Running the ruler on what works best

Project takes a high tech appraoch to rate the value of wetlands

To answer the question ‘What is a wetland worth?’ the Alberta Land Institute will be going high tech in the Nose Creek watershed project.

The province uses letter grades — A, B, C, and D — to rate the functional value of wetlands. To assign a grade, project officials will employ a type of aerial scan called detailed light detection and ranging (LiDAR), which uses lasers and an analysis of the reflected light. (It’s widely used for things such as mapping ocean bottoms and surveying forests.)

Coupled with state-of-the-art data modelling and analysis techniques, “this new tool won’t just be able to grade current wetlands; it’ll also be able to predict what the potential value of currently dry (or drained) wetlands could be if they were restored,” the land institute states on its website.

And even after wetlands are restored, researchers will keep watch.

“There’s never been an opportunity to scientifically monitor one of these wetlands closely enough to see how its performance compares to a naturally occurring counterpart,” the institute says. “Thanks to the models that allow us to value existing and potential wetlands, we’ll now be able to do something unprecedented: Follow newly restored wetlands from their creation, and assess their contributions to a watershed in objective, quantifiable terms.

“We’ll also be able to test different variations when it comes to restoring wetlands. Should we leave buffer areas around wetlands? Are wetlands more successful if certain types of plants are introduced? The wetlands we restore as part of this project will become living laboratories, and the lessons we learn during the restoration process will be applicable for future restorations across Alberta, and beyond.”

For a project backgrounder, visit albertalandinstitute.ca.

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