Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Value of Wetlands Vegetation

Research taking place in the large wave flume at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory at OSU is the first of its kind to document the response of wetland plant beds taken from coastal environments to simulated waves.  The study is designed to measure the ability for wetland plants to absorb wave energy, to survive exposure to waves, and to trap sediment for reduced erosion from wetlands.  The results of this study may be used to help determine the economic value of vegetation in wetlands and on engineered water and erosion control structures such as levees and dikes.
Dennis Albert, an Oregon State University assistant professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences and a principle investigator for the study, stated that “We’ve understood many of the values of coastal wetlands for some time, but this is one of our first opportunities to accurately measure the amount of wave energy reduction and sediment accumulation that occurs because of the plants.  Being able to quantify additional ecological services for wetlands whose value for fish and wildlife habitat is already well-documented provides further incentive to maintain and manage coastal wetlands.  Land use planning and coastal resource management benefit directly from a better understanding of the role wetlands and plant communities play in protecting our homes, communities and aquatic habitat.”
Commonly acknowledged wetland resources of value include wildlife habitat, cleaner water, less flood and erosion damage, recreation, cooler planet, and healthy economy.  While these resources are intuitively valuable, we are generally unable to assign these values, either in monetary terms or in subjective references such as spiritual, aesthetic,  cultural, and historic terms.  We take wetlands for granted, assuming that they are surplus lands that are difficult to develop, need to be drained to be productive, and don’t have much value. 
Just because we have not studied wetlands resources in much detail does not mean that they are not valuable, especially to society as a whole.  Our present appreciation of wetlands value in the Northwest will surely be enhanced by further scientific study on the coast and in the Willamette Valley and by increased education of landowners and recreation makers who have the most exposure to wetlands.  
The poor ability to assign value to wetlands can be improved by viewing value not only in monetary terms, but also in subjective terms.  While these subjective terms may not hold in a court of law, they can have powerful cultural and political influence for policy making and conservation.  When we as a society understand the importance of subjective values, aside from monetary worth, then we can enhance our cultural development and move forward as a civilization that is worthy of the name civilized.  This assignment of value will be supported by community and political will to conserve wetlands and to recognize their valuable contributions to our lives.  

It is critical that wetlands not suffer the neglect of common resources which everyone uses, and which are not taken care of because they belong to no one in particular (tragedy of the commons).  Since wetlands are poorly valued, it would appear that conservation of wetlands must come from the interest and action of private citizens and foundations, who support and fund acquisitions of lands.  These acquisitions would further persuade politicians, government agencies, and foundations to fund and support research towards defining wetland values.  Although passing laws designed to conserve wetlands is useful in the short term, laws change constantly.  Property acquisition and management is a more stable conservation method that is linked to personal responsibility through knowledge-based policies.  
Posted by michael 


Anonymous said...

What is the significance of the livestock photo to the blog? I don't believe there are any cows within the park boundaries.

michael said...

Cows are in the marsh and creek upstream from the park during the summer. The post is about value of wetlands vegetation, especially their role in water quality. The park is not the only wetlands in the Beaver Creek watershed. So we think about the role of cows in the marsh and watershed when considering the value of wetlands vegetation in the watershed.