Celebrating our swamps

As far as ecosystems go, swamps, bogs, marshes, fens, and other sorts of wetlands don’t get a lot of love. It’s understandable, mostly. Few people would consider a swamp when heading out for an afternoon stroll. When you do end up tromping about in one you generally end up exhausted, covered in mud, and reeking of rot.
Wetlands simply aren’t human-friendly landscapes. This helps explain the word “mire,” which refers to a stressful situation from which it is hard to extricate oneself, but is also another name for a type of swamp.
Who said wetlands are ugly? Bog laurel adds a splash of colour along the water's edge. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

Who said wetlands are ugly? Bog laurel adds a splash of colour along the water’s edge. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

Despite the bad rap, wetlands are extremely productive and important ecosystems. For one, they act as giant sponges that help soak up excess water in the landscape during the spring melt or after heavy rain. Likewise, wetlands mitigate periods of drought by slowly rationing out all of the water they had absorbed and held. Simply put, wetlands help prevent flood AND drought.
As water slowly flows through, the soils and dense organic matter in swamps act as a massive filtration system, removing silt, toxins, and pollutants from the water before releasing it downstream, clearer and cleaner.
Named for their pungent aroma, skunk cabbage flowers start popping up in damp lowlands soon after the snow recedes, and are a favourite early season snack for the local bears. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

Named for their pungent aroma, skunk cabbage flowers start popping up in damp lowlands soon after the snow recedes, and are a favourite early season snack for the local bears. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

What is known as the Whistler Valley is actually more of a long and low mountain pass, a stretch of relatively flat land between the Cheakamus and Green River Canyons. Abundant year-round precipitation supplemented by the slow release of our summer snow melt, flows down from surrounding mountains and is absorbed by the valley’s deep and dense organic soil, characteristic of our coastal rainforest ecosystem, creating perfect conditions for the formation of wetlands.
Although humans may not be so fond of them, wetlands provide crucial habitat for a huge variety of plants, insects, and animals. Some of the most bio-diverse environments in Whistler (or anywhere, for that matter) are wetlands.
A myriad of amphibians can be found in local wetlands, including the Northwestern salamander. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

A myriad of amphibians can be found in local wetlands, including the northwestern salamander. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

Whistler has 5 main lakes and countless creeks and streams, but only about a quarter of the swamps and marshes that historically filled the valley still remain. They are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the area because these are usually very level terrain that can be drained and developed to become the (relatively) dry land that we live, work, and play on.

Still, we’re fortunate to have large and healthy marshes around Millar Creek just North of Function Junction, along Fitzsimmons Creek, in the Emerald Forest and around the River of Golden Dreams, and elsewhere.

Beaver love wetlands so much, they make their own! Castor Canadensis used to be prominent throughout the Whistler Valley, and are once again making a comeback.

Beaver love wetlands so much, they make their own! Castor Canadensis used to be prominent throughout Whistler, and are once again making a comeback. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

Next time you’re passing by a Whistler wetland, whether biking the Valley Trail, or tromping about in the bush, take a moment to stand still and observe. Chances are you’ll discover a cacophony of buzzing, splashing, and chirping, evidence of the thriving communities that call these oft-dismissed places home.

If we were able to translate the dragonflies, tadpoles, and herons’ languages, who knows what peat poets and bog bards we would discover. All that’s certain is the verb “mired” wouldn’t be in their vocabulary!

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