in original)
Many animals, most obviously fish, depend entirely on the water in wetlands to survive.
There are also other animals, such as amphibians, that live most of their lives in upland areas
but depend on wetlands for breeding. Spring peepers are small frogs that live in the woods
during most of the year, but return to wetlands each spring to breed. If you live near
wetlands, you may hear the chorus of peepers in a spring night. If a swamp is filled for
development, local populations of spring peepers would disappear completely.

Many mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds depend on wetlands for feeding, nesting,
escape cover, migration stopovers, and wintering habitat. Plants also grow and flourish in
wetlands. Vegetated wetlands serve as important nurseries for many young fish. Even
small wetlands that appear dry much of the time are crucial to the survival of certain species.

One type of seasonal wetland is the vernal pool. Vernal pools are most visible during the
spring months, but may be dry at other times during the year. This seasonal fluctuation
prevents them from supporting a fish population. Without the threat of fish, vernal pools
are attractive areas for amphibian breeding. Rhode Island’s vernal pools are critical
breeding areas for wood frogs and spotted salamanders. Without vernal pools and other
wetlands these species would vanish from the landscape.

More than one-third of all threatened and endangered wildlife species in the United States
live only in wetlands and nearly 50% of all threatened or endangered species use wetlands
at some point in their lives. Many rare native plants and animals of Rhode Island also
depend on wetlands for survival, such as the yellow lady slipper, American bittern, and
leopard frog…

Wetlands help control floodwaters by storing excess water during heavy periods of rain and
snowmelt. During and after a storm, rainwater flows to low-lying areas, which may be our
floodplains and swamps. Trees, roots, soil, and other vegetation hold the excess water until
it can be slowly released into streams and rivers. This process helps reduce the risk of
flooding into nearby homes.

Urban wetlands are particularly important because they help prevent flooded basements,
parking lots, and roads. When wetlands are filled or altered, their ability to hold floodwaters
is crippled. In 2001 the Pocasset River Watershed suffered one of many severe floods. This
flooding was due to approximately 700 acres of wetland loss since 1939, much of which
was floodplain loss. As a result, in the highly urbanized and industrial areas of Johnston and
Cranston, there is nowhere for the water to go during heavy periods of rain resulting in
flood damage to private properties. It is easier and less expensive to maintain existing
wetlands than it is to engineer and create stormwater drainage systems to handle the

Wetlands also provide key links in the water cycle. Many wetlands help to maintain stream
flow and aquatic resources through much of the year by releasing water from both surface
and groundwater storage. Their ability to store and slowly release water after storms not
only prevents flooding, but also helps to keep streams flowing when they might otherwise
be dry. Continually flowing streams provide water for our plant and animal communities, as
well as for drinking water and recreation…

The amount of plant material produced in many wetlands is comparable to tropical rain
forests and greatly exceeds that of temperate forests or grasslands. The large amounts of
plant material from wetlands serve as the base for food chains that support many animals…

Wetland soils and plants naturally treat stormwater pollutants and filter excess nutrients out
of rainwater by absorbing the pollutants before the water reaches rivers, streams and lakes.
Wetland plants also help to remove sediment and debris by slowing the velocity of the
water and allowing sediment to settle out before the water continues on its course. This
natural treatment system helps to improve water quality in rivers and streams. Healthy
wetlands are then able to support wildlife, supply high quality water to reservoirs, and
provide clean recreational water areas for fishing and swimming…

It is important to remember that although wetlands have the ability to cleanse storm and
waste water, if they are used solely for this purpose they can become clogged and
degraded, thus greatly reducing their benefits.

…activities such as hiking, photography,
bird watching, education, and nature study may not be dependent on the presence of
water, but are often enhanced by and focused around wetlands.

The quality of a recreational activity depends, to a great extent, on the health of the wetland
system. For example, the perch or pickerel in a fishing pond will only be healthy if the
streams and groundwater that feed the pond are healthy. Fish from ponds and streams
that are contaminated with urban or industrial runoff may no longer be safe to eat.
Protecting wetlands helps to ensure safe and healthy fish.

Wetlands are also important because they provide attractive open space in increasingly
urbanized areas…