Wise Use of Wetlands
Wetlands on Private Land
Wise Use refers to the sustainable use of wetlands for human activities whilst at the same time preserving the integral naturalness and biological balance of the wetland. Wise Use provides a win-win situation for everyone, nature and man alike. It allows for humans to enjoy the wetland and pursue their activities without damaging the wetland system upon which they and other animals and plants depend. Understanding that ecosystems depend on the sum of their parts and that by removing or significantly altering one part, then the whole is detrimentally affected through a domino effect, is paramount in implementing Wise Use strategies.
In Tasmania wet and dry periods generally follow the year’s seasonal changes, so it is important that human activities such as dam building and irrigation do not change the natural flow regime. Many wetlands in Tasmania will dry out in the summer months and become inundated again with the winter rains. These wetlands contain numerous types of floating, submerged and emergent plants which are dependent on the wet-dry periods. If a dam is built on a feeder stream then this pattern may be changed and the wetland will not receive sufficient winter flows to ensure the survival of those plants and animals dependent on the inundation period. Similarly, if irrigation is undertaken from a wetland during summer then the drying-out phase will be accelerated and the plants and animals will be affected.
Buffer zones are also important as they capture a major part of nutrient and sediment run-off before it enters the wetland. Buffer zones need to be well vegetated, preferably with native grasses, sedges and rushes and where applicable a good woody upper canopy of trees and shrubs. The species component of a buffer zone depends on where the wetland is, ie. coastal, forest, open woodland or heathland. Weeds can present problems in the riparian and water zones, out-competing native vegetation and thereby reducing the food availability for native animals. It is therefore important to try to keep these areas free from weeds.
The buffer zone should also be kept free of fertiliser and pesticide applications and if aerial methods are used then care needs to be taken not to allow over-spray or drift into the wetland. Many wetland animals and plants are highly sensitive to chemicals. Frogs are now well recognised as being key indicators of biological health - the "canaries" of ecosystems. Many badly degraded wetlands have poor diversity and low numbers of frogs. When a wetland is rehabilitated the return of frogs is one good way to determine how effectively the rehabilitation program is working.
Wetlands on farms provide an excellent emergency water source for stock in harsh drought conditions. By erecting a watering trough (ideally outside the buffer zone) stock can have access to the water without disturbing and damaging the wetland itself. Wetlands also act as natural fire barriers, even when they are dry the succulent plants and damp sub-surface helps to break a fire’s course.
Exploring a wetland by boat is always inviting but the choice of boat is important in order to minimise pollutants entering the water. Most outboard and inboard motors discharge fuel and oil into the water and they are generally noisy. In order to minimise the impact of these pollutants it is important to ensure the engine is maintained to a high level of efficiency, uses biodegradable oil and discharges as little as possible. The best way to explore a wetland is by paddling or rowing as neither of these activities disturb the animals and it is possible to observe and get close to many animals, for example platypus and water birds.
By implementing the Wise Use principle the best possible outcomes are achieved for present and future human, animal, plant and microbial generations.
Written by Janice Miller, World Wildlife Fund
Tasmania Online | Service Tasmania
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