07/05/2012 13:08

Fishermen gather along the banks. The blue herons come. Pelicans land. All are evidence that the Wetland Preserve is a good thing.

                The road builders that needed material to widen Illinois Highway 26 north left a big hole near the Pecatonica River that filled with water. Citizens at the time had many thoughts about what to do with that “borrow pit”. Fishermen, a fish biologist, and other persons knowledgeable about how this wetland could provide ecological benefits cooperated to educate the Freeport Park District Board about the value of preserving the area as wetland habitat.

                Now we can thank the Freeport Park District and its taxpayers for maintaining this preserve – definitely not a simple task. And many thanks to the service organizations and volunteers who made the observation deck possible. Anyone entering the city from the north along Highway 26 gets the benefit of observing a preserved wetland and its inhabitants through the seasons.

                Obviously wetlands support an abundance and diversity of waterfowl, wildlife, and fish. But there are other benefits as well. In an article in Ducks Unlimited, July/August 2012, by Gildo Tori, DU Director of Public Policy, Tori notes that: “Any way you look at it, wetlands provide a host of ecological goods and services that have real economic value. Best of all these wetland benefits can be enjoyed at little or no cost. These days, that’s quite a bargain.”

                One benefit that is noteworthy during this incredibly dry weather is that wetlands recharge groundwater. “Water that collects in wetland basins percolates through the soil into the underlying aquifer, which in many areas [including Stephenson County] is an essential source of drinking and irrigation water…In effect, there is no such thing as an ‘isolated wetland’, as all wetlands are connected via the water cycle, which functions both above and below ground.” (Tori)

                Wetlands reduce flooding. The water levels in a wetland observed over time demonstrate that vast amounts of rainwater are collected and released slowly. As wetlands hold and release water more slowly they purify water by removing nitrogen, phosphorus, and in some cases toxic chemicals. By slowing water flows, sediment settles out of the water making water cleaner. In the case of our Pecatonica River, however, the nature of the sediment left in the flow continues to make its water appear muddy.

                Gildo Tori concludes: “Nature has provided us with a valuable multi-tool that serves people and wildlife in so many ways. Let’s continue working together to ensure that wetlands – and the many benefits they provide – remain abundant today, tomorrow, and forever.”

                Both the Clean Water Act and the Farm Bill address the matter of filling or altering existing wetlands – permits are required. If you have questions consult your local Soil and Water Conservation District or Natural Resources Conservation Service professionals.


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer,07/04/12 (for publication on 07/07/12 in the Journal- Standard, Freeport, Illinois)  Della can be reached at info@stephensonswcd.org