Why it's important to save our wetlands
What's so special about bogs? They improve air quality, provide a unique habitat, and help combat climate change.
Bogs are one of the five main types of wetlands, which also include marshes, fens, swamps, and shallow water wetlands. You might wonder what makes bogs so important. Besides providing a habitat for rare plants, birds, and mammals, these threatened wetlands have a profound effect on our health by improving air quality.
A bog is a wetland with little water movement and is characterized by acidic, peaty soils (partly decayed organic material). The soils are spongy and poorly drained with acidic water quality and low amounts of nutrients and oxygen, thereby creating materials such as sphagnum mosses and peat.
As wetlands, bogs are saturated with water long enough to promote wetland or aquatic processes as indicated by poorly drained soils, vegetation that thrives in wet conditions, and biological activity adapted to a wet environment. They may feature flora such as blueberries, orchids, and carnivorous plants. Labrador tea, cranberry, and bog laurel may also be evident.
Common types of bogs are domed/raised bogs (such as Burns Bog in BC), basin bogs, flat bogs, and shore bogs (such as Pacific Rim National Park). They may be classified according to the type of vegetation present—namely treed, shrubby, or open bogs containing mainly sphagnum moss and minimal plants.
Bog preservation might not seem like the most urgent environmental concern. But these wetlands are worth protecting for reasons that may surprise you.
“Wetlands such as bogs are some of the most ecologically diverse ecosystems on earth and provide habitat to thousands of wildlife species,” says Jasmine Leduc, communications officer, National Capital Commission, which administers Ontario’s Mer Bleue Bog. “Bogs provide important habitat for plants, fish, and wildlife, as well as biological productivity and diversity. Close to one-quarter of the world’s existing wetlands lie within Canada. More than 14 percent of Canada’s surface area is covered by wetlands.”
Like other wetlands, bogs store and recharge groundwater while accumulating nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, and sulphur—and may help in regulating climate change. They can also contribute toward erosion protection. Bogs are highly valued for their aesthetic and passive recreation opportunities, including bird watching, nature studies, photography, and hiking.
Bog plant life has historical connections in providing ingredients for healing treatments. For example, Labrador tea is taken for chest conditions and other medical ailments. (Note, however, that this traditional remedy can be toxic when used in large amounts.) Cranberries—commonly grown in bog environments—are often used in herbal products.
With more wetlands than any other country, Canada is home to a wide variety of bogs.
Near Ottawa, Mer Bleue Bog is a 3,500-hectare conservation area and an example of a northern ecosystem, justifying its designation as a Wetland of International Importance under the United Nations Ramsar Convention—an international treaty for wetland conservation. It is one of the most analyzed bogs on the planet and hosts a research facility measuring carbon dioxide and methane. Approximately 50 percent of Mer Bleue is a raised boreal peat dome, or sphagnum bog, a system typically occurring in the boreal forests of northern Canada.
It is home to a variety of plants; some are rare, and almost all exhibit unusual characteristics enabling them to survive under challenging conditions. These include the sundew, pitcher plant, bog rosemary, rare orchids, and cotton grass, as well as low heath shrubs. Also present are black spruce and tamarack trees. Mer Bleue provides habitat for significant and rare fauna including the Fletcher’s dragonfly, an insect observed in only a handful of sites worldwide.
Located south of Vancouver, Burns Bog, at 3,000 hectares, is the largest raised peat bog on the west coast of North America. It is an estuarine raised peat bog (estuarine because it is at the mouth of the Fraser River).
Raised peat bogs are normally not found this far south. They are mostly found in places such as Ireland, Finland, and Russia. Burns Bog produces moisture-laden breezes that help keep the temperature down in the Metro Vancouver area. Bogs such as Burns Bog store 10 times more carbon than rainforests. Valuable habitat is present for wildlife such as deer, southern red-backed voles, barn owls, and greater sandhill cranes. Burns Bog is also an important stopover for more than 400 migratory bird species.
This National Historic Site of Canada is located on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia. Along with old-growth forests, this special park features seaside bogs containing large rocks left over from the last ice age. Sphagnum moss rules its vegetation. Slow-growing trees may also be present, but few animals or birds tolerate its windy conditions. Unique plants grow here, including pitcher plants and horned bladderwort—vegetation that trap and consume insects.
“Originally, Burns Bog was under attack by drainage for farmland,” says Eliza Olson, president, Burns Bog Conservation Society. “This is typical worldwide. Next, industry has become a problem. This is because so little was/is known about the importance of peat bogs worldwide. They have been viewed as wastelands or Mother Nature’s cemetery. The biggest challenge is lack of awareness of how important peat bogs are.”
“While there are significant efforts underway to halt the loss of wetlands, conditions such as climate change, population growth, and land use changes continue to take their toll,” reports Pamela Zevit, program coordinator, South Coast Conservation Program.
“Influencing human nature toward a sustainable future where the value of wetlands is fully recognized and protected remains a great challenge,” Zevit adds. “Even though we may understand that conserving our natural capital and the goods and services it provides is essential to life, doing so remains, for the most part, a societal choice. We have the ability and we know it can work, so let’s choose wisely.”
Education, raising awareness, fundraising, volunteering, advocacy—these are all ways to get involved in protecting bog wetlands.
Burns Bog Conservation Society presents regular public education sessions and school field trips. Fundraisers such as Jog for the Bog—highlighting International Bog Day—and golf tournaments are held to support educational, environmental programs.
Mer Bleue Bog also offers many opportunities to learn more about its unique aspects year-round on its 20 km of trails—whether it’s hiking, birding, or snowshoeing.
Peat from bogs has been harvested extensively for use in agriculture and gardening. Home gardeners may want to choose other soil conditioners, such as composted leaves or coconut fibre husk, for plant drainage instead of adding pressure to the world’s peat supply.
Find out more about how to protect threatened wetland bogs at