Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wet Meadows and Agriculture

May is National Wetlands Month

Wet meadows usually have greener or darker vegetation than the surrounding area. Like other wetlands, they help control flooding and pollution, replenish the groundwater, and support unique communities of plants and animals. Agriculture can be an integral part of this type of wetland.

Haying has been a seasonal use of some wet meadows for centuries. The wetland is not disturbed during the early part of the growing season, when the land is too wet to work and many wetland species are raising their young. By late summer, the meadow has become drier, the wetland grasses have matured, most young birds are out of the nest, and it is time to harvest the hay.

Grazing is another use compatible with these wetlands' natural cycles. Deer and elk have always grazed wet meadows, and carefully managed livestock grazing can be just as beneficial to a healthy wetland. Grazing of the wetland vegetation for short periods opens up feeding areas for shorebirds and other marsh species. Then the area is left ungrazed until it has fully recovered, to allow for fall regrowth. The tall, undisturbed wet meadow vegetation provides winter cover for many species, as well as residual cover for early nesting birds.

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