What The Wetlands Say

DSC_0062I’ve now traveled throughout all of Iowa, meeting amazing people and seeing remarkable wetland ecosystems. Across 124 blog posts, I’ve tried to share my excitement with readers about the sights, sounds…and yes, smells…I’ve experienced.

“But Paul,” you say. “Just what is The Big Picture of Iowa’s wetlands…?”

Well, certainly no one can deny that Iowa has more diversity than is immediately obvious. Despite the loss of more than 90% of the State’s wetlands, I still found natural fens, potholes, sloughs, bottomland forests, brushy swamps, wet meadows, and marshes. I observed resident and migratory amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and insects. Gorgeous wildflowers, intricate mollusk shells, gnarled driftwood, and the water itself, all have unique beauty.

DSC_0382My interest in history appears in stories about Native American burial mounds, traditional uses of plants, a profile of “Ding” Darling and the modern American wetland conservation movement, “ghost towns” and changing land use, and Superfund and other serious contamination…and how we’ve addressed our legacy. The story I didn’t tell, and the sites I couldn’t show, were the countless missing wetlands. The landscape still has scars and remnants of drained or filled wetlands, often quite obvious in Spring when fields are still wet, or at high flow events in streams and rivers which attempt to reclaim old oxbows or floodplains where the water naturally moved from time to time.

Sometimes a blog entry was less about the site itself, and more about what we do at wetlands—the business of wetland science and management. It’s fascinating to “read” signs of hydrology (water movement or characteristics) when a site is in fact very dry. Identifying plants and animals is a useful tool, and Iowa has knowledgeable and generous naturalists—mostly unpaid, yet quite expert—who help each other to learn the species and about their biology. We all use maps, aerial photographs (including fancy Infrared or decades-old historic shots), soil samples and marker horizons (glitter, anyone??), chemical analyses, and a well-developed series of procedures to accurately identify, delineate and classify wetlands.

redhead
Redheads are handsome, yes…? πŸ˜‰

I haven’t talked much about how to care for our wetlands, and I’d love to do more with that in the future. Science and my personal observations all confirm that wetlands are never isolated, but are connected to other elements of the landscape. Healthy ecosystems are dynamic and adaptive, always-changing. Although we attempt to isolate or standardize the condition of a wetland, that’s always a bad idea, even if well-intentioned.

This blog is proof that, deep down, I’m a teacher…and in particular a teacher who loves to share stories. Most of my favorite memories are of wetland visits spent with my students. We get wet and muddy. We try to observe the organisms close-up (but hopefully, gently and respectfully). We learn about the conditions of water and air and soil that together, over time and through the work of life itself, make these unique and beautiful places.

bottle_itFor some additional reflection on this quest, I encourage you to listen to an interview I gave with the news director at our local radio stations, KNIA-KRLS. You’ll find answers to questions like why wetlands are important, which of the 99 was my favorite site, recurring themes through the project, and what this all means for my other professional activity.

What was your favorite memory? What would you still like to learn?DSC_0264

Author: Paul Weihe

Associate Professor of Biology at Central College, traditional author (Textbook of Limnology, Cole & Weihe, 5th ed.; Waveland Press), and now...blogger!

6 thoughts on “What The Wetlands Say”

  1. Hi, Paul — first a HUGE thank you! While I haven’t often commented, I’ve enjoyed each of your blogs!
    Your statement “We try to observe the organisms close-up…” reminded me of a visit Don Farrar and I made to Cedar Hills Sand Prairie State Preserve. Among other interesting plants we noted, we were looking for a Botrychium species (perhaps B. simplex, little grape fern) that Don had found a few years earlier in the sedge meadow. I was hopping from sedge tussock-to-tussock. On one hop, my foot landed only on the edge of the tussock and I fell forward. As I caught my breath after the fall, I saw that I was “face-to-face” with the grape fern that we were trying to find – a serendipitous close-up.
    Please continue blogging!

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  2. Hi Paul — I’ve greatly enjoyed your 99 Iowa wetland adventures, and am very happy that you plan to keep blogging. Please keep us posted about when and where!

    Besides your stories and photos and interesting information, I’ve especially enjoyed reading about your work with students. It’s cheering to know they are learning about wetlands by visiting wetlands and interacting with a good teacher. And I am grateful for their wetland restoration work, whether or not I ever see the results in person. YAAAY Team Wetland! Thank you!

    As for what I would still like to learn, there are so many things. I’ve given up the quest for The Magic Wand That Safely And Easily Kills Non-native Phragmites And Nothing Else, but maybe some brilliant young researchers will find it. Meanwhile, your earlier post talked about your friend Paul Bartelt and his recommendations for small actions by wetland landowners who want to help frogs and toads. I would really like to learn what those small actions are, and I’m sure some other Iowa wetland managers would too.

    Thanks again for blog posts that I’ve always looked forward to reading, and thanks for the link to the radio interview, which was also interesting. Please continue sharing your work.

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    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, and your continuing support and encouragement.
      Management of pests and especially invaisve weeds deserves a could posts sometime. I love the idea about the amphibians..I should learn a bit more about that, and do a post. Suffice to say, even small wet spots, especially when connected to other water by cover/natural vegetation, prove valuable. Woody debris (such as fallen logs) can be significant as well.
      Watch for more posts, and keep your questions and comments coming…

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