Wetlands have not only had an impact on our lives today, but Canadian history would have been different without them. Our need to access wetlands determined early trade routes and settlement patterns. The fur trade and the quest for the pelts of wetland animals such as beaver, otter, mink and muskrat influenced the European exploration of Canada. Indeed, the legendary voyageurs used Canada's waterways as transportation routes across the country and into distant backwaters. Now as more of our landscape becomes settled, we realize the importance of wetlands in regulating the quantity and quality of our water supplies.
The landscape of southern Ontario once included a mosaic of forests, meadows, and wetlands. The clearing of this landscape for timber and farmland to support new towns, benefited some species of wildlife. Other species found that their once continuous habitats were broken into isolated habitat patches. Farms avoided wet or mucky soils as did the new roads. As communities grew, farmers were quick to realize the value of wetland soils for crops and small wetlands were filled or had their life-giving waters diverted elsewhere. Suspicions about wetlands increased as settlers blamed the "ethers" or gasses in the wetlands for the death of family members and friends. We now know that these epidemic diseases came from raw sewage often dumped into wetlands, but many still view wetlands negatively.
Until recently large wetlands remained as barriers to development, and the land value of wet areas was low because they could not be developed. As the value of land around urban centres has increased, it is more economical to pay the increased costs and engineering technology now enabling us to develop even these few remaining wild spaces. Traditional wetland development has meant the total destruction of the habitat and the channeling of water away as fast and efficiently as possible.
Wetlands are increasingly the subject of controversy as the land base decreases and we covet these last few wild life habitats. To ensure healthy water supplies for our communities and downstream users, we must challenge the old methods of clearing wetlands or isolating them from the surrounding land use and ground water sources. Just as each wetland is unique and provides different functions for different communities, so does the diversity of land environments adjacent to each wetland. We now realize we can incorporate the elements of wetland habitats into the design of developments, and both needs can be met. This will be the challenge for communities...developing innovative ways to satisfy industry, community and individual needs throughout the ecosystems of the bioregion.