Most people are only slightly aware of the natural world around them; they take for granted the beauty and importance of nature. We are fortunate to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the Northeast. The Saratoga and Southern Adirondack region provides ever-changing views of distant hillsides with spectacular lakes, rivers, and streams. Our region is changing and growing with the addition of new industry, homes and businesses.
Statistics show that Saratoga County grew 10.7% in the last decade and with the Luther Forest/GlobalFoundries venture and other initiatives, this figure could double in the coming decade. The result of this growth is great economic strength but also significant change to our environment. With all the new buildings, roads, parking lots, etc… there can be potential distress on the natural environment.
One natural treasure of our region is our wetlands. Once thought of as wastelands full of mosquitoes, flies and disease, the true importance of wetlands to our environment has only been recognized in recent years. In addition to being a source of food and shelter for many species of birds and mammals, wetlands help regulate water levels, improve water quality, reduce flood and storm damages, and support hunting, fishing and other recreational activities. Scientists now even postulate that wetlands may help moderate global climate conditions.
Wetlands generally exist where groundwater flows near or at the surface, saturating the soil and the root zone of the plants in the area. This is a very limited view as to what defines a wetland. These spaces are very diverse in their makeup and can be found nearly anywhere; low lands, flat lands, mountain tops, rivers edges, ponds, stream banks and so on. However, it does not always have to be wet to be considered a wetland. Soil conditions or the types of vegetation are also useful indicators as certain plants have adapted their roots to grow in wet environments.
We need to reevaluate the areas on our property with dead trees, tall wild sedges, ferns, skunk cabbage and wet, mucky soil. We must begin to appreciate what they offer our environment and rethink our natural inclination to fill in these areas and convert them into lawn. Unfortunately, most people consider wetlands to be unsightly and have a desire to clean them up or transform them into areas of more conventional use.
But there are many ways to make wetlands more attractive without harming them or their environmental benefits. For example, removing some of the dead trees and introducing wetland species of plants like dogwoods, viburnums, asters, iris and many more, will add flower color and interest. Meadow grass mixes can be planted to add wildflowers that will bring color and interest spring, summer, fall and winter. Elevated boardwalks can be used to gain access to these amazing spaces allowing us to more closely observe the plants,
birds, and other animals that live in or visit wetlands. Proper planning and creativity can be used to convert wet spaces into beautiful areas that are compatible with our lifesty
Nearly 75% of all wetlands are privately owned. Nevertheless, because they are such a critical element in our environment, wetlands, no matter their size, are strictly regulated at the federal, state, and local level. Therefore, before making any changes to wet areas on your property, it is essential to determine whether these areas are protected wetlands. This determination may not be obvious and should be made in consultation with a certified wetland delineator or a regulatory agency. You can contact your local building department or the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to find a wetland delineator.
At the very least, regulation entails a review of your plans and authorization by a governmental agency before any activity can be undertaken. In the event that your plans are more drastic, such as those requiring dredging or filling of a wetland, you may need to go through the permit process. The Army Corps has some general criteria that they apply on an individual basis to each application. The general criteria are: 1. an assessment of need for the proposed work; 2. whether any alternatives that would accomplish the same goal were considered; 3. an analysis of the long-term favorable and/or unfavorable effects on the public and private use of the area.
Wetlands are a vital link between water and land, offering many benefits to our environment, and they do not have to be filled in to be compatible with business or private use. With proper planning and regulatory approval, they can offer unique and inviting landscapes for all to enjoy.
By being aware of the projected growth of our region and what impact it can have on the environment, we can avoid looking back 5, 10 or 15 years from now and being disappointed in what has been done in the name of growth and prosperity. It is easier to work hand in hand with what Mother Nature has already provided for us rather than try to recreate her efforts.
For more information on wetlands, their benefits and regulatory information, contact:
www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/vital/wetlands for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency site on wetlands
www.nan.usace.army.mil for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website
www.dec.state.ny.us for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
www.redbuddevelopment.com for consultation on your landscape plans
By Geffrey Redick, RLA
Redbud Development, Inc.