A scientist measures water depth in a stream and wetland environment.

How Soil Protects Our World

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The arrival of fall means more than just changing our wardrobes to warmer clothes and getting out our rakes. The ecosystems around us are also going through a transition. As the trees begin to shed their leaves and the crops are harvested by farmers in their fields, the soil under our feet starts to step into its seasonal role.

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As fall foliage descends from the trees to the ground, soil receives a jolt of organic matter at the start of the decomposition process. Conversely, as agricultural crops are harvested, the soil in those fields can be left temporarily exposed to wind and water erosion until a winter cover crop is established.

Whether acting as a nutrient sink for decomposing plant material or becoming a potential source of sediment to a stream, soils play a big role in our natural environment. As the climate shifts from the dry, hot summer to the cool, wet fall, wetlands are one particular part of our natural environment that helps mitigate the effects of those changes. Wetlands provide ecosystem support through the capture and storage of precipitation to mitigate flooding, the filtering of nutrients and sediments from water, and unique habitats that support many plant and animal species.

Anyone working on a development project has probably made adjustments to protect wetlands. These areas may complicate the development process, but unique ecosystems provide valuable benefits to our communities, which is why protecting them is so important. At the core of healthy wetlands are the hydric soils that lie beneath all that vegetation.

Hydric soils are sufficiently saturated in close proximity to the surface, which help to develop anaerobic conditions (good for wetland plants) during the growing season. Healthy and happy wetlands make the overall ecosystem function better and keep our streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans clean. In the past, wetlands were purposely drained or altered, or occasionally buried under fill. Today, we acknowledge and understand the importance of preserving our wetlands.

The benefits of hydric soils and their associated wetland plant and animal communities provide to us is now more widely known. Because of that, our communities regularly work to restore previously altered landscapes and allow healthy wetlands to once again flourish.

Part of the restoration process is finding ways to recreate the physical conditions conducive to supporting a healthy hydric soil, which then provides the medium for wetland plants to thrive. With a thriving wetland community supported by hydric soils, a once-degraded landscape becomes an essential part of the ecosystem needed to maintain clean water and healthy habitats for all of us.