The most important habitats around the globe are those that are water-soaked, which ecologists call “peatlands”. Those who may not appreciate their importance or who even see them in a negative light sometimes call them “swamplands.” In his new book, “Swamplands – Tundra Beavers, Quaking Bogs, and the Improbable World of Peat,” lauded author Edward Struzik explores the complex ecological, social, and artistic history and future of the world’s many kinds of peatlands.
These often-underappreciated ecosystems play a critical role in mitigating floods, filtering water, slowing wildfires, and regulating climate change. Ancient peatlands, like those found in one of the world’s largest peatlands–the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands of Canada–have cooled the planet for thousands of years. But if they’re disturbed and degraded, carbon will be released rather than stored. This would make it worse than helping to mitigate the climate crisis.
The Omushkego Cree—the name of the Mushkegowuk People in their Cree language—know well the importance of these ancient peatlands that they have stewarded for thousands of years. The Mushkegowuk Council is made up of First Nations living in the northern Ontario Hudson and James Bay regions. They are currently working on a conservation plan for the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands. They are working with organizations such as the National Audubon Society, Wildlands League and other non-profits to make this happen.
These peatlands, located along Hudson-James Bay in northern Canada, are also important for shorebirds. Black-bellied Plovers (Ruddy Turnstones), Semipalmated Plovers (Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs), Semipalmated Sandpipers/Pectoral Sandpipers as well as the endangered Red Knot) travel long distances across North America every year. They rely on Hudson-James Bay Lowlands as a place to rest and refuel before they continue their epic journeys.
It becomes increasingly obvious that peatlands must be protected as the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands are so important. Yet despite the region’s vital importance to wildlife and the planet, sections of the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands are under threat. 18 individuals and companies currently hold more than 17,000 mining claims in the lowlands known as the Ring of Fire.
Conservation of the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands is a nature-based climate solution that can contribute to solving the world’s climate crisis. These lands will also be crucial to Canada reaching its goal of conserving 30% of it lands and waters by 2030, a goal that should be adopted by all the world’s nations in the upcoming meetings on the Convention on Biological Diversity.
When you consider the ecosystem services provided by Canada’s boreal from an economic standpoint the argument become even stronger for conservation. The natural capital of Canada’s boreal is estimated to be $700 billion annually. This includes carbon storage as well water filtration, flood prevention, pest control, cultural benefits for rural communities, and recreational activities, such as tourism (PEW (2012)).
On December 16, 2021, we invite you to attend the following free online event. We will be joining author Ed Struzik to discuss the special characteristics of the Hudson-James Lowlands and the importance of preserving these (and other) peatlands. Join us to hear more about the Mushkegowuk Council’s work to lead the way in understanding and communicating the importance of these globally significant sites in the face of many competing interests.
Thursday, December 16 from 1–2:15 pm ET
Edward Struzik is the author of Swamplands and Future Arctic and Firestorm.
Vern Cheechoo is Director of Lands and Resources at Mushkegowuk council
Anna Baggio, Director Conservation, Wildlands League
Jeff Wells is Vice President for Boreal Conservation, National Audubon Society