Wetland Restoration for Landowners or What That Meadow Used to Be…

Ah – the beautiful meadow down by the creek.  Seems so pretty – and it is, but was it a quality habitat? Was it something greater historically? Sometimes “pretty” is actually a disaster waiting to be fixed, the case in point of this article. More often than not, restoring former wetlands is also a relatively simple if not practical way to restore high quality habitats on properties that are not included within larger scale, expensive, and time-consuming restoration efforts.

In a 2007 ecological inventory, some landowners showed me the “glades” on their property (photo left).  I politely informed them that it was actually once part of a huge, former wetland complex ditched out long ago for crops or grazing, and that sadly – the area was mostly full of invasive plants and had much less ecological value than they imagined.  On further discussion, they wanted to restore the wetland, and by strategically elevating the water table by only 1.5 – 2 feet, using with simple, by-hand methods, we turned a ho-hum meadow into a the BMW of wetlands for their area.

In the 1st (grassy) image, 2007, you can see the obviously dessicated and grazed former wetland, which is open, harbors suppressed native plants, and is full of exotic and invasive plants. Within five years (2010) the visible change is palpable, and large juncus grass hummocks and standing water are seen.

Ten years later (2017) standing water lasts for months with mucky wet soils being year round, and there are 40+ wetland plant species recovered simply from the seed bank.  The invasive plants were mostly drowned and flooded out or removed.  Fish-free pools, meandering stream channels, raised “hummocks” (dry areas), and dead standing trees are common. Breeding mole & marbled salamanders, fleets of frogs, and nesting wood ducks have returned, and several hundred-thousand gallons of water are stored in this immediate area slowly recharging the landowner’s well and regional groundwater.

It’s one thing to own a classic Porsche – but if has no engine and collects dust in your garage, what’s the point? Likewise, drained wetlands ditched are those “sitting Porches”: dried out, dessicated, and just waiting to be wet again.  They were wrecked by humans and they can be given a little kickstart by us again to help with their recovery – as you can see in these images, in a relatively short period of time.

Look around you: most flat and low-lying areas near streams and rivers that are now “meadows” or scrappy woodlands were once part of a massive, rich, and complex wetland systems of beaver ponds, floodplain pools, sedge and shrub bogs, oxbox ponds, and floodplain forests.

I’m inspired to know they can be restored with a fresh eye, a little know-how, and few days of work. Not bad!