The Important Role of “Swamplands” in the Fight Against Climate Change

A look to the Hudson Bay Lowlands
Three Greater Yellowlegs.

Some of the most important habitats in the world are those water-soaked places that ecologists call peatlands. Those who may not appreciate their importance or who even see them in a negative light sometimes call them “swamplands.” In his new book, “Swamplands – Tundra Beavers, Quaking Bogs, and the Improbable World of Peat,” lauded author Edward Struzik explores the complex ecological, social, and artistic history and future of the world’s many kinds of peatlands.

These often-underappreciated ecosystems play a critical role in mitigating floods, filtering water, slowing wildfires, and regulating climate change. Ancient peatlands, like those found in one of the world’s largest peatlands--the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands of Canada--have cooled the planet for thousands of years. Yet if they are disturbed and degraded, they will release rather than store carbon. This would contribute to the climate crisis instead of helping to mitigate it. 

The Omushkego Cree—the name of the Mushkegowuk People in their Cree language—know well the importance of these ancient peatlands that they have stewarded for thousands of years.  This is one reason that the Mushkegowuk Council, made up of First Nations from the northern Ontario part of Hudson and James Bay, are working on a conservation plan to protect part of the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands. Organizations including the National Audubon Society, Wildlands League, and other nonprofits are working with them to make that happen.

These peatlands along the coast of Hudson-James Bay in northern Canada are also among the most important in the world for shorebirds. Each year, migratory birds like Black-bellied Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Semipalmated Plovers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and the endangered Red Knot travel great distances across North America. They rely on places like the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands to rest and refuel before continuing their epic journeys. 

As the importance of the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands is illuminated, it becomes more and more obvious that protecting peatlands should be a priority. Yet despite the region’s vital importance to wildlife and the planet, sections of the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands are under threat. Currently, there are more than 17,000 active mining claims held by 18 companies and individuals in the portion of the Lowlands known as the Ring of Fire.

Conservation of the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands is a nature-based climate solution that can contribute to solving the world’s climate crisis. These lands will also be crucial to Canada reaching its goal of conserving 30% of it lands and waters by 2030, a goal that should be adopted by all the world’s nations in the upcoming meetings on the Convention on Biological Diversity. 

When you consider the ecosystem services provided by Canada’s boreal from an economic standpoint the argument become even stronger for conservation. The natural capital of the boreal is valued at $700 billion per year. This includes carbon storage, water filtration, flood control, pest reduction, cultural benefits to rural communities, and recreational activities such as tourism (PEW, 2012).

On December 16, 2021, we invite you to attend the following free online event. We will be joining author Ed Struzik to discuss the special characteristics of the Hudson-James Lowlands and the importance of preserving these (and other) peatlands. Join us to hear more about the Mushkegowuk Council’s work to lead the way in understanding and communicating the importance of these globally significant sites in the face of many competing interests. 

Swamplands as Untapped Climate Solutions: A look to the Hudson Bay Lowlands

Thursday, December 16 from 1–2:15 pm ET

Participants include:

Edward Struzik, author of Swamplands, as well as Future Arctic and Firestorm

Vern Cheechoo, Director of Lands and Resources, Mushkegowuk Council

Anna Baggio, Director of Conservation, Wildlands League

Moderated by:

Jeff Wells, Vice President for Boreal Conservation at National Audubon Society

Watch the recording here!