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Wetlands important to climate change solution

Leading expert says the role of wetlands becoming clearer
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Ducks Unlimited Canada Update

Oak Hammock Marsh, Man., February 15, 2007 - One of Canada's foremost experts on the role of wetlands in carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas cycling is urging Canadian governments and policy makers to not overlook the natural abilities of wetlands when seeking to solve the climate change puzzle.

"We know for certain that wetlands have the ability to absorb carbon dioxide," said Dr. Pascal Badiou, a research scientist with Ducks Unlimited Canada's Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research (IWWR). "Carbon dioxide is the predominant greenhouse gas (GHG) in the atmosphere responsible for climate change."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations presented a report the first week of February acknowledging the link between human activities and climate change. However, according to Badiou, the importance of conserving and restoring wetlands for fighting climate change is still not widely acknowledged.

"There are many different types and classes of wetlands and additional research is required to determine how these differences influence the ability of wetlands to mitigate climate change. Although more research is needed our results indicate that wetlands store more carbon than surrounding agricultural lands and therefore may be valuable for fighting climate change," Badiou said.

Up to 70 percent of wetlands have disappeared in settled areas of Canada. Badiou is Ducks Unlimited Canada's (DUC) lead wetland and greenhouse gas researcher and is the project co-ordinator for the Agricultural Wetlands and Greenhouse Gas Initiative (AWGI). Through this initiative, DUC is leading two large projects that are examining the functional relationships between prairie wetlands, riparian areas and their adjacent agricultural landscapes in terms of carbon sequestration and GHG fluxes. Funding for this research initiative is provided by Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and DUC.

"The project brings together a network of researchers from a variety of disciplines, universities and agencies across Canada," Badiou said. "One of the major deliverables of this project is a quantitative assessment of the amount of carbon that Prairie wetlands can store."

A 2006 study led by Dr. Ned Euliss of the United States Geological Survey Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in Jamestown, North Dakota found that wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region of Canada and the U.S. only comprise approximately 17 percent of the landscape but may sequester twice as much carbon as the surrounding agricultural soils employing no tillage management. Euliss and his co-authors concluded that restoring wetlands on the Prairies may sequester 378 Tg of carbon over a 10-year period and estimated that Prairie wetlands have the potential to offset 2.4 percent of the CO2 emissions produced annually by the burning of fossil fuels in North America at 1990 levels.

"The capability of wetlands to store carbon is largely a result of their productivity. Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world," Badiou said. "Additionally, wetlands are often anaerobic (without oxygen) which greatly reduces the rate of decomposition relative to aerobic systems. Due to these facts, production usually exceeds decomposition in wetlands and results in the net accumulation of organic matter including carbon."

For more information:

Leigh Patterson
Corporate Media Relations Specialist
Ducks Unlimited Canada
Phone: 1-204-467-3306; Toll-free: 1-800-665-3825 
E-mail: l_patterson@ducks.ca

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