Voices of the Future (12) - Wetland Draining: A Concern For the Future

by Shawn M. Seely
Wildlife and Fisheries Major, graduating May 2016

As I drive to and from school every day on Pennsylvania Interstate 99 my curiosity has always been sparked by the little wetland areas along the highways that sometimes have water in them but for the most part are dry. I know from traveling that they are not just on interstate 99 but they are along many highways as well as housing complexes and business corporations.

I have always wondered what exactly they were doing in this more populated area which, at one point, was under heavy construction. As I have taken classes, here at The Pennsylvania State University on wildlife and ecology I have learned that these little wetlands were put in in place of ones that were once destroyed by the construction of these highways and buildings. These are known as mitigated wetlands. To better understand this it is best to know that in order for land to be considered a wetland it is required to have hydrophilic soils, plants, and contain water above or just below the surface for most of the year.

I often wonder which of these three requirements must be in place for the state to require mitigation permits to be in place as the highways and buildings are constructed. As I really look into these wetlands along interstate 99 I have noticed most of them look like at first they were great attempts with nest boxes put up around them and if there was water or even wetland plants at least in some of them. As a need for wetlands and biodiversity increase and many wetland species are very sensitive to change, the mitigation of destroyed wetlands is not taking the place of the once strong supporting wetlands. As regulated by DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) these new wetlands are supposed to be a 1:1 size ratio with the original and in forested wetlands there is even 2:1 ratio. Also, they are required to meet the same functions and values as the original wetland as well as planting of locally-native hydrophilic plants.

One of the biggest renewable resources that are being depleted is fresh water. Wetlands are one of the largest filters for rainwater and run-off that we have on earth. Here is video of a well-known scientist giving us the meaning of a wet land.

Many people have little to no knowledge of the need for these small, but largely diverse, ecosystems. As the world’s population is increasing we are in need of more farm land. As a result we are draining wetlands in the midwest (prairie pothole region), which is the number one breeding ground for 80% of the nation’s waterfowl population. Overall, there needs to be more strict regulations on the mitigation end if we are going to allow the delineation of the original ones. DEP states that there is a minimum of 5-year monitoring on the wetland to be sure that it is fully functioning. As I see in many areas, these wetlands along highways are very dry and need longer monitoring periods to ensure they are functioning properly. Here is another video put together by Ducks Unlimited of Canada that really drives home the importance of wetlands and the constant struggle to keep them from being destroyed.

Personally, I think that there need to be more heavily-enforced rules on the mitigation of these wetlands as well as raised awareness of their importance to our environment and to the people who use them. More people use wetlands indirectly than they even realize. If you haven’t noticed all of these wetlands along our major highways please take the time to notice them as some of you drive by them every day commuting to work. Take the second to notice the dried up land and lack of biodiversity as well as the dilapidated nesting structures placed nearby that have not been maintained. If you are interested in ways you can do more to protect your wetlands as well as improve them you can contact and join organizations like Clearwater Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Society For Wetland Scientists, and your local government officials about the maintenance of the already existing wetlands.

Tip Amount


LenB said…
Just like preventing water runoff during construction, or during lumber cutting operations, by putting in diversion ditches, entrapment areas, silt fence etc, before you start the work, the same is true of creating new wetlands. You would be surprised at how good these new wetlands can be when the builder knows he has to build the new one and get approval befor he can alter or remove an existing wetland. It works and as a designing Enginer, I have many years to prove it.

There is a problem though with some so called wetlands. Many communities use "wetlands" to limit development. Those wetlands you see on the edges of the roadway were not created as wetland replacement. In the vast majority of cases hey are the result of incomplete grading at the edge of the roadway fill section. A few more cubic yards of dirt and they would not be there.

I (my firm) have been the designer of many large projects in New York. We were always successful in such mitigation. But !!!--- Go to a Public Hearing and you find out you are about to desecrate the Universe...or at least destroy the Habitat of the Leonardus Skipper Butterfly ( which it was found did not exist in the area anyway).

What it takes is the owner and the designer to start out with the understanding that there is going to be change and that they have to mitigate ...before it starts.

Henry Paparazzo, owner of Hertitage Hills of Westchester (3120 condo units) a sister project to one he built in Connecticut, understood that very well. Before they went into an area, the first thing they did was to remove grown trees to a nursery for replanting afterwards. Silt fence in place, ditches cut....go !!! Simple as that. LenB

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