Not long ago and in a state not far away, property owners upset about wetland protection rules slapped stickers on their car and truck bumpers. “My Lands, Not Wetlands,” the bumper stickers said.
It’s not that simple.
Wetlands are often found on private lands. Many span multiple private properties. But even when they do, they provide public benefits – pollution filtration by wetland vegetation, fish and wildlife habitat, and flood mitigation through storage of excess water. Thus, the destruction of wetlands affects the public.
All of this came to mind a few days ago when the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Pollution Control Agency and the Board of Water and Soil Resources published a report on the condition of Minnesota’s wetlands. The good news: there are still 10.6 million acres of Minnesota wetlands, and those in the northeast portion of the state are largely health. The bad news: 10.6 million acres is half of the wetlands Minnesota once had, and many of those in the southern and western portions of the state are degraded.
If we go about it right, there can be more good news. By restoring former wetlands we can restore many of their benefits – and one of those is soaking up surges of water resulting from catastrophic flooding that increasingly plagues Minnesota. That provides a private benefit as well; it helps homeowners in the floodplain who might otherwise sustain expensive damage.
In Rosemount, the community where my family lives, small wetlands provide islands of beauty. Helping freshen a heavily developed suburb with the call of frogs and the trilling of red-winged blackbirds in spring and revealing the tracks of small animals and deer on their frozen surfaces in winter, they also offer places for contemplation and quiet year around.
But they are not really islands. They, like we, are connected to everything. Many of us own land, and those rights must be protected, but all Minnesotans have a stake in wetlands – and that includes future generations of Minnesotans.