Carlyon Family Blog

Jessica`s take on Wetlands October 28, 2015 16:05

Hello everyone 

This is Jessica once again. I have began my fifth year of post secondary education at the University of Alberta. This is my second year here after transferring from Lakeland College. I am in the Agriculture, Life and Environmental Science faculty majoring in Sustainable Agricultural Systems. This program has allowed me to take a variety of courses such as animals science, natural resources economics, soil science, climates and ecosystems and a wetlands planning and management course.

I have only been in this wetlands biology class for a few weeks but it has caused my interest in the function of wetlands to increase.  I have always been inclined to notice frogs and ducks but I am beginning to realize exactly how much wetlands benefit ecosystems and my appreciation for natural systems. 

This past September my class had a field trip to evaluate the hydrology, geomorphology, vegetation and values of three wetlands in the Edmonton area. Of the three we analyzed, I have driven past two of them numerous  as I traveled to and from the farm to my place in Edmonton. I hardly gave them a second thought. During class we were tasked with defining what a wetland is. The definition is very difficult as it cannot include open water over 2 meters deep, but it does include a black spruce forest where there has not been evidence of water on the lands surface for years. 

In Alberta peatlands and prairie pothole style wetlands are considered plentiful. Wetlands are being altered due to agriculture, forestry and the oil and gas industry. I am hoping that this class will give me the knowledge to determine which wetlands are necessary for efficient and profitable ecosystem. Most of our farm land is a peat soil. We have a couple acres that could fit into the definition of a wetland. One area is filled with tall skinny spruce trees,shrubs and sphagnum (various moss species that can be up to 70% water). Although the piece of bush has vegetation indicator species of a wetland there is not sitting water because of the reconstruction of the creek channel has changed the flow of water. Most of this wetlands water source must be from the ground and surface run off can no longer travel through this area. Within this particular bush piece we have a small hay field. Generally wetlands are considered to have very high productivity. 

We have a quarter of land and three quarters of it we refer to as "the swamp". In the north section there is a creek that runs through the middle and it generally holds some level of water throughout the summer. It is during the spring and early summer that the surface run off overflows the creek banks. We have water that floods through the willow shrubs and our pasture. We have had great productivity from this area due to the ample moisture and there is abundant organic matter and nutrients available to the plants.  

We have not changed the condition of the wetland areas as we are not looking to change over the land use to cropping land. We have a cattle back grounding operation and this requires enough pasture land to sustain the yearling steers we want to pasture over the summer. The "swamp" land and the dry fen have value to our farm in that they provide forage farm operation as well as recreational value. I have mentioned before about the high productivity, this benefits our operation as we are able to get a high level of grazing from this piece of pasture as we rationally graze the pasture in addition to the rest of the property. In addition the grazing helps keep the willows from reaching a climax community and out competing the grass species. The variation in the vegetation to levels and species provides a mixed habitat for many different native bird, insect and ungulate species. We have personally spotted ruffed grouse, black-capped chickadee, yellow bellied sapsucker, great grey owl, blue herons and multiple duck species. 

Agriculture is our families way of life and the idea of raising chicken, turkeys and cattle on pasture is satisfying in that we provide value, nutrition and a transparent meat option to our consumers. Agriculture is living off the land and coexisting with the species that were living in the area before we began farming the land. Maintaining the diversity between pasture land, treed areas, wetlands and unfarmed area has allowed us to not only farm the land but allow for natural processes and succession to produce a vast collection of wildlife species. We as a family enjoy seeing birds flitting through the tree branches or porcupines chewing on willow bark when we go find our Carlyon family Christmas tree and white tailed deer bolting from the hay field. The difference in water availability fuels the wetlands which provide a different combination of vegetation for a wide range of wildlife. Frogs, ducks, cliff swallows, moose and coyotes all provide a function for a natural system. We would like to sustain this diversity and maintain a profitable family farm operation. 


 Below: Canadian Geese in our dugout July 7,2013


Below: Briana un-damming the creek to prevent hay field flooding