February 2, 2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of World Wetlands Day. This annual event is intended to raise awareness about wetlands to reverse their ongoing decline. Alarmingly, almost 90 percent of Earth’s wetlands have been degraded since the 1700s.
This fact mirrors the historic wetland loss we’ve witnessed in Ontario. South of the shield, the loss exceeds 72 percent – over 85 percent in municipalities like Essex, Kent, Lambton, Brant, Russell & Prescott, Perth, Middlesex, Niagara and Toronto.
And the loss continues. Rather than implementing the Wetland Conservation Strategy for Ontario, including a commitment to improve policy tools to better conserve wetlands, the Government of Ontario is going in the opposite direction. For example, ignoring public outcry, it chose to weaken policy so that even Provincially Significant Wetlands are now vulnerable to destruction authorized through Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs).
Nevertheless, instead of getting mired in doom and gloom, let’s take inspiration from the official theme for this year’s World Wetlands Day – Wetlands Action for People and Nature.
So, with action in mind, here are seven ways to invest your time and energy for wetlands in the months ahead:
Love your wetlands. This can be as simple as visiting a wetland, to appreciate the fact it is still there, providing a haven for so many plants and animals. Take a friend or family member along to share the wonder and appreciation.
Keep watch over local wetlands. From Niagara to Bracebridge to Ottawa to the James Bay lowlands, communities are defending local wetlands. Their efforts can make the difference between preservation or destruction. An inspiring example is the critical role played by determined community members in defeating the MZO that threatened the Lower Duffins Creek Provincially Significant Wetland in Pickering.
Get your hands dirty. Look for opportunities to participate in wetland restoration and clean-ups. In July 2021, for example, members of Ontario Nature’s Youth Council organized a planting event in Whitby to enhance pollinator habitat at a wetland created to help mitigate flooding.
Get involved in community science. One opportunity is to participate in the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, which will help to show which species are relying on which wetlands to nest and raise their young.
Support policies to strengthen wetland protection. The provincial government has promised to increase Ontario’s protected areas and expand the Greenbelt. Both initiatives offer a means to strengthen wetland protection. For more information, check out the collective protected areas Story Map which includes places like the North French River Watershed, Minesing Wetlands, and Holland Marsh Provincial Wildlife Area. See also the joint submission on Greenbelt expansion, endorsed by 50 organizations, with its recommendation to include wetlands across the Greater Golden Horseshoe in the Greenbelt.
Vote for nature. We have provincial and municipal elections coming up in Ontario this year. Ensure candidates know you care about wetlands, and make your vote count.
Choose joy over despair. Let yourself be guided by these words of Robin Wall Kimmerer: “Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.” (Braiding Sweetgrass)
Wetlands provide so much to be grateful for. In 2022, let’s do right by wetlands and return the gift.