#71: Wetlands Rediscovered – Exploring Nature's Hidden Gems and Restoring Their Glory – Nature's Archive
Wetlands are phenomenally important to biodiversity, water quality, and flood control. Yet they are often overlooked and dismissed.
The voice you heard a moment ago was Tom Biebighauser, my guest today. Tom is perhaps the most enthusiastic wetland advocate that you’ll ever encounter. He’s been restoring and designing wetlands since 1979, and is widely regarded as one of the worlds experts in these endeavors.
Today Tom sets the record straight for wetlands. We discuss the many types of wetlands that naturally occur, including my personal favorite, vernal pools, and what makes each of them distinct, including the plant and animal communities they support.
Tom tells us about the benefits of wetlands, and why so many wetlands were drained over the years.
The good news is that many land managers are recognizing the critical importance of wetlands, and are now working to restore them. But there is much more work to be done. Tom and his organizations offer books, training, and support for individuals and for organizations considering building or restoring wetlands. Did you know you can even create one in your own yard? And no, they won’t be mosquito magnets.
It was a pleasure to speak with Tom, and I hope you enjoy this discussion as much as I did.
Did you have a question that I didn’t ask? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll try to get an answer!
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Links To Topics Discussed
People and Organizations
Sheltowee Environmental Education Coalition
Wetland Restoration and Training LLC
Note: links to books are affiliate links
Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter – Ben Goldfarb
Wetland Restoration and Construction A Technical Guide – Tom Biebighauser
Wetland Drainage, Restoration, and Repair – Tom Biebighauser
Podcast Episodes We Referenced
Michelle Balderston provided editing assistance for this episode.
The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Spellbound by Brian Holtz Music
Free download: https://filmmusic.io/song/9616-spellbound
License (CC BY 4.0): https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
Artist website: https://brianholtzmusic.com
Transcripts are automatically created and lightly edited, and are about 95% accurate. Apologies for any errors.
[00:00:00] Michael Hawk: Tom, thank you so much for on short notice joining me for Nature’s Archive.
[00:00:04] Tom Biebighauser: I greatly appreciate the invitation.
[00:00:07] Michael Hawk: I love on Nature’s Archive to highlight some of the maybe overlooked aspects of nature, and I think for a long time, wetlands were very overlooked. I see that tide turning thanks in part to your efforts. So I’m extremely excited to get into the weeds of different types of wetlands today.
[00:00:28] Tom Biebighauser: I agree that wetlands have been looked at with everything but favor over the years they’ve been viewed as places that are swamps full of mosquitoes and scary places . So this is great that we have an opportunity to talk about the many values of wetlands and how beautiful these environments are.
[00:00:47] Michael Hawk: I love to get out in nature and find interesting organisms and water’s the key, you know, and wetlands are the best place that I love to go because there’s just so much diversity in every single type of wetland that I encounter.
[00:00:59] Tom Biebighauser: But in many areas it’s very difficult to find a wetland, an area of shallow water, maybe an area with saturated soils, because so many of these have been eliminated from the landscape. And so you’re lucky to find a reservoir or maybe a storm water pond, and they are a bit different than a wetland.
[00:01:17] Michael Hawk: So we’ll get into some of those distinctions and challenges for wetlands, but backing up a few steps I always like to find out from my guests what your journey was anyway, to become interested in this case, wetlands. So can you tell me a bit about where you grew up and how you first got interested in nature?
[00:01:34] Tom Biebighauser: That’s a really good question because I work with many educators at schools and we talk about wetlands and we visit wetlands and we build wetlands at the schools. And so I think back on what really got me interested in these habitats, and I think about going pheasant hunting with my father when I was, oh, sixth grade, seventh grade.
[00:01:55] And we would hunt pheasants around wetlands in southern Minnesota. But then I really remember Mr. William Schmid. He was my seventh grade science teacher at White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and he would take our classes out on field trips. We would just walk out behind the school here. We were in Minnesota where there’s wetlands and lakes everywhere on the landscape.
[00:02:17] And he’d take the classes out there and we would catch frogs and toads and we would do water sampling. I thought, this is really cool. I really like this. But then Mr. Ballman in eighth grade, he taught a class after school about duck hunting, and another class about how to trap muskrats in mink.
[00:02:37] And of course, all these species depend on wetlands. So that got me on my bicycle and locating all the different wetlands in the Minnesota area in near White Bear Lake. And I’d put on my camouflage clothing and I’d hide my bicycle and I’d sneak into these wetland areas. Some, of course I’d ask permission, but it was hard to find the landowners.
[00:02:58] We would look for frogs and toads and salamanders, and we’d set our trap line. We were a little bit older, we would start hunting waterfall and just really appreciated these fascinating areas that we call wetland.
[00:03:12] Michael Hawk: Minnesota seems like the ideal place to get hooked on wetlands.
[00:03:16] Tom Biebighauser: Oh, it was, wetlands everywhere. Everybody hears about over 10,000 lakes, but there must be hundreds of thousands of wetlands in Minnesota. And each one’s a bit different. Some have deep water, open water, others have trees growing in them. Others have all sorts of cattails and bull rushes.
[00:03:36] But one thing they have in common, you’re going to see wildlife. If you wanna see animals on a hike, visit a wetland area. Every animal needs water and wetlands have that shallow water. And that shallow water in sunli areas is this whole incredibly productive that these wetlands are just teaming with life.
[00:03:55] And I just recall as a child seeing great blue herons and mallards and turtles sunning themselves on the logs and thought, these are really interesting areas. If you go to a wetland, you’re guaranteed you’re gonna see wildlife. And oftentimes these species are brightly colored and they’re making these wonderful sounds, and they’re just great places to enjoy.
[00:04:18] Michael Hawk: And, you’ve started to get into. Some of the discussion I was hoping to about why are wetlands so important? And I just wanted to give a nod to a past guest that I had on the show,
[00:04:30] Ben Goldfarb. And he wrote a book a few years ago about beavers and the natural ponds that beavers create, which are wetlands associated with riparian areas A lot of times.
[00:04:42] But not always. And I think that was a super eyeopener to me.
[00:04:47] Tom Biebighauser: The book he wrote is Eager and it’s one of the best reads. You will learn more about wetlands and the environment by reading that book. I grew up in Minnesota and I started my career with the US Forest Service in northeastern Minnesota on the Superior National Forest. And this is an area that had a strong population of beaver in the 1970s.
[00:05:10] Much of North America had low populations of beaver up until the 1970s. The Superior National Forest of Minnesota had quite a few beaver, and when we would be out in the woods looking at some of these streams, we would see where beaver had been building their dams and their lodges for thousands of years.
[00:05:31] And that these were stair stepped down the valleys just like rice patties and some of the beaver ponds had opened water in them with moose. Others were surrounded by shrubs, yet others had gone dry and were supporting wet meadows. So we learn as that the beaver is really a keystone species and has built all these different wetlands.
[00:05:54] In the drainages. And the real difference why we saw so many on the Superior National Forest is the area was never farmed. These were drainages that were the same since the time of year, European colonization. And now elsewhere in North America, all those beaver ponds have been drained and the dams have been removed and breached because that was some of the best farmland.
[00:06:21] This is where you had the deep rich soils, and if you could remove the beaver and the beaver dam, you could produce a crop and that crop would have the moisture needed to grow during the summer months. So it’s interesting to see how the beaver has now been expanding its numbers and it’s showing up at areas where they haven’t been seen for a hundred years.
[00:06:43] Michael Hawk: Absolutely. And here in the Bay Area as well, they’re, they are starting to expand you started hitting on these various aspects that make wetlands important. So please continue with your ode to wetlands.
[00:06:55] Tom Biebighauser: Oh yeah, I consider wetlands to be the most productive ecosystems in the world. And you think about it, if you go to plant a garden, you find an area of rich soil in a sunlit location, and that’s where you plant your food items. But when you look at it, a wetland is really a garden with moist soils.
[00:07:15] And it’s going to grow unbelievable numbers of plants and animals. So when you go to a wetland area, you’re more than likely gonna see herons, ducks, frogs, toads, salamanders, plus all these insects like dragon flies and damsel flies. Red wing, black birds, yellowhead black birds. But what I find most interesting about wetlands is how they can support rare species.
[00:07:41] Some of these rare frogs, toads and fish. The only place you’re gonna find them is in wetlands. And like in California, you have those rare species of fairy shrimp that are found in vernal ponds, which are a special typo wetland that goes dry and late summer to early fall. But wetlands are so important to society.
[00:08:03] We’re learning how important wetlands are to controlling flooding. Wetlands are like a big sponge. When you have a rainfall with a runoff event, the wetland’s going to hold onto that water and slowly allow it to soak into the ground. If you have dirty water running off of farmland or urban areas and that water goes into a wetland area, it’s gonna come out of that wetland so much cleaner.
[00:08:29] And we’re now using wetlands and building wetlands to remove phosphorus and nitrogen from the water. And some communities are now using wetlands to clean their wastewater. So wetlands have these functions. The only disadvantage I see is that a wetland takes up space. And what people have tried to do is to condense the functions of a wetland into a small cell.
[00:08:53] And we haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Wetlands need room, but with that room comes the outdoor spaces that we enjoy. To look at. I know a number of communities in the US where they’re taking their streams out of culverts and they’re daylighting them, and then they’re building wetlands along the streams.
[00:09:14] And this is giving people wonderful parklands to enjoy when they’re in an urban environment. So people need space. This is why Central Park is so of such critical importance here. We have this dense population of people and all our buildings, but yeah, we have this wonderland that people can enjoy within a walk of where they’re working.
[00:09:36] Michael Hawk: I think it’s hard sometimes to recognize all of these benefits you mentioned just a few minutes ago that they’re some of the most productive crop lands when you drain them. And I think that has had taken hold for so long.
[00:09:48] And now we’re recognizing these challenges.
[00:09:50] Tom Biebighauser: Well, I came across a publication that the Army Corps of Engineers put together, and they looked at the cost of different measures that can be taken to control flooding, and what they found out is that the lowest cost way to reduce flooding in a community is to protect the existing wetlands. If you can protect them, they will absorb that runoff, it’ll soak into the ground,
[00:10:14] the next least expensive way to control flooding was to restore wetland areas, to take areas that are being flooded and to bring back the wetland areas. And the most expensive way was to put in the dykes and the dams and all the pumps. So what I see happening in communities where I live in Morehead, Kentucky is that we had a subdivision that was built in the 1970s and the people were being flooded occasionally, but then with the increased amount of rainfall that we’ve been receiving here in the east, they’ve been flooded more and more.
[00:10:51] And eventually what happened is that a partnership was formed with different government agencies and these people who are willing to sell their homes on the floodplain. They received a fair purchase price. The homes were removed, and then what we did is that we restored wetlands on that floodplain so that we could reduce flooding for the neighboring properties.
[00:11:14] So what we’re seeing is that living on a floodplain is costly. I mean being going through a flood is a horrible experience. And also it’s expensive to the taxpayers, of course, to the homeowners. So moving folks out of the floodplain is big, and then taking the next step in restoring the wetlands is even better.
[00:11:35] Michael Hawk: Yeah, that’s it. It’s living with nature instead of against nature. Let’s get into maybe some of the subtleties of these different wetlands. You mentioned vernal pools earlier, but I know there’s a whole variety and each supports different communities of plants and animals and organisms.
[00:11:51] So can you run through some of the common ones that people might encounter?
[00:11:55] Tom Biebighauser: Yeah, really? What is a wetland? We have a legal definition from the Army Corps of Engineers that we have an area of saturated soils, and then we have hydric plants. And these are plants like bull rushes and cattails. And then we have the presence of water during part of the growing season. There are different kinds of wetlands, but something to remember is that if you get into a wetland area, you’re gonna get your feet wet.
[00:12:21] If you drive to drive through it, you’re gonna get stuck. These are wetlands. So there’s the wet meadow, and this is also called a moist prairie. But wet meadows have grasses in them, sedges and bull rushes, plus many wildflowers. And we’re working to protect and to restore wet metals, to help pollinators .
[00:12:43] These wet metal areas are just beautiful to look at, and many of them in the west have been damaged. There are channels that have been cutting them ditches in them. For years people have been cutting hay out of the wet meadows, and in order to cut the hay, they had to dry the wet meadow by digging ditches.
[00:13:02] So there’s a big program now to restore the wet meadow wetlands.
[00:13:06] But let’s look at the one that you see on calendars. It’s called the emergent wetland. The emergent wetland is the wetland that has shallow water areas of open water.
[00:13:17] This is what we used to call a shallow marsh. And the emergent wetland is the one that is just beautiful to look at. You’re gonna find ducks and geese and great blue herons. Deer. Moose bats at night, tree swallows, swooping in purple Martins during the day.
[00:13:35] Okay, now let’s move on to the wetland that is probably the least rated and least appreciated. We call it the shrub scrub, otherwise known as the shrub swamp. And these are areas of saturated soil and we find plants like Alder growing in them. Button bush and willow. And these are areas that are really important to our neotropical birds for nesting, really important to animals to birds, like the American woodcock and the Snipe.
[00:14:08] And they’re really important to moose. And I’ve built very few of these because the landowners that I’ve worked with very few appreciate, you the value of the shrub swamp. And it’s one that it’s not gonna win any beauty contests, but there sure is a diversity of plants and animals that use them.
[00:14:26] Michael Hawk: the shrub. Wetlands. Are they more densely vegetated? Is that why they’re lacking
[00:14:31] Tom Biebighauser: Oh, they’re thick. Oh yeah. To walk through it, you have to really watch your glasses and you have to be careful. You don’t trip. I’ll go to the doctor every year for a physical and they say, have you fallen recently? And I’ll say, yes. They look at me, I say It’s because I go through shrub swamps. And if you try to tackle your way through a shrub swamp, some route’s gonna catch you. And you might go down. But fortunately, the soils are wet, so just make a mess outta your outfit, which is no big deal.
[00:15:00] Michael Hawk: Got it.
[00:15:01] Tom Biebighauser: Okay, let’s look at swamps. We call them forested wetlands. Forested wetlands are one of the rarest wetlands in North America, and the forested wetland has the saturated soils.
[00:15:14] It has trees growing in it, and these trees can be like western red cedar, or in the east, it can be northern white cedar. It can be swamp white oak pin oak, and the swamps have these pools of water and the topography of a swamp or a forest in wetland. I call it pit and mound, because where you have saturated soils and trees growing, that tree is going to fall over in a windstorm, and when it falls over, it leaves a.
[00:15:47] Depression where the root mass came out of the ground and it leaves a mound where the roots came out of the ground. So we call this pit and mound topography. So if you’ve ever been in a natural forested wetland, you’re gonna find all these puddles of water that are full of frogs, toads, and salamanders.
[00:16:09] You’re gonna find all these mounds where the roots were and growing on the mounds will be at least 30 different species of plants, including the young of the tree that fell over. Now, I found very few natural forested wetlands in the us. Almost every one of them has been changed into farmland, but when you get into a swamp, what I mean, what a diversity of plants and you have all these different birds and these are areas that deer will use for wintering. And I really enjoy building a forest in wetland because there are so many steps you need to take and you have to get the water just right in the ground. You have to provide the trees with a place to live where they won’t be in saturated soils.
[00:16:58] So the swamp is a cool place and that’s why every time I hear on the news that somebody wants to drain the swamp in DC I think it’s already been done. I have photographs showing the mall in DC and it used to be wetland. It used to be forested wetland. And yes, it’s already been drained, so why rera it?
[00:17:20] Okay, let’s bring it back.
[00:17:22] Michael Hawk: So I understand the comment in jest and, but it is unfortunate commentary about how we look at swamps because really from an ecological value it’s not much surpasses a swamp in terms of biodiversity.
[00:17:35] Tom Biebighauser: Most of our wetlands were drained in your urban areas because of fear of mosquitoes and the diseases that they would carry. But the research that I’ve been part of, what we have found is that a healthy wetland actually reduces mosquito numbers. Most people, they look at a wetland, they go, oh, that’s just a mosquito breeder.
[00:17:56] What we find out is that if you have a wetland that has clean water in it, which most wetlands do, it’s going to support dragon flies, damsel flies. It’s gonna support salamanders water, boatman water striders, and the larva of all these animals will feed on mosquito larva. So when I visit a wetland area I go in there with my boots on and I use my dip net and I start dipping.
[00:18:24] I’m gonna find the water boatman, the water striders, the dragonfly larva, the salamander larva. I’m not gonna find mosquito larva. And that’s because they’re all being eaten by these predators. And then during the day, I’m gonna see swallows flying around and they’re eating the adult mosquitoes. At night, the bats are flying around eating the adult mosquitoes.
[00:18:45] So what we’ve learned about wetlands is that mosquitoes may check in, but they won’t check out.
[00:18:51] Michael Hawk: They’re a mosquito sink.
[00:18:53] Tom Biebighauser: They really are. They’re an attractive nuisance to mosquitoes. They see this water and they probably go, oh my word. I have to lay my eggs in here. But then there’s something there to eat them. So where do mosquitoes breed?
[00:19:05] If you leave your coffee cup outside with water in it, mosquitoes will breed in it. If you have a children’s toy made out of plastic that holds water, or a five gallon bucket, or an old tire or a gutter that doesn’t drain, this is where the mosquitoes are breeding. Our son used to live in Texas, and I remember the first time we visited him in Texas.
[00:19:29] We were bit by mosquitoes at night, and there were no wetlands within miles. And we tracked down where they were breeding. They were in the traps of the irrigation system. So they had an irrigation system in their lawn. And we found the mosquito larva because those were not healthy wetlands.
[00:19:48] Michael Hawk: I believe it.
[00:19:48] Tom Biebighauser: If your puddle only holds water for a month or less, there’s a good chance you’ll get mosquitoes.
[00:19:54] So we’ve built wetlands at schools. When we’re designing the wetland, the students are swatting, mosquitoes come back a year later, we sample the wetland. There are no mosquito larva in the wetland, and the students are not swatting mosquitoes. So we can’t assume that wetlands produce mosquitoes.
[00:20:12] Michael Hawk: Totally anecdotal, but I was just gonna comment in, my own backyard. We have some empty pots that fill up with water, and if I’m not diligent about dumping that water, I’ll see all, dozens if not hundreds of mosquito larva in those pots. And I do get bit by more mosquitoes in my own yard.
[00:20:28] Then I do, when I go out to some of these places doing bio blitzes or night hikes or things like that. A little pot of water is not a healthy ecosystem.
[00:20:39] Tom Biebighauser: We live on a small farm, and if I don’t change the water for the goats, often the mosquitoes will breed in it, and then you won’t get salamanders or dragon flies. But these dragon flies are really effective predators. They really go after the mosquitoes. also we’re finding out how important. The saturated soil is around wetlands to pollinators, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing the movement to help pollinators.
[00:21:06] And everybody is, many people are planting wildflowers, which is so good, but if you were to protect or to restore a wetland, you could help pollinators even more. Just watch a vernal pool, which is another type of wetland. A vernal pool has changing water levels. It’s an area of shallow water that goes dry sometime during the year.
[00:21:30] And when that water level is fluctuating, it exposes mud and mud is important to a lot of animals. If you are shore bird, like an avocet or spotted sandpiper, you’re gonna hunt for larva, fly larva in that mud. Now if you’re a pollinator, like a bee or a wasp or a butterfly, you’re gonna get to that mud along the edge of that vernal pool, and that’s where you’re gonna get your minerals.
[00:21:57] That’s where you’re gonna get your salts, everything that you need to survive. So when I start building a wetland area and water is seeping in from the ground, and I start seeing mud, suddenly the pollinators show up and there can be hundreds of bees and butterflies that can find that saturated soil and all the minerals.
[00:22:17] Now, the vernal pool is a wetland that there aren’t many left out there, because these were the shallow puddles of water that were seasonal in nature. And when they appeared was with the heavy rains and the runoff from snow, then they would dry either in early summer, late summer or fall. But because they were dry, they would not support fish and because they don’t support fish, you get all these rare frogs and toads and all these rare invertebrates, the crustaceans like fairy shrimp and clam shrimp because these vernal pools don’t have fish that eat them.
[00:22:57] Now, another thing has happened over the last 20 years is that the American bullfrog has really moved into the west and the southwest, and it’s not native to the west and the southwest and the bullfrog will eat anything. It can get in its mouth. We know that they’ll eat other frogs, other toads. We know that they’ll eat their own kind.
[00:23:19] The younger ones we know that they’ll go after muskrats and turtles. And so if you have a wetland that contains water every year, The bullfrog tat poles or larva can develop bullfrog. Required two years to develop, so we have to have a wetland that has water in it for a couple of years at least.
[00:23:42] And so the Bullfrogs are finding these wetlands, they’re laying their eggs and they’re larva are growing up into adults, and then they’re eating all the native species. So we’ve been working on a number of projects in California to bring back these vernal pools, these vernal ponds. You can call me femoral wetlands, seasonal wetlands, vernal pools, vernal ponds.
[00:24:05] Just remember that they don’t have fish and they go dry during the year. And when we bring these back, it’s remarkable. The wildlife species that find them and are able to reproduce and use them for an important part of their life cycle. And they also are quite attractive. Have you ever have you been toal pools?
[00:24:25] Michael Hawk: Yeah I was just gonna say, I’ve been fortunate to see some I know there are some great ones nearby that I’ve yet to see, and I have some friends that, that have been trying to arrange a visit. But some of the ones that I’ve found are adjacent to seasonal creeks, and I think as you describe, when we have heavy rains, these uh, areas will fill up.
[00:24:43] And then we have our annual summer drought. The creeks then dry out, but the pools remain and they are high. Hotspots for all the things you were talking about, the water boatmen and the predaceous beetles and the tadpoles of various species. And yeah, they are just this time of year right now, actually they’re just bursting with life.
[00:25:02] Tom Biebighauser: So I worked on a vernal pool restoration project in New Mexico a few years ago on the Lincoln National Forest. And that vernal pool had been dry for, oh, probably about 30 years. And after we restored it it was amazing what came back. The clam shrimp, the tadpole shrimp, the fairy shrimp. And then we have these toads that came back.
[00:25:27] Spadefoot just an amazing environment. And most of these species had remained dormant in the soil. So when you look at fair shrimp, they reproduce with a cyst, like a seed. Same with clam shrimp. And when we restore a wetland area, we saved the soil and re spread it. And oftentimes those cysts are still viable in the soil.
[00:25:50] In fact, I came across one story from Australia where there was this large vernal pool. They called it a lake, and it had been dry for hundreds of years. They had, I guess you would call it a typhoon come in, a hurricane come in, and all the water filled the vernal pool. And sure enough, the ferry shrimp hatched.
[00:26:10] They came back. So it’s just wonderful to see these and they’re, fortunately, they’re quite durable and when it comes to restoring wetlands, we can often bring these back.
[00:26:21] Michael Hawk: That’s amazing.
[00:26:22] Tom Biebighauser: But I wanted to ask you a question. Okay. This is something a few people know about ferry shrimp. How do they get moved from wetland to wetland?
[00:26:32] So when we build a wetland area, we say, oh, we’d love to have fairy shrimp. Should we go try to find some good luck? They’re almost impossible to find. How do you think that they get into our vernal pools? Any idea?
[00:26:44] Michael Hawk: You said they’re, they reproduce by a cyst, which is durable, so I’m wondering if if some predator eats them and then deposits them elsewhere.
[00:26:55] Tom Biebighauser: Wow. You did great. That’s better than any biologist answer. There’s a research paper out there that talks about the predaceous diving beetle. This is a beetle that will fly from wetland to wetland and it will ingest the cysts and when it defecates, it inoculates these other wetlands with the fairy shrimp.
[00:27:17] So yeah, they get moved around quite a bit. I also heard the wind will move them around, but I’m not sure about that. So you never know how these animals get moved?
[00:27:27] Michael Hawk: So I, I think we jumped to vernal pools, but I, I don’t know if you had finished your list of different wetland types.
[00:27:35] Tom Biebighauser: Oh, nope. Okay. There’s another wetland we call the peatland. Most people know these as bogs and the peatland has Sphagnum moss in it and pitcher plant. And other rare plants. And we see these more in our northern climates and higher elevations, the peatlands, and they’re just wonderful to visit. I remember working in Minnesota, there were peatlands all over the landscape, but even where I live in Kentucky, we have some peatlands that have developed on mine areas.
[00:28:06] And I know in West Virginia they have Pete lands. And then there’s another wetland that few people have seen called a fen. And Fs are, contain a lot of SGEs. You’re not finding the mosses like Sphagnum in a fen. They have a flow of water and they’re really like, they’re almost like ribbons.
[00:28:28] They are ribbons of wet meadows is what they are. And you see a lot of sedges. And in fins you’ll find, bear, grizzly bear, black bear, a lot of small mammals, a lot of hawks and owls hawks like the harrier. And our different vols, and these are really productive areas for our raptors. But these are areas that I see most of fences at higher elevations.
[00:28:53] And in Canada, it’s where I see most of those. So I think we’ve covered a lot of these. We have the wet meadow, we have the emergent wetland with the shallow water. Then we have the shrub scrub with all the altar and the button bush and the willow. We have the forested wetland or the swamp, the peatland, the fen, and last the vernal pool or the vernal pond.
[00:29:18] So there are quite a few different wetlands, but they all have this saturated soil and an abundance of plants and animals.
[00:29:25] Michael Hawk: And the picture you painted is great. At least for in my mind, it presents a framework of. A different plant in animal communities. The, in some cases subtle differences, other cases, significant differences that you might find in each of these. And I guess that maybe , ties us back to the threats that wetlands see, you were talking about draining wetlands and also the removal of beavers, for example.
[00:29:47] Other threats do wetlands see today? And that’s led to so many being destroyed.
[00:29:54] Tom Biebighauser: People started draining wetland when the Europeans started moving their way across North America because. We were a sedentary folk. We wanted to own land and we needed to raise crops right near where we lived. We didn’t have refrigeration trucks in the 17 and 18 hundreds and well into the 19 hundreds, which meant that you had to raise your food close to home.
[00:30:20] And many of the places were hilly. And what people would do is that they would cut and remove the trees and the stumps, and they would start farming the hillsides because it was dry enough to farm. And what happened then is that everything washed away. And if you try to farm a hillside and there’s a two inch rain, you’re gonna have serious erosion.
[00:30:41] After one rain, after two rains, you won’t be able to farm that hillside. So what could they do? We had mining camps. Logging camps. We had people who were homesteading. And here they were trying to farm this land that was drier, which was the hillsides. And what was left was the wetland. The wetland had less of a slope.
[00:31:03] It had the deep, rich soils, but it was wet. So they had to figure out if we’re going to eat, if we’re gonna raise crops that we need to live or to sell then we have to figure out a way to drain these wetlands. So the number one way that wetlands were drained was to dig ditches. And this was a huge profession in the 17, 18, and 19 hundreds, was being a ditch digger.
[00:31:29] So what they would do is the farmers would try to figure out how is water coming onto my property? And most of the streams historically were quite shallow. The banks were like only six inches high. And when there was a heavy rain, the water would flow across the floodplain and it would saturate the soils.
[00:31:51] So what folks learned early on is if they dig a ditch down the center of the valley, they’re going to concentrate that water. And they’re going to get rid of standing water, plus they’re gonna rid themselves of a high water table. So they started digging ditches, and these ditches were dug along the base of the mountains base of the hills, and that diverted runoff from the tributaries.
[00:32:15] The ditches were dug down the center of the valleys, and digging a ditch. Why do you dig a ditch to drain wetland so you can use that land to grow your food or so you can build your home and not get flooded? What happened is they were digging these ditches and there started to be a lot of erosion is when you dig a ditch, you trigger erosion, what we call a head cut to form.
[00:32:39] And these head cuts cause a deepening and widening of the ditch, and it turns into a canyon. When you take a look at the Grand Canyon that was formed by head cuts or waterfalls, And what was happening to these farms is that their soil was washing away even though they were farming the flatter ground in the valleys.
[00:33:00] So what they learned is that they had to bury drainage structures in the ground. So they would still dig ditches to drain the wetland, but within a week or two, they would bury a wood box in the ground and then cover it up. And water would seep in between the boards and flow down the bottom of the ditch that was covered.
[00:33:20] Or they would use rock. They would take rock and fill the ditch partially with rock, then cover over the top of the ditch with soil. Then they could farm over the top of the rock drain. But John Johnston came up with a better way, and he left Scotland and bought a farm in New York, near the town of Geneva.
[00:33:44] On the shores of lake Seneca. And what he remembered as a young boy was helping his grandfather make clay drain tile. So here he had bought this large farm that was flooded and he couldn’t raise a crop and he had all these debts to pay. So he sent a letter to his grandfather in Scotland, said, remember those drain tile that we made?
[00:34:08] Send me a couple, please. So he did, he sent him a couple of these drain tile and John Johnston went to his friend Wharton in the town of Waterloo, New York, and said, I want you to make me a couple thousand of these. Wharby had no idea what they were for, but business was not too good because what had happened is that Wharton V had made making crocs for people to drink whiskey, and they used lead in the glaze.
[00:34:34] So many of the customers were becoming quite ill because of the lead in the glaze. So here I had the chance to make these drain tile. So what John Johnston did is that he hired people that were laid off from digging the Erie Canal. They dug the Erie Canal by hand, and they started digging ditches to drain wetlands on his farm.
[00:34:56] And they started putting these clay tile in the bottom and they buttoned them up against each other, and then they covered them with soil, and then the water in the ground would seep in between the clay tiles and flow underground in the bottom of the covered ditch. Started putting these in and people came by and said, John Johnston, you’re a fool.
[00:35:17] You’re bearing crockery in the ground. You’re gonna go broke. His first crop before putting in the drain tiles, was about five bushels per acre of wheat and oats. With the addition of the drain tiles, his yields went up almost 10 times, and John Johnson believed in the three Ds. Applying dung going into debt and drainage.
[00:35:46] And so after he drained this one area and his crops were productive, people started talking about this. And early farmers were quite literate, and of course they still are. But they shared their techniques in these journals. The average farmer subscribed to two journals and people started visiting John Johnston’s farm and learning about under drainage.
[00:36:10] And John Johnston became the father of Under Drainage, and he’s the one that introduced the use of clay tiles for drainage. Now, in the 1970s, we replaced the clay tiles with plastic drain pipe. So now maybe if you’re driving in the countryside, you see this huge roll of drain pipe. And is black plastic, four inches in diameter.
[00:36:33] It has narrow slits in it, and that’s what we’re burying in the bottom of the ditches now to drain wetlands. See, cuz when you dig a ditch, you separate your field into two fields. You start erosion. You have to maintain the ditch. I have ditches on my farm and each year I have to clean ’em up the shovel because they get plugged with leaves and wetland plants.
[00:36:57] So if you bury drainage structures in the ground, like the plastic that we’re using nowadays, you don’t have to maintain them. And you can farm right over the top. If you put a field into ditches for drainage, you’re lucky to farm maybe half of it, maybe two-thirds of it. But if you bury these drainage structures in the ground, you can farm almost the entire field.
[00:37:21] With very little maintenance. So in building a wetland, we have to look for these buried drainage structures, and I have found them in many places in the southwest. I have found them all over projects in California. I’ve even found them in the desert of Arizona, where these were used to drain wetlands that were supplied with water from springs so they could raise crops near where they lived.
[00:37:48] So it, it’s interesting drainage. As you can see, I can really go on a long time about drainage here. I will tell you about a hobby of mine, which is most unique. I collect drainage books and I hope now to have collected every drainage book ever written, but I don’t think I have yet. When I first started drain collecting drainage books, I’d go on eBay and I’d really bid up the price on it.
[00:38:14] And now I find out that really nobody else wants drainage books so I can bid about whatever I want on that book. But I’ve learned all these techniques for drainage. And what you realize then is that there have been so many wetlands that have been lost to drainage and realize what a challenge is gonna be to bring them back because of all these actions that have been taken.
[00:38:35] Michael Hawk: so probably take some skill to survey the land or analyze satellite photos or, I don’t know, a variety of techniques to. Pick apart where there may have previously been a wetland, like where there’s a suitable place to do a restoration.
[00:38:50] Tom Biebighauser: What I have found is that if someone shows me a place where they wanna build a wetland, I am certain that there are drainage structures and ditches that are present because somebody’s farm did at one time. There was so much farming going on, before the modern day equipment that we have. It, it’s interesting when you talk about wetland loss across North America.
[00:39:12] Oftentimes we quote Thomas Dolls work. Thomas Doll was a biologist with US Fish and Wildlife Service, did a lot of work in the 1980s, and he came up with an estimated percent of wetland loss for every state in the United States. And looking at his figures, the high loss of wetlands was in California.
[00:39:35] At 91% of the wetlands being destroyed, the low was West Virginia at 24% of their wetlands being destroyed. And it’s interesting how he based his analysis. What he looked at was the Natural Resources Conservation Service data for hydrick soils. What are Hydrick soils? They’re wetland soils. They’re saturated soils.
[00:40:00] And so what Thomas all looked at was if you had saturated soils that were being farmed, it used to be a wetland, which is very true because you can farm a wetland. In some years. And then if a wetland is partially drained, it is hydro soils. You can still farm it, but if you completely drain a wetland, it no longer has hy soils.
[00:40:27] So what I have found is that there are over 50 signs of wetlands being drained on the landscape. So Thomas dolls worked, looked at one sign the farming of Hydrick soils. I’ve come up with over 50 signs that I’m happy to share with people where they can identify drained wetlands. Here’s one the easiest.
[00:40:47] You’re driving down the interstate and you look at a farm field and there’s a vertical pipe in the middle of the farm field. The pipe may be white. It may be orange and color. Oftentimes it has holes drilled in the side. We call that a surface inlet, and that was placed in the center of the deepest part of the wetland that was drained.
[00:41:10] And that vertical pipe, that surface inlet connects to an underground system of drainage pipes that continue to drain the wetland to remove surface water to lower the elevation of groundwater. Now, another thing is if you’re driving in the Midwest, like Illinois, and you see a pump or a power pole, let’s say you see a power pole in the middle of a farm field that’s operating a pump that’s removing water from the drainage system.
[00:41:39] So that’s a sign of drainage. But the number one sign of a drained wetland is the presence of a ditch. And ditches are fairly easy to identify. First of all, ditches tend to be straight. The banks on the ditch are not like a natural stream. The banks tend to be vertical and oftentimes quite high, and ditches lack, the inuity and ditches are very poor habitat for wildlife.
[00:42:05] They don’t have pools, they don’t have riffs, and they’re flashy. So when there’s a rainfall, everybody living in the ditch gets washed downstream.
[00:42:14] So now that we’re restoring wetlands and streams, we’re finding out that our sheer stresses in the water are much lower, the velocities are much lower, and the invertebrates, we have more of them, a greater diversity, and they’re larger and they don’t get washed downstream during a flood, which is really interesting.
[00:42:34] So yeah, these ditches are everywhere. I have found them all over the west, the southwest Canada. I have found ditches that have been used for drainage in our national parks. We have found ditches that were dug to drain wetlands and Yosemite National Park
[00:42:53] we have found buried drainage structures made out of clay tiles that were installed. So really everywhere you go, signs of drainage.
[00:43:01] Michael Hawk: So I would like to hear about some of your projects, but before we get there, I’m curious about the impacts of, say, runoff from you mentioned how wetlands can actually filter water chemical runoff, pesticides, fertilizers, how are they affecting existing wetlands?
[00:43:18] Tom Biebighauser: Oh, that’s a really good one right there. Most wetlands that we find that are natural are greatly reduced in size, and so when there is a runoff event, they’re just loaded with pollutants. The number one pollutant in North America is soil. And when soil gets washed downstream, it carries the phosphorus and the nitrogen, which causes the algal blooms.
[00:43:43] Now, where does that soil come from? Many people think it comes from the farm fields. Actually, it’s coming from the ditches that were dug and all the research that I’ve been involved in. We find out that when there’s a runoff event, the soil that’s in these ditches washes away because there are head cuts in these ditches that are causing a deepening and widening of the ditch.
[00:44:09] The banks are collapsing on the ditches, and this is where all the soil is coming from, and this erosion is what’s causing the pollution, and where does this soil settle out in the few wetlands that are left and it’s choking these wetlands, there aren’t enough wetlands to accept it. So restoration of ditches into the natural streams is a program that really goes a long ways to controlling pollution and to helping all our fish and wildlife species.
[00:44:41] Michael Hawk: So that’s so interesting. So the, are the ditches accumulating this phosphorus and nitrogen more locally then, like from the nearby agricultural applications?
[00:44:51] Tom Biebighauser: You know what most of the phosphorus and nitrogen is coming from the buried drainage systems If you put in a buried drainage system of plastic pipes, the drain pipes, you have to have an outlet. When you pull the plug on your bathtub, you know that water’s going downhill to a drain. When you pull the plug on a wetland, it has to go downhill.
[00:45:14] Where is downhill? It’s a ditch that was dug. It was a stream that was straightened. So when you are fertilizing your fields and adding pesticides to your fields, and there’s a rain, part of that, water runs off into the ditches and carries the pollutants, but also part of that water soaks into the ground, enters the buried drainage structures is carried rapidly into the ditches, and it’s very high in nutrients.
[00:45:42] So really, we have two ways that these nutrients and pollution enter our wetlands, lakes, and streams. It’s runoff entering the ditches and it’s groundwater coming from the berry drainage systems. So it’s really a challenge to try to treat this. But there are programs now that I’m involved in where we are working to build wetlands, to restore wetlands, to treat the runoff from urban areas as well as from rural areas.
[00:46:12] But again, it takes land, it takes room. But it’s exciting to know that there are people who are interested in doing this. And you asked about some projects that we’ve recently completed. We completed a project two years ago, and this was on the Tahoe National Forest in California. And it was near a community called Michigan Bluff, where there was gold mining that took place in the 18 hundreds.
[00:46:37] And we worked with the US Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Sheltowee Environmental Education Coalition, and Save the Frogs. And we built 18 vernal pool wetlands on mountain tops. And we built these to provide habitat for the California red-legged frog, a threatened species. The California red-legged frog used to be quite abundant in California.
[00:47:06] The valleys were changed into farmland and urban areas. The wetlands, of course, were drained, so the frog lost a lot of habitat. Fortunately, we have the national forests, but national forests are often your mountain tops and your ridge tops, where there are no wetlands. So there was one population of the California red-legged frog on the Tahoe National Forest.
[00:47:32] So I worked with the Forest Service to identify locations for building vernal pools on these mountain ridges, and we had. Probably well over a hundred volunteers helped with this project, plus people from nonprofits and all the government agencies. The majority of the funding came from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Forest Service.
[00:47:56] And we had this partnership program where we brought in students and summer workers and they helped us build these 18 vernal pool wetlands, which is pretty exciting to see.
[00:48:09] Michael Hawk: It sounds like you find a lot of community interest then in helping with these projects based on the, that list that you just read off of all the partners.
[00:48:17] Tom Biebighauser: When you know what can be done to help a rare species and you do it, it’s one of the most rewarding things in life. And the people who came out, they worked hard. We had retired doctors, we had retired attorneys. We had one individual. She flew in from New York City to help with the project.
[00:48:36] We had another person who drove up from Colorado. These are folks who want to help the environment and help bring back wetlands. And we provided the training and of course we needed the labor and they helped us install what we call aquatic safe liners, bury them in the ground cuz the soils were quite gravelly.
[00:48:57] So yeah, this was a good project. We got a lot done for very little money. The wetlands that we built, I think will last for hundreds of years. The way we built them. So there was no dam, no spillway we built them so there were no water control structures. They looked very natural.
[00:49:14] We’ve built other wetlands for the red-legged frog near Michigan bluff on b l m Land Grove Land Management, and the red-legged frog has moved in and is breeding successfully in these wetlands. So that was an exciting project to work on.
[00:49:29] Michael Hawk: That’s great.
[00:49:30] Tom Biebighauser: Another one, we just completed it last week it was an Illinois on the Illinois River National Wildlife Refuge, the Meza Unit. Now, the Illinois Chorus Frog is one of the rarest species in Illinois, and this is a small frog, and it spends 90% of its time underground, but it has to have sand along the bluffs of the Illinois River, and it only digs with its front feet.
[00:49:58] Unlike the spade foot that digs with its hind feet, and it’s a weak digger, but it spends most of its time underground. And in the spring when there’s a heavy rain, it will come to the surface and lay its eggs in these vernal pools. The majority of these vernal pools that were natural have been lost to drainage, and they’ve been filled in.
[00:50:19] So last month we completed the construction of four Wetlands for the Illinois Chorus Frog. And then last week we had a two day workshop with Save the Frogs and the Sheltowee Environmental Education Coalition, US Fish and Wildlife Service and Illinois department of Natural Resources.
[00:50:38] And we were able to build a large wetland again with volunteers helping us out. When we build the wetland, we work to restore the sand prairie around the wetland. So then you get this habitat where the frog can live most of the year, but then when it’s time to breed, it doesn’t have to cross any roads and it can lay its eggs in these wetlands that we’ve built for it.
[00:51:03] What was interesting about the work on the Illinois Course Frog Project is that a large part of the funding came from two private donors, and I’m seeing that more and more now, where people who are so dedicated to the cause of help in the environment are willing to directly finance a project like this.
[00:51:26] If we’re gonna bring back these wetlands. Everybody needs to be involved. We can’t expect the government to do it. There just isn’t the tax money out there.
[00:51:36] And I’m just thrilled with the dedication of folks who are willing to, help out and to make a donation that goes directly towards building these wetland areas. I believe they’re doing something that’s gonna last for hundreds of years, if not thousands of years. People ask me when I build a wetland, how long do you think this wetland will last?
[00:51:57] And I’ll say, we have developed the techniques now where we can build a wetland that I will guarantee for over a hundred years.
[00:52:07] And they look at me and they go, you’ll guarantee it for a hundred years. You can’t do that. I said, yeah, just send me a photo. If it doesn’t work after a hundred years, I’ll come up and rebuild it. Noah lived to be 640 years. I have a lot more wetlands I wanna build. But anyways, the techniques we’re using now, these wetlands are gonna be around forever because we’re building them to look and function like a natural wetland, which is really exciting.
[00:52:33] So th these are just a couple of the projects. There’s more that are going on that are more, that are planned.
[00:52:39] Michael Hawk: All right, so Tom, you’ve, you’re talking about these wetlands that you’re building and, and how. Sustainable. They are. They match natural systems. I’m curious maybe over the years that you’ve been building wetlands, how your techniques and approaches have evolved and changed.
[00:52:55] Tom Biebighauser: Oh, they really have changed. I’m glad you brought that up. When I first started building wetlands, I would always build a dam. If you meet. Most anyone across North America and ask them, how do you build a wetland? They say they build a dam. And in the 1970s I was taught that if you wanted to build a wetland or lake, you build a dam.
[00:53:15] After all, that’s what everybody does. I’ve built over 1,400 dams now over the years, and when I was working for the US Forest Service, we had over a thousand dams that we were maintaining, and it was costing a lot of money. What I found out is that muskrats living in the wetlands would dig burrows in the dam, and then there’d be a flood and the dam would wash out.
[00:53:38] I found out that beaver would move in and beaver would dig canals through the dams trying to connect different wetlands than the dam would wash out. And then I found out that there’d be a flood, and the spillway would wash out because head cuts would form and we’d have all this erosion. Oh my word trees would grow on the dam.
[00:53:58] So we had to mow the dam every year. We had to have engineers inspecting the dams, and my boss said, Tom, I’m not gonna let you go after anymore grant money, unless you figure out how to build a wetland that doesn’t require maintenance. And I thought we’ve got this research project going on with Eastern Kentucky University.
[00:54:18] We’re finding out that there are natural wetlands over 10,000 years old that haven’t required maintenance. Nobody’s maintained them. Why? Because they don’t have dams. So the light bulb went off and I thought, I’m gonna try to build some wetlands without dams. So I talked to our heavy equipment operators.
[00:54:36] They said, you’re crazy. You have to build a dam. I said, no. What happens if we reshape a natural basin that has a natural rim, just like a natural wetland? And I took a couple of these contractors on field trips and we looked at natural wetlands and they said, oh, I see what they did. They dug a basin here.
[00:54:56] They put in a groundwater dam, not an above ground dam. So we started building wetlands without above ground dams, and we found out that these would survive floods. The beaver could live in them and not damage them. The muskrats could live in them and not damage them. And I think we came up with a way of building wetlands that will last forever.
[00:55:18] So now what I’ve been working on is dam removal, and over the years I’ve removed over 300th these dams now, and we’ve come up with techniques for building wetlands without dams, without water control structures and techniques for restoring valleys by removing dams. So I’ve completed a number of projects.
[00:55:40] Now when we come in and we remove a dam, why the dam’s requiring a lot of maintenance in the west. The dam has been a real barrier to salmon. You have trout, salmon moving in that stream. That dam is a barrier to them. All dams require maintenance. They wash out, they leak. They have to be inspected for safety.
[00:56:01] People will move in downstream, and if that spillway gets plugged by beaver and water goes over the dam will wash out and can harm people and property. So more and more communities are looking at dam removal, but both most people do when they remove a dam is they cut a hole in the dam.
[00:56:18] You actually breach the dam by taking a piece of heavy equipment and tearing a chunk out of the dam. When you do that, you trigger these head cuts to form and you have massive erosion that advances up into the sediments in the valley, and it follows all the historic stream channels that used to be in the valley.
[00:56:40] And the erosion continues because you breached it and you end up lowering the water table and drying out the entire valley.
[00:56:49] So what we’ve been doing is that we’ve been removing the entire dam , and then we will bury rock in the ground where the dam was located, and that will stop the erosion. And then we work our way up into the valley and we bury logs across the floodplain of the historic streams.
[00:57:10] And this is just, is what happens like in a beaver pond. When a beaver builds a dam, the large trees that were flooded fall over and they provide erosion control. So what I do is that I take large trees and I embed them in the ground across the flood plain, in the mud of the streams we’re restoring, and then we reshaped the wetlands that were drained.
[00:57:34] So it’s now possible to remove dams, it’s not that expensive, and replace them with this incredible diversity of wetlands and streams. There’s a lot of work that we’re doing right now in British Columbia, Canada to remove these dams. It’s been a bit controversial because everybody likes to look at big areas of open water, deep open water.
[00:58:00] And of course people like to fish. I like to fish myself, but what we’re doing is where we’re storing these wetlands now so that we can help fish. We’re learning that many species of fish nurseries are the wetlands. When there’s a flood, the fish go out under the floodplain and they’ll spawn, and then the uh, fry will grow up in the wetlands because there’s a lot of, eat all the frogs, toes and salamanders, and maybe two or three years later, there’s another flood, and then the young sub-adults can get back into the stream or the river and not get eaten by the adults.
[00:58:35] So this dam removal is a tremendous opportunity to restore in wetlands, to help the environment and to lower the cost of all this maintenance associated with dams.
[00:58:47] Michael Hawk: I suspect that some of the fishing that’s happening in those reservoirs is also thanks to stocking of fish as well. So you’re talking about restoring the entire natural system at this point,
[00:59:00] Tom Biebighauser: what we’re finding throughout the west is that most of these reservoirs have been stocked with bluegill and bass, which are non-native. And also what’s happening is carp, non-native carp are getting into these. Many of the reservoirs, they take a lot of work to manage for fishing, but most of the reservoirs I work with, they’re not being used for fishing.
[00:59:20] Many of them were built for irrigation. Many of them were built to supply water to communities, and now they’re finding better ways to provide that water, and they’re finding it’s just too expensive to maintain these dams. So one of the projects that I’m working on in Canada is with a Yaqan Nukiy, and it’s in Creston, British Columbia.
[00:59:39] Bordering Idaho, and I’m working with Norman Aller Jr. He’s a community planner with a lower Cooney band, and we’ve been removing many kilometers of dams that were built in the 1970s and we’re now restoring the streams, the rivers, and all of the wetlands. And these projects are helping rare species like the burbot and the white sturgeon.
[01:00:06] And also we’re helping amphibians like the northern leopard frog and then reptiles like the western painted turtle. There’s a whole lot more to removing the dam than just cutting a hole in it. That’s not a complete restoration job. And when you look at where most dams were built, most dams were built where Beaver had built a dam prior to, European colonization.
[01:00:28] So what we find is that when I’m removing these dams, I often find the remnants of beaver dams. Haha, I know what this valley used to look like, which is really exciting.
[01:00:39] Michael Hawk: Interesting. So we’re running a little bit low on time, but I wanted to at least hear maybe your pitch to. Homeowners that have sufficient land building their own vernal pools, for example, or their own habitats within their spaces. Cause I know that you have plenty of resources and a lot of experience in helping in this respect.
[01:01:02] So can you tell me why someone might want to do that? And maybe just give a short pitch as to how easy or difficult that might be.
[01:01:09] Tom Biebighauser: You, the listener can build a wetland. You can build a wetland in your backyard. If you have a small acreage, we used to live in a subdivision, we built a wetland, we had a one acre lot, and these wetlands can be fully functioning ecosystems, and it’s not that expensive really. It’s like taking a choice of a vacation or building a wetland.
[01:01:30] The vacation will last a week. The wetland can last for hundreds of years. I’m convinced the number one thing we can do to help our environment is to protect or to bring back a wetland. And I’ve written two books on how to do this. One is called Wetland Restoration and Construction, a technical guide.
[01:01:51] The other one is called Wetland Drainage Restoration and Repair. And I have a couple of websites that contain all sorts of information about building wetlands. The US Fish and Wildlife Service in your state agencies have people who will provide help to you free of charge in building wetlands. They may come out and help you to design the project.
[01:02:15] If you read my books or maybe take the class, I teach a class for the University of Louisville speed school of engineering on wetland design that you may be interested in taking. And this is class set up for both biologists as well as engineers. So there’s a lot you can do to learn about building these habitats.
[01:02:34] A wetland does not have to be large. A wetland can only be maybe three meters in diameter. You build a wetland, 10 foot in diameter in your backyard and you’re going to get frogs breeding in it, and you’re gonna get dragon flies and maybe water boltman and plenty of life. I remember a number of years ago when we lived in this subdivision, My wife and I were talking about how to keep the children busy and teach ’em about the environment.
[01:03:01] So we built a small wetland in our backyard and they had more fun catching frogs and chasing butterflies and then floating boats. And then in the winter they would ice skate on the water. So yes, these are wonderful environments. Swimming pools are good, but you just don’t have the life in that, that you have in a vernal pool.
[01:03:23] So that’d be really great to have people get interested in doing this. I’m working with larger landowners who wanna help the environment and they’re building wetlands and streams and, but then again, the Backyard project is a good one. It works.
[01:03:38] Michael Hawk: And I do know that some of the audience here are biologists or land managers or associated with parks or landowners here and there. And if. If anyone out in that community is wanting to get a a wetland project off the ground, restoration, or whatever the case might be, what have you found effective for those folks to say, convince their management or to move a project like that forward.
[01:04:04] Tom Biebighauser: My message to agency personnel is that you are managing lands that used to be wetland, and more than likely you’re gonna have trouble identifying where the wetlands used to be. Look for ditches. Look for buried drainage structures. Look for move streams. You can bring these wetlands back. And I’ve worked with people who have been with the government for 35 years, and they work to restore their first wetland.
[01:04:32] They say it’s the most rewarding thing they ever did in their career. So I offer training to agency nonprofit personnel, private landowners. The most effective way to learn how to build a wetland is to build a wetland. And 20 years ago, I started hands-on wetland restoration workshops, and what happens is that an agency person will invite me to come out and to work with them to design wetlands will design, we’ll design them, we’ll mark ’em on the ground.
[01:05:04] I’ll write a report, and then I will help them to complete the NPA documentation. I’ll help them to complete the culture resource survey and the biological survey, and then I’ll work with them and volunteer to help them secure the funding. And when they’re ready, we will build these wetlands with the help of people in the community.
[01:05:27] We’ll open it up to the public and we’ll bring in other agency people, private landowners, and they can learn how to build wetlands by participating in a wetland build. And it works. I look at the beautiful barn my wife and I built. We built it after she talked me into helping build a couple of homes with habitat.
[01:05:48] Humanity. If you’re on the ground and you are helping to build a wetland, it will make a lot of sense. And you can make a contribution that’s gonna last for thousands of years. And I’ve been teaching these workshops all across North America. I have one coming up in Mexico later this month.
[01:06:06] And I would really enjoy working with agency folks. You’re gonna meet naysayers. There’s always naysayers out there. Remember, it’s okay to make a mess. It’s going to heal, and you’re going to be bringing back these wetland habitats that are gonna help rare and endangered species. And it’s just a fantastic program.
[01:06:27] Let me know if you’re interested. Go to my website and I’ll help you with this. My website is wetland restoration and training.com. And let me know if you’d like any help with these projects.
[01:06:41] Michael Hawk: That’s an amazing offer and I’ll of course link to that in the show notes so that people can find you just to click away. For the general public do you have a concept, an ecological concept or an observation that could help the public see the world as you see it, like through this lens of nature and ecology.
[01:07:01] Tom Biebighauser: Okay. I’ll have to think on that one. I believe that God has made us a beautiful and a fascinating world. This world is just full of amazing animals and plants, and I really enjoy watching and learning about all these animals and plants. And of course, where are you gonna see the most animals and plants in a wetland area?
[01:07:23] Michael Hawk: So in a similar vein, what have you found to be most effective in moving people up a rung in environmental awareness? Is it getting hands on like this
[01:07:33] Tom Biebighauser: You’re right. What really moves people towards action. What really brings commitment is when you volunteer your time. Now, it is great to write out a check, but I’m convinced when you volunteer your time and your labor and your money, then you are committed restoring wetlands.
[01:07:52] It’s really going into a mission field. You’re an ambassador, you’re encouraging people, you’re a cheerleader. If you supervise somebody in an agency who has an interest in wetlands, help them. Water their interest, encourage them. Because in most agencies now, there are so many naysayers and there’s so much inaction that when you meet somebody who wants to bring back a wetland, they need help, they need sponsorship.
[01:08:21] And then with that comes to commitment. And then people see what’s going on and they’re gonna support it. These projects are not controversial. These are things that are really good. . And whether you’re a scout or a landowner, or, again, I think of this individual who flew out.
[01:08:38] She’s an attorney in New York City, and this is the second project she’s flown out and helped us with. That is unbelievable commitment to helping us with these projects. And you can’t top that.
[01:08:50] Michael Hawk: Do you have any other resources or pointers or websites that people can look into if they wanna learn more?
[01:08:58] Tom Biebighauser: Oh yes, there are a number of websites out there. I have another website and it is sheltowee.net. Is our nonprofit that we formed to um, teach people about wetlands and how they can restore them. I think people enjoy all the photos on it and the different videos.
[01:09:17] Michael Hawk: And I guess we mentioned Ben Goldfarb’s book earlier as well, so I’ll make sure I link to that too. And of course you have so many resources on your websites that people can look into and your own books.
[01:09:28] Tom Biebighauser: Now, Ben’s book was called Eager.
[01:09:30] Michael Hawk: Yes. Yes.
[01:09:31] Tom Biebighauser: If you’re a Landowner in the West, in the East, I really recommend that they read the book Eager by Ben. Just tremendous read. You’ll never look at the environment the same. Really amazing.
[01:09:44] Michael Hawk: And if people want to follow your work, See your upcoming projects, where can they go? Maybe you’ve already answered that through the websites.
[01:09:53] Tom Biebighauser: Unfortunately, I’m um, not very involved in social media. Maybe that comes with my age. The best is to visit my website often which is wetland restoration and training.com. And I work on a number of projects with Save the Frogs, Dr. Kerry Kriger. And he really keeps people up to date about projects.
[01:10:14] Many of the wetland projects I work to complete, they’re in partnership with Save the Frogs, and then he has mailing lists and keeps people informed much better than I do.
[01:10:23] Michael Hawk: And yeah, some longtime listeners may recognize Dr. Kriger as another past guest here on the podcast. I’ll tell you what, if you have projects here in the Bay Area of California, let me know. I think I probably have a critical mass of listenership and followers here in the Bay Area since that’s where I’m based, so I could I could certainly help promote those if and when the time comes.
[01:10:46] So let me know.
[01:10:47] Tom Biebighauser: Thank you. And maybe you could come out too and cover it live.
[01:10:51] Michael Hawk: That would be fun. I would love to experience that.
[01:10:54] Tom Biebighauser: Wouldn’t that be fun and bring your children? That would be even better. One of my favorite activities is working with educators to build a wetland at a school.
[01:11:04] There are curriculum guides to help teachers teach about wetlands. Wow, the Wonder of Wetlands Project Wet Aquatic Wild. And so when we build a wetland at a school, we introduce the educators to these curriculum guides, and they have quite a program going. So I, on my website, I have photos of many of the wetlands we built at schools, and they’re quite beautiful.
[01:11:26] So encourage people to take a look at that.
[01:11:28] Michael Hawk: All right, so this has been a really eye-opening discussion and I wanna thank you again for jumping on today. I know you are out to oversee some of these restoration projects very soon, so thanks for squeezing me in. Is there anything else that you want to say before we come to a close today?
[01:11:44] Tom Biebighauser: Thank you for focusing on the environment and encouraging us to talk about it. It makes a real difference. This is how we really share information and I just really hope that folks that are listening will uh, feel inspired to tackle a project that involves protecting and building wetlands.
[01:12:04] Thanks for all your work on this,
[01:12:06] Michael Hawk: Thank you again. I appreciate you and uh, all the time you’ve spent with me today.
[01:12:10] Tom Biebighauser: and I wish you the best.