Protecting wetlands and wildlife

On the eighth week of coronavirus my true love gave to me, 500 frogs a croaking, four [dozen] calling birds, three rich fens, two mourning doves, and a partridge in the Great Plains.

It is Saturday, which means two days of rest away from video conferences, working remotely, homeschooling, and tending home. So, my son and I run away to the woods. We have a bag packed with all of the essentials – water, trail mix, peanut butter crackers, and Kleenex. For entertainment, I’ve also brought a camera, binoculars, two nature journals, and a box of colored pencils. We have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no intention of returning home before the sun begins to set.

The further we walk, the easier it is to imagine that the modern world never actually existed. There are no roads, no cars, no phones and no computers. Instead of planes overhead, we hear the warbled cries of sandhill cranes in flight. We find an old wooden pole growing out of the base of a tree like an extra trunk. Was there a house here long ago? Address number 760 on a long forgotten road?

The skunk cabbage down near the river smells fabulously putrid. In a wetland on the ridge, 500 frogs-a-croaking are singing as if this is the very first day that has ever been created.

Approximately half of all frogs and one-third of all salamander species in North America lay their eggs in ephemeral wetlands, which usually exist only in the spring or after heavy rains. The upper Midwest is dotted with prairie potholes that formed when glaciers retreated thousands of years ago, leaving behind a pockmarked landscape. These areas also provide habitat for migrating birds and insects such as dragonflies.

As we stand beside one such wetland, we can hear at least three different kinds of frogs. The wood frogs sound like an army of angry ducks. Their squawks intensify every time my son approaches the edge of the water. In the midst of the commotion, we can also hear high-pitched spring peepers and raspy ribbitting chorus frogs. My son pokes the water with a cattail frond and finds gelatinous blobs filled with thousands of eggs. More frogs will soon appear.

Here on this remote tract of public land, the frogs have hopped happily for hundreds of years. Out in the real world, however, it’s not always easy being green. Amphibians are vulnerable to pollution from fertilizers and pesticides because they have porous skin that can absorb chemicals in water. These chemicals are especially deadly in the spring and early summer when frogs are laying eggs and tadpoles are hatching. Like other wildlife, frogs also battle the relentless spread of agriculture and development.

On May 5, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service announced the availability of $5 million in new wetland banking funds to restore, create and enhance wetlands to compensate for unavoidable impacts to wetlands in other locations. “Wetlands are critically important to the health of our natural resources -- filtering water, reducing soil loss and providing habitat to our nation’s wildlife while also helping to sequester carbon from the atmosphere,” said NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr. Funds will help conservation partners and farmers create wetland banks to meet Farm Bill requirements.

If you live near a lake or wetland, you can help to create healthier habitat for frogs and other wetland wildlife by leaving an unmowed buffer of vegetation around the edges of soggy woods and wetlands. Limit the amount of chemicals you use on your lawn and gardens and consider planting native plants along the water’s edge. Good plants for lake and wetland edges include sedges, blue flag iris, swamp milkweed, joe-pye weed, cardinal flower, black-eyed susans, and ferns. It’s also nice to leave a few fallen trees and logs in the water to provide shelter for frogs and turtles, as well as a place to bask in the sun. Also, though it may be tempting, do not dump leaves or yard waste into wetlands; this smothers habitat, fills in open water, and overloads wetlands with too many nutrients. Instead, take yard waste to a collection site or bag it for curbside pickup.

Yard waste disposal options include:

• Republic Services curbside pick-up: $118.64 for 2020. All waste must be inside the container to be collected.

• Forest Lake compost site: 20001 Forest Boulevard North. Forest Lake residents can drop off leaves/grass clippings and brush up to 3 inches in diameter at no charge.

• Washington County Northern Yard Waste Site: 5527 170th St. N., Hugo. Free and open to Washington and Ramsey County residents.

Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water, including the Comfort Lake-Forest Lake and Rice Creek Wastershed Districts.

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