Happy World Wetlands Day!
World Wetlands Day (Feb. 2) recognizes those countries that have signed the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, a conservation agreement called the Ramsar Convention. The agreement provides an outline for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It came into popular effect in 1975, and remains today the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem.
Canada (with 37 Ramsar sites) and the United States (with 26 Ramsar sites) are among the many countries who have signed the agreement. Canada has more sites than the U.S. partly because Canada is home to 25% of the world’s wetlands.
Wetlands, according to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), include swamps, ponds, marshes, and peat bogs. They function similarly to giant sponges, soaking up rain and snow melt water, and slowly releasing it during drier seasons while filtering it to help reduce pollution and soil erosion.
Wetlands are the exclusive home to plants, fish and birds that use them for breeding, nesting and feeding. Sadly, wetlands are disappearing. In Canada, organizations such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Ducks Unlimited work together to try to preserve wetlands.
Much of this work is part of the Nature Conservancy’s partnership with the Government of Canada. The Natural Areas Conservation Program is a $225 million grant given to the NCC by the government in 2007, which the organization is responsible for managing. The grant assists NGOs in securing ecologically-sensitive lands, and involves the government matching funds raised by the NGOs. As of September 2009, the program has saved over 302,880 acres, protecting habitat for over 79 species at risk.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada determines which natural areas are significant based on an area’s level of biodiversity and the threats it faces. Much of this information is gathered through the eight Conservation Data Centres established by the organization across Canada since 1988.
Once priorities are set, the NCC works with private landowners to secure ecologically-significant land identified as conservation priorities. NCC acquires and protects land through land purchase, donation, conservation agreement or relinquishment of mining or timber rights.
NCC’s work doesn’t end when the land is acquired. Ongoing land management is needed to ensure the continued health of ecosystems and the plants and animals that live within them.
The program is certainly a positive one for a government that didn’t do much good in Copenhagen. Let’s hope that by recognizing the good that they’re doing here, we can encourage the government to care for the climate – the very climate that provides the rain and snow that make wetlands possible.