Saturday, July 20, 2013 —
Many visitors to the North Carolina Zoo might walk right by the park's Mountain Bog exhibit and never know it's there--just like they might do in the wild. To a lot of people, bogs and wetlands connote wastelands--wet, unusable land areas that serve no purpose to people, plants or animals, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Bogs are areas of moist, soggy ground, usually containing peat formed by the decay and carbonization of mosses and other vegetation. They're found mostly in flat terrain, where topography, geology and climate cause water to enter the system faster than it leaves. The origin of bogs is not known, but some are thought to date back to the last Ice Age.
Acre for acre, there’s more life in a healthy wetland than in almost any other kind of natural eco-system, and wetlands serve as nature’s own water purification systems. The intertwining roots, leaves and fibers of the dense plant life remove sediment and pollutants from the slow-moving water that meanders through them. They also act as nature’s flood-control system, like giant sponges, holding water and then slowly releasing it, preventing excessive flooding and erosion.
And--some would say, most importantly--bogs provide food and shelter for many species of plants and animals, some endangered. In North Carolina alone, more than 70 percent of the species listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern depend on wetlands for survival. Nationally, one in every three threatened or endangered species lives in wetlands.
The soil in most bogs is acidic due to sulfuric acid formed by the oxidation of organic sulfur compounds and from humic acids produced in the water. Because of this general acidity, bogs support a specialized and unique flora and fauna, many of which are found in no other habitats. These include wild orchids, carnivorous pitcher plants, lilies, wild azaleas, cranberries and a variety of shrubs and sedges in addition to bog turtles and other amphibians.
Classified as wetlands, bogs are protected and regulated under the federal Clean Water Act. Because of this, a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is required for any activity that would alter the bog or any other wetland.
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), North Carolina was once home to about 5,000 acres of bogs. Today, only about 500 acres remain. Unfortunately, many landowners have no idea that their properties contain bogs and other wetlands, so they often destroy them without knowing these unique habitats exist there. Others simply do not understand the importance of all wetlands.
The USFWS recommends some specific measures that can be taken to protect bogs and other wetlands: Be aware of livestock over-grazing and ground-water pumping. Be aware of the results of creek and stream diversion and any water-flow patterns, no matter how insignificant it may appear. Leave some sort of vegetation buffer around bogs to maintain natural water-flow patterns and to decrease siltation.
And one way we can all help: don’t pollute. Water is the lifeblood of a bog ecosystem; waste and pollutants can have a disastrous effect on water quality and the organisms that depend on it. If you have a wet area on your property that you think might be a bog or temporary wetland, contact a biologist for verification and management assistance. (In North Carolina, assistance agencies include the USFWS and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Asheville, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and N.C. Plant Conservation Program in Raleigh and the Nature Conservancy Field Office in Carrboro.)
Not all wet areas are bogs, but a wetland that might seem otherwise insignificant may contain unique and endangered plants and wildlife. We can all work to understand that wetlands are not wastelands.
Visitors to the N.C. Zoo can daily view the park’s mountain bog in front of the Streamside exhibit in the North America region.