World Wetland Day is more worthy of celebrating, says Bob Bowles
By Bob Bowles, Orillia Today
Wednesday, February 2, 2022
Every Feb. 2, the media shows up to view Ontario’s Wiarton Willie, Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam, Alberta’s Balzac Billy or Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil coming out of a winter den.
The folklore started when the first Europeans in North America wanted some sign of hope for spring after a cold winter. They substituted the groundhog for the hedgehog of European springs and called it Groundhog Day. The made-up fable is if the groundhog casts a shadow, it returns underground for six more weeks of winter. No shadow means an early spring is on its way.
First, no self-respecting Canadian groundhog will come above ground on Feb. 2. You can be sure of six more weeks of winter, which brings you to March 17. It may work some years in Pennsylvania, but an early spring in Canada would be March 17, and a late spring more than two weeks later.
Even in the United States, the accuracy rate is 36-39 per cent for spring-predicting groundhogs. It’s time for the media to leave this stupid tradition.
However, Feb. 2, halfway between winter solstice (Dec. 21, the first day of winter) and the vernal equinox (March 20, the first day of spring), is important since it is World Wetland Day. This is what the media should be covering.
Wetlands are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. Home to about 600 Canadian plant and animal species, they play a crucial role in the water cycle. Wetlands store and purify surface water, help replenish groundwater resources, reduce the damaging effects of floods by slowly releasing rainfall and store carbons from fossil-fuel emissions.
We have lost 90 per cent of wetlands in some parts of southern Ontario and continue to lose more every year to development. Climate change is now causing more severe weather events. Wetlands and mature trees can protect us against these events.
Bob Bowles is an award-winning writer, artist and naturalist, as well as founder and co-ordinator of the Ontario master naturalist certificate program at Lakehead University.