For years, climate change and the rapid loss of biodiversity have been on an environmental collision course, and now we are seeing the catastrophic effects. According to a 2022 United Nations emissions report, our planet is projected to warm by almost three degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Adding to this is the sobering reality that one million species are at risk of extinction.
Although we can’t turn back time, there is still much we can do.
The science of rewilding
In the fight to safeguard our natural areas, much focus is placed on saving the intact places that remain. What’s often forgotten is our ability to restore what’s been lost.
Rewilding refers to activities aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and ecosystems. The concept and its ability to positively impact the world around us are real and firmly rooted in science.
In fall 2020, the journal Nature published a study showing that restoring natural landscapes is an effective way to address the climate crisis while also boosting wildlife populations.
Canada’s wetlands: Our best opportunity for restoration
Notably, one of the best opportunities to do so exists here in Canada. It’s our wetlands.
“We know that wetlands are biodiversity hotspots. There are approximately 1,450 species of wildlife found in Canada and more than 550 of them depend on wetlands,” says DUC research scientist Lauren Bortolotti. “We also know that wetlands have an incredible ability to sequester and lock away carbon. Wetlands can help us tackle these issues simultaneously.”
As part of a 2021 landmark study, another DUC research scientist, Pascal Badiou, highlighted the value of wetland conservation and restoration in reducing carbon emissions. We expect to know even more about the potential of these wet and wild powerhouses soon. Bortolotti and her colleagues at DUC’s renowned research institute have launched a field study to measure the waterfowl and biodiversity benefits of prairie wetlands that have been restored.
“We’re using photos and sound recordings to identify and count amphibians, ducks, and other bird species found in restored wetlands compared to natural wetlands. Our results will help estimate the value of restored wetlands to duck and biodiversity conservation, and whether some species are more likely to use restored wetlands than others,” says Bortolotti.
Canada is home to approximately one quarter of the world’s remaining wetlands, but losses continue at a rate of up to 80 acres per day. This makes the race to stop — and reverse—this trend more important than ever.
Fortunately, DUC also knows what it takes to return these valuable ecosystems to the landscape.
A running start on wetland restoration
DUC is leading Canada’s charge to restore wetlands that have been lost. Whether that involves fighting invasive species or working alongside our partners in agriculture, industry and government to incorporate nature-based solutions into their operations, restoration has been part of DUC’s strategy to make the world a better place since day one. Of the more than 6.2 million acres we’ve conserved in our 84-year history, an impressive 3.1 million have been restored from a previously degraded state.
When areas are restored, we see an amazing ripple effect. Our birds come back. Our pollinators come back. And so do the land’s natural abilities to defend against things like floods and droughts.
Restoring wetlands, restoring hope, restoring biodiversity
Restoration is equal parts hope and progress. Because, as our work for wetlands has shown, nature can rebound —when given the chance.
DUC’s conservation efforts are largely directed on working landscapes where people rely on the land to make a living, so we invest our energy and resources into restoring areas in ways that contribute to a balanced and sustainable environment. Here are just a few examples of our restoration activities:
- DUC excavated nine new small wetlands on a property in B.C.’s South Okanagan region to provide habitat primarily for Great Basin spadefoot toads, as well as for tiger salamanders, both listed as species at risk in B.C. DUC targeted old oxbow depressions to restore and ensure that some water will remain throughout the amphibians’ yearly cycle.
- DUC is leading three innovative restorations in B.C.’s Fraser River Estuary in a partnership to restore tidal marsh and migration pathways for wildlife, including Chinook salmon.
- In Ontario, DUC restores small wetlands by working with private and public landowners and local conservation partners to provide prime breeding habitat for waterfowl, other birds and hundreds of other wildlife species including fish and species at risk.
- DUC restored nearly 20,000 acres of freshwater marsh throughout the Wolastoq (Saint John River) floodplain of New Brunswick in the 1970s. To ensure these wetlands—and the species, people and traditions they support—remain for future generations, we’ve embarked on a 10-year, $3-million conservation project to renew and restore 4,900 acres (2,000 hectares) of freshwater habitat along the Wolastoq.
The bottom line? It’s not too late. We can undo some of the damage. We can restore degraded habitat. We can rewild Canada’s wetlands and other life-sustaining natural spaces.
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