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December 08, 2016
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Of frogs and men

Also remember that the inverse of flooding is groundwater recharge: water having time to settle into the aquifer rather than rushing over the land’s surface and out to the sea. As climate change leads to more severe and extreme weather events, from downpours to droughts, both of these services have become more essential than ever before—to humans, not just frogs.

Wetlands are also essential to pollution control. They trap sediments, trap and break down pollutants and recycle nutrients. And these benefits are generally provided to larger downstream bodies of water even when no surface connection is apparent, via groundwater.

It is these considerations that are surely the primary province of the UDC.

That said, we also think that somebody or other needs to take another look at how the cost of stewardship of resources like forests and wetlands is being distributed throughout society. In the current system, it’s handled through property taxes—which means that though individual landowners who preserve forest or wetland may receive some monetary offset in the form of tax reduction, the rural area in which they live does not, with the burden merely shifted onto their neighbors’ shoulders. Nor does the offset necessarily compensate them fully for the loss of financial value. Meanwhile, it is frequently the downstream urban and suburban areas that benefit most. In our overpopulated, over-polluted world, to say that properties with wetlands on them are less valuable is lunacy; they are, in fact, just about the most valuable real estate on the planet. We just need to find a way to make dollar flow reflect that.

Society needs to make a major shift in how it values natural resources, building the costs of depleting them and the rewards for preserving them into actual financial transactions, and seeing to it that all who benefit pay to maintain them. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed at the state, national and even international level, and perhaps we should be writing to our representatives about doing just that.

But the UDC’s business is the river. And for the river and the health of the species, including homo sapiens, that rely on it, wetlands protection is absolutely essential. [See related story on page 4].