Protection of wetlands and waterways

What are wetlands?

Earth has two main environments, terrestrial and aquatic. Wetlands are a combination of the two, hence their value and importance.

In Québec, wetlands cover roughly 17 million hectares or 170,000 km², so about 10% of the entire province. Be they ponds, marshes, swamps or peat bogs, wetlands serve as the essential links in Québec’s network of natural environments.

Wetlands stand out for their ecological diversity and their natural “productivity”: for instance, they’re highly sought after by umpteen animal and plant species, with many animals living, reproducing and being born in wetlands thanks to the abundance of resources there, like food and materials for nests, shelters and dens. That’s why wetlands are teeming with life, from frogs, beavers and great blue herons to dragonflies, cattails and water lilies.

Overall, wetlands are generally flooded or water-saturated long enough to influence their soil and vegetation. However, this aquatic state does give way to a terrestrial one during long dry spells.

Types of wetlands

Sometimes grassy, sometimes wooded, wetlands vary so much in appearance that they’re difficult to recognize. That said, you usually come across four main types: ponds, marshes, swamps and bogs.

Ponds are small, well-defined bodies of water lying in a basin whose depth rarely exceeds two metres in midsummer. The vegetation cover, if any, consists mainly of submerged and floating aquatic plants. Ponds consist strictly of standing or stagnant water replenished solely by rainfall and snowmelt.

Marshes consist of water-covered or water-saturated ground during most of the growing season, with herbaceous (no woody stem above ground) vegetation emerging from the water. Marshes form most commonly in riparian (riverbank) zones, which support grasses, cattails and other submerged or floating plants, such as water lilies.

Swamps are forested wetlands dominated by woody, arboreal or shrubby vegetation growing on mineral or organic soil that’s subject to seasonal flooding or influenced by a high groundwater table; the circulating water in swamps is rich in dissolved minerals. More wooded than marshes, swamps often have wildly fluctuating water levels.

Bogs are wetlands that feature high groundwater tables and play home to plants adapted to waterlogged settings; as these plants and their debris decay and decompose, the process produces peat, the distinguishing feature of bogs. These ecosystems often stem from former lakes that have been invaded by vegetation. That said, because the bog’s environment (low in nutrients and high in acidity), the plants there have often reached their tolerance limit, and a slight variation in their makeup, for example pH, can cause their disappearance.

Wetlands and their critical roles

Wetlands are regulators, barriers, filters, ecological resources and shelters, key roles that benefit not only the animals and plants that live there, but also humans.

Wetlands act like giant sponges that retain water during snowmelt and heavy rains, then slowly release that water during the dry season. This process greatly limits damage from floods and helps crops survive lengthier dry spells.

In addition to binding soils, wetland vegetation slows the flow of surface water and reduces bank erosion when water levels are high. It also stabilizes the soil, lessens the effects of wind and weakens the force of waves, further reducing shoreline erosion.

Wetlands act as sewage-treatment plants. Their vegetation filters water from lakes and rivers, trapping suspended sediment and improving water clarity. Other wetland plants store pollutants, such as mercury, phosphates, nitrates and nitrogen, thus helping to cleanse our wastewater. Wetlands also absorb and store greenhouse gases from the earth’s atmosphere. Bottom line, by acting as filters, wetland areas help maintain the quality of drinking water, and protecting them becomes all-the-more crucial in municipalities like ours, where residents rely exclusively on Val-des-Monts’ natural water sources for their basic household needs.

Wetlands are havens of biodiversity and biological “productivity,” so to speak. Specifically, they provide a place to feed, breed, shelter and rest for species of all kinds—from micro-organisms, insects and amphibians to reptiles, birds, fish and mammals. This in turn sparks the production of wildlife resources for hunting, fishing and trapping while enhancing ecologically important pursuits like recreation, tourism, education and science.

Given their sheltering vegetation and abundance of food and nutrient sources, wetlands prove ideal for many plants and animals. For instance, migrating birds use wetlands as rest stops before continuing their journey, fish rely on them as spawning and stocking grounds, and amphibians such as frogs and salamanders also depend on wetlands for their survival.

Natural environments at risk

Did you know that most of the groundwater and surface water flowing in a watershed travels through wetlands? And did you know that wetlands, despite their role as one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet, are also one of the most endangered?

In recent decades, thousands of hectares of wetlands have given way to fields, houses and roads. And still today, urban, agricultural and industrial development is laying siege to wetlands and making them disappear because society doesn’t understand their immense environmental and economic value.

Wetlands are home to animals and plants that now face extinction, so disrupting these sensitive environments can not only wreak havoc on the survival rate of the species found there, but ultimately wipe them out. That’s why we need to act urgently to protect these beautiful, invaluable landscapes.

With that in mind, and knowing how vital wetlands are for the environment and for our quality of life, we must all help prevent their degradation and destruction.

As residents of Val-des-Monts, we can take several measures to keep these environments healthy:

  • Preserve wetland water flow.
  • Preserve critical upland habitat and leave a wide enough buffer to reduce the impact of surrounding land use.
  • Retain dead trees and avoid mowing around the wetland.
  • Stay on designated trails to limit the impact of recreational activities.
  • Avoid using pesticides and fertilizers that can deplete water quality.
  • Respect critical bird-nesting and fish-spawning periods.
  • Ensure that structures built near wetlands and waterways (solid foundations for docks, boathouses, etc.) don’t harm fish and wildlife habitats.

For wetlands in forested or agricultural areas

  • Prevent livestock access to the wetland with fencing or with trees and shrubs.
  • Use wetland-friendly farming techniques and grazing-management systems.
  • Log selectively and outside of bird-nesting periods.
  • Leave large-diameter trees in the forest to provide natural habitat for nesting species (squirrels, owls, woodpeckers, flying squirrels, wood ducks).

Do you want to do more to protect a wetland, a forest or a piece of land you own?

If so, please do feel free to come discuss the matter with us. We can help you design a protection plan or a conservation project. Ultimately, if you prefer, the area in question could also be transferred to the Municipality, which would oversee its preservation and enhancement.

The Municipality has in fact acquired two key wetlands and a forest:

  • Pélissier Marsh: Val-des-Monts has converted this 10.2-hectare property into an eco-park where public education and environmental protection rule the day.
  • Saghbini Marsh: This 11-hectare property, acquired from a developer in 2010, is pivotal in sustaining the quality of water in both Petit and Grand Lac Huot. The Municipality took possession of the area to ensure the marsh continues to play its critical role in water quality.
  • Ayalik Forest: This wooded, 26.4-hectare property, donated by David Pelly in 2014, is located near Lac Dame and Lac Grand. Again, Val-des-Monts acquired the land to keep it under proper stewardship and protection.

Val-des-Monts adopted its Environmental Policy in September 2009 and updated it in 2011. The policy guides the Municipality’s strategies and actions for protecting its environment and the quality of life it affords us.
However, the Municipality can’t do this alone. As residents, we also play a pivotal role in protecting the environment, including the need to make simple gestures and a firm commitment to preserve and improve conditions for ponds, marshes, swamps and peat bogs on private property.