Personal Responsibility: A Homeowner's Guide to Protecting Wetland Environments
Homeowners who live on or near wetlands have a responsibility to protect their natural environment from the dangers of encroachment, pollution, and disruption. Unfortunately, many homeowners aren't even aware of how their actions affect the wildlife around them. Those who want to do more to protect the Earth and its natural ecosystems should learn more about what they can do to keep wetlands safe.
Protecting the wetlands isn't just an investment in frogs and water reeds, it's an investment in the people who live in the area! Efforts from homeowners who don't fully understand the wetlands will be half-hearted at best. Wetlands protect against floods and provide cleaner water for those who depend on the wetlands for their main supply. The wetlands are designed to remove the natural toxins and pollutants that can make people and animals sick. For homeowners who aren't certain where the official wetlands begin, they should either check their individual property maps or call the local planning department.
Construction and Pollution
Homeowners who are planning to build decks or sheds on their property should aim to keep the structures as far away from the edge of the wetlands as possible. When water collects on the surfaces, it will also collect pollutants that will be eventually carried along with the runoff. The farther the water has to travel, the more likely it is to be absorbed by the surrounding property. Those who want to go the extra mile could consider placing rain barrels near the structures or planing a rain garden to absorb excess water. Homeowners will usually need to obtain an official license or potentially check with regulators if they're planning to either dig or build on their property to ensure the legality of the alterations to the land.
Wetlands are sensitive to new species of plant life, so homeowners who are looking to add curb appeal with landscaping are encouraged to landscape with native plants only. The best thing to do is create a large natural border of foliage between the lawn and the edge of the wetlands. Do not cut down shrubs or attempt to tame the wetlands in any way. If the growth is becoming a problem, call city officials to determine if action needs to be taken. Homeowners should not use herbicides or insecticides that can seep into the ground and make their way toward the wetlands. These chemicals can potentially kill off helpful insects that keep the wetlands teeming with life. Without them, the algae will start to take over and destroy the view.
Compost and Septic Systems
Trash and sewage are two major pollutants that homeowners can control to keep the wetlands safe. Do not dump or throw trash into the wetlands — even organic materials such as grass clippings or scrap wood. For homeowners who compost their trash, the pile should be located at least 100 feet away from the wetlands. Wetlands have their own ecosystem that works best when left undisturbed. Natural fertilizers will cause extra plant growth, and the eventual decay of those plants will suck the oxygen out of the area (leaving a smelly mess.) Homeowners who notice that their sewage drainfield is starting to turn green may want to get their sewage system inspected so they can be sure it's running properly.
Pets and Wetlands
Dogs and cats can cause a lot of trouble to the wetlands, so the official advice is to keep them away from the area at all times. Of course, no homeowner is going to follow their outdoor cats around at all times, and it can be a real challenge to keep dogs away from such an attractive area. To limit the amount of destruction a pet can do, dogs should only be given free reign in the area from spring to summer only and cats should be given bells so that the wildlife has a chance to get away in the case of a hunt. Keep dogs on a leash at all times to minimize further interference.
Caring for the wetlands of an area isn't necessarily hard work, but homeowners may need to adjust some of their habits to ensure they're doing their part. The good news is that once a homeowner does become aware of their impact, it should become second nature to do the right thing. These efforts will not only protect the wetlands, it will also protect everyone's property and future resale values, which can be incentive enough to start making some changes.
John Quinn is a Memphis real estate agent and an avid proponent of bringing sustainability into the home space. He believes small changes can make a big difference in preserving not only the environment, but ways of life as well.