Saskatchewan is often praised for its abundance of opportunity for nature-lovers, offering bountiful game for hunting and fishing as well as a diverse landscape to explore. But for all of our rolling fields in the South, our impenetrable woods in the North, and the immense number of animal species that call these places home, the credit is truly owed to our local wetlands for providing the base necessities that allow life to thrive here. Although bogs, marshes, and sloughs are not the typical heroes that you might expect, Krystal Tendler sees the true value that they hold. Tendler is the Executive Director of Agricultural Water Management with the Water Security Agency, and a farmer from the Bengough area. She said that what we might refer to as a stinky puddle in a field often serves an invaluable role as the point of origin for many species in our local ecosystems. 

"Around Weyburn, we see mammals, birds, insects, and amphibian species all coming from those wetlands," Tendler explained. "There are actually 22 individual species at risk in Saskatchewan that are completely dependent on wetlands for their survival, and if their numbers decline, we could see other species in the food chain leave in search of new homes. That's only part of why it's important to make sure we're protecting wetlands, and I think we're doing a good job of that in Saskatchewan."

Our province is home to 11% of the nation's wetlands, which are equally important for wildlife from coast to coast. While great strides have been made in preserving natural wetlands across Canada, Tendler credits our agricultural community for retaining a staggering majority of our natural wetlands that act as essential wildlife habitats in Saskatchewan. 

"We've done really intensive mapping of the province and we're finding that 86% of our natural wetlands are still intact, and that's why we're able to maintain so many different species here. It's actually incredible to see," she marveled. "Our farmers and ranchers are doing a great job of maintaining those wetlands to provide homes for those species. Really, farmers are the original environmentalists. They're the people who have been protecting and taking care of our land for a very long time in this province, and they continue to make important decisions about water management."

Environmental stewardship is all about finding a sustainable balance, especially with producers needing to grow more food than ever and the demand for land development always increasing. Current data shows that Saskatchewan loses only 0.4% of natural wetland territory annually, which Tendler hailed as a good sign that landowners are taking the right steps during land development.

"Any sort of development that happens, we have to think about where the original wetlands might go. But a lot of the development that happens, whether it be for municipalities or for industry, they're making plans to ensure that water is being managed appropriately," she affirmed. "I know that some industries need to develop over existing wetlands, and we're seeing many of them contributing to restoration projects elsewhere to maintain a balance. It's great to see that they're making those types of investments and thinking holistically about the landscape."

Besides acting as breeding grounds and habitats for numerous forerunner species in our local ecosystems, wetlands are also important buffers for precipitation and are a vital component in the water cycle. Working as aquifers, wetlands are capable of storing massive amounts of fresh water and slow down the rate that it evaporates. Water availability might be a constant priority for agriculture, but urban dwellings also benefit from an aquifer's ability to slow down runoff during weather events. 

"Wetlands are important for protecting cities such as Weyburn from flooding. I know Weyburn has had its history with flooding, but they slow that waterflow down so it's not all reaching the city at one time. Having natural wetlands helps us to be a bit more resilient to the regular flow of our weather cycle," explained Tendler. "Wetlands are also important for water quality. When nutrient rich water comes in, they hold on to those nutrients and retain them there, instead of those nutrients getting carried away by runoff."

In commemoration of World Wetlands Day, let's acknowledge the crucial role that our local wetlands play in maintaining ecological balance. With 86% of natural wetlands still intact, Saskatchewan exemplifies a commitment to both sustainable development and wildlife preservation. The collaborative efforts of farmers, industries, and environmentalists showcases a commendable balance between progress and conservation which Tendler believes to be a result of continuous shared learning among these groups. As we move forward, let's pledge to uphold this legacy, ensuring our wetlands remain thriving hubs of life for the benefit of current and future generations.