This wetland site plays a vital role in the region, providing ecological services such as water purification, flood control, and habitat for a diversity of species. Without our wetlands, we would have an increased risk of flooding, and wildlife in the area would have increasingly limited options for suitable habitats. Some 40% of global species rely on wetlands at some point in their life cycle, and Canada is home to approximately one quarter of the world's remaining wetlands. This is what makes the work we do here so essential - the conservation of this un-dyked wetland system, one of few in the Fraser Valley, provides essential services to both people and wildlife.
The 326-acre Salwein Wetlands at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve are the only undyked wetland habitat connected to the Chilliwack/Vedder River and provide essential habitat for a variety of wildlife, including waterfowl, amphibians, eagles, bobcats, herons, and multiple salmon species. The restored Salwein Creek, connected to the wetlands, supports spawning habitat for multiple species of Salmon and habitat for the red-listed Salish Sucker. Unfortunately, the wetlands have experienced significant degradation over the years due to human development, leading to a reduction in size, increased nutrient and sediment deposits, and the spread of invasive species. Conservation efforts are essential to protect this critical wetland habitat and its unique biodiversity. The Nature Reserve contains 3 classes of wetlands: shallow open water, marsh, and swamp. You can learn more about them below!
Marsh wetlands support a diverse range of plant and animal species. Because of their high levels of nutrients, freshwater marshes are one of the most productive ecosystems on earth and can thus sustain a vast array of plant communities which, in turn, support a wide variety of wildlife. The diversity of life that is sustained within a marsh habitat is disproportionate to its size due to its incredibly high productivity. Marsh wetlands are characterized by their abundant vegetation, including reeds, grasses, and shrubs. The marsh wetlands on the Nature Reserve are home to a diverse array of wildlife, including waterfowl, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects. Some of these species, such as the Pacific Great Blue Heron and Northern Red-legged frog, are listed as at-risk, and the maintenance of this habitat is crucial in the conservation of these species.
The marsh wetlands at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve have a critical role in combating the impacts of climate change by retaining carbon and lowering the emission of greenhouse gases. Slow-moving water that travels through marshes are filtered of pollutants, thus improving surface water quality. Although they hold immense ecological value, marsh wetlands in British Columbia are under threat from human actions such as construction, farming, and contamination. To safeguard and maintain these ecosystems for future generations, conservation initiatives, like those at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve, are taking place across the province.
Shallow Open Water wetlands are unique and essential habitats that support a variety of aquatic and terrestrial species. These wetlands are typically found near rivers, lakes, and estuaries, and they are defined by their shallow water depth, which typically ranges from a few centimeters to a few meters, and a lack of vegetation. These wetlands are incredibly important as they provide vital ecosystem services and play a critical role in maintaining the overall health of surrounding areas.
These systems improve water quality by filtering pollutants and excess nutrients, provide valuable habitat for a wide range of species, including fish, frogs, and waterfowl. They are particularly important as breeding and nesting sites for many species of waterfowl, and they serve as important migration corridors for birds.
Despite their ecological importance, shallow open water wetlands in British Columbia face numerous threats, including habitat destruction, pollution, and the impacts of climate change. To protect and preserve these vital habitats for future generations, conservation efforts are underway to educate the public about the importance of these wetlands and to promote responsible land-use practices.
Swamps are highly productive wetland ecosystems supporting vast amounts of biodiversity. Many species of waterfowl and wading birds use these habitats as important nesting and feeding areas. Along the Chilliwack/Vedder River, expect to find Wood Ducks and Belted Kingfishers, which rely on swamps and associated vegetation for nesting and feeding purposes. Swamps on the Nature Reserve also provide habitat for species such as the American beaver, muskrat, and various species of fish. Insects such as the Autumn Meadowhawk (blue-listed species at risk) rely on swampy lowlands at the reserve for habitat.
Swamp vegetation, including shrubs, trees, and emergent plants, provides important food and shelter for many of these species, making these systems an essential component in maintaining our region's biodiversity. Swamps on the Nature Reserve are dominated by slow-growing trees such as cedar and hemlock, as well as shrubs like skunk cabbage and salmonberry. These plants provide important habitats for many insects and other small animals, and they also play a critical role in maintaining stable hydrology of the wetland by absorbing water during periods of high runoff and releasing it during dry periods, decreasing the risk of erosion and sedimentation and increasing the ecosystem's overall health.
Additionally, swamps in British Columbia are valuable for their high amounts of carbon sequestration, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change. It is essential that we work to protect and conserve these valuable ecosystems, both for the benefit of the wildlife and plants that they support and for the health and well-being of the surrounding communities.
Wetland ecosystems that provide a range of ecological goods and services that are essential for human well-being and survival. These services include water purification, flood control, carbon sequestering, erosion control, and habitat for numerous species of plants and animals. Wetlands act as carbon sinks, helping to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and also play a key role in the global water cycle, storing and releasing water as needed. The value of the goods and services provided by wetlands is often overlooked, and their conservation is essential for the preservation of these critical ecological goods and services for future generations.
Approximately 14% of Canada is covered in wetlands. These important ecosystems are threatened on a national level by the rapid conversion of these lands due to their fertile soil and proximity to expanding urban centers - in British Columbia alone, over 80% of wetlands have been drained and filled to make way for development or agriculture.
Unfortunately, the Salwein Wetlands have faced a huge amount of degradation over the years due to human development. Impacts include a major reduction in acreage and excessive deposits of nutrients and sediment from construction and farming. Invasive plant and animal species also threaten to further reduce an already diminishing diversity. These continual threats highlight the importance of what we are doing at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve to ensure the ongoing conservation of this wetland habitat.