Mayne Island may be better known for twisting arbutus trees and rocky shorelines than marshes and swamps, but our soggy soiled wetlands have an important role to play. Not only are they a bustling hub of life and energy for plants and animals, they also provide essential services to us humans. These services are known as ecosystem services.
What are Ecosystem Services?
We normally think of services as something provided by individuals, corporations, or governments. We’re used to paying for services, everything from the hydroelectric power that lights our homes to the mechanics who fix our cars. What we don’t often consider is the services we get for free from naturally functioning ecosystems. Clean air, clean water, pollination, flood control, nutrient cycling, and climate regulation, to name just a few. We tend to take these for granted, after all, we never have to pay a bill, and the service never fails…. that is, until it does. Only when we begin to see a disruption in ecosystem services do we start to value them. The trouble is no one wants to pay for something they’re used to getting for free or aren’t even aware they’re using. Carbon storage is like that. Until recently, we didn’t know forests, wetlands, and seagrasses help prevent floods, storms, and crop failures. Like most ecosystem services, carbon storage and sequestration benefit everyone, not just the individuals, corporations, or governments who own the land or may suffer the cost of preserving and restoring those ecosystems. So even though we now know the value of wetlands and forests, those ecosystems continue to be degraded despite our knowledge of the services they provide.
Trouble in Paradise
Here on Mayne Island, it’s easy to think of nature as boundless and abundant, but Mayne has seen a significant loss of its wetlands and wetter forests. Based on our calculations1, we estimate Mayne Island has lost 88% of its wetlands and wettest forests. From a carbon storage perspective, these wetter forest areas are essential; they are the places where the true giant trees of the Pacific Northwest would have grown, while wetlands capture and store carbon in their deep soils over time. The same characteristics that make these ecosystems valuable from a carbon sequestration perspective also make them valuable from an agricultural perspective. In recent decades there has been the added pressure of residential development.
Habitat Restoration In Action
Over the past two years, we’ve been working with private landowners to begin restoring the natural functions and habitats of Mayne Island’s biggest wetland. This restoration work is being funded in part by Environment and Climate Change Canada. Located on Hedgerow Farm, this lowland would have historically contained a mix of seasonally flooded marshes, shrub swamps, and ancient forests. Over the past 150 years, portions of the wetland have been drained, and the forest cut to create hay and pasture fields. High deer browse and exotic species introductions have added further pressures to the remaining natural habitat and created a barrier to recovery and growth of native plants. Our goals are to remove barriers to the recovery of native vegetation and ecosystem function, and to re-connect the wetland to existing upland forest habitats. To achieve these goals, we are loosening the soils around the edge of the wetland, temporarily reducing exotic grass cover so native plants can establish, excluding hyper-abundant deer from the restoration site, and restoring some semblance of past water flow by restricting the main outflow ditch in a controlled way. It will take centuries before the full spectrum of habitats associated with old-growth forest and mature wetland are restored to the site. The actions we’re taking now will allow for natural succession and re-establishment of ecological services to occur over time.
Below are a series of photographs that will guide you through our progress to date. Contact us to learn more about our restoration projects or if you would like advice on restoring natural habitats on your property.
1Calculations We based our calculations on the Terrestrial Ecosystem Mapping completed by B.A. Blackwell in 2008. They identified 14 ecological communities on Mayne Island based on the widely used Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification system. They also identified which areas had been converted to other human land uses, for example agricultural fields, houses, and roads. We used their data, which was based on 2005 air photos, to analyze the rate of land conversion for the wettest 5 ecosystem types identified on Mayne Island (CDFmm11, CDFmm13, CDFmm14, CDFmm65, CDFmm66). As of 2005, 126 of 143 hectares (88%) had been converted to other land uses.