AMERICA' S WETLAND YOUTH PATCH PROGRAM (AGES 12-18)

What are wetlands, and why are they important? These important natural systems – such as marshes and swamps – are places where land and water come together, and special plants and animals live in both. In Louisiana, we have more wetlands than most states and many countries, but it is still vital that we understand them.

 These coastal wetlands in Louisiana are truly America’s WETLAND.

 Louisiana is facing a wetlands crisis of global proportions. Our coastal wetlands are disappearing at a rapid rate. These marshes and swamps that lie between coastal cities and communities and the Gulf of Mexico are too important to lose – so Louisiana is letting the nation know that we’ve got to save “America’s WETLAND” (http://www.americaswetland.com.

 We benefit from wetlands in many ways, and this special activity patch will help you understand how wetlands are important for us.

 Note: You need to be careful when visiting wetlands. There is potential for accidents, such as falling in the water, or encountering a venomous snake. Never go alone to a wetland – always visit with a supervised group.
 

America’s WETLAND Resource Center:  your source of information.

 Your source of information to help you complete this patch program is contained elsewhere in your America’s WETLAND Resource Center.

 Your America’s WETLAND Journal:  the place you must record all your observations and learnings.

 All activities should be recorded in your wetlands journal, which you will turn in to your group leader before qualifying to receive your America’s WETLAND patch.

 Patch Activities:  What are wetlands? 

 Wetlands are areas that are under shallow water all or much of the time.  Wetlands in regions that get only a little rain may actually be dry part of the year, but all wetlands hold enough water to be home to special plants that are found only in these habitats. Different types of wetlands include bogs, marshes, and swamps. They are all interesting and important places that we should learn more about.

  1. Obtain a National Wetlands Inventory Map ( see http://wetlands.fws.gov; http://www.nationalmap.usgs.gov) for the area in which you live (or in which your group meets).  Learn how to read the map.  How many wetlands are in your area?  What kind are they?  How big are they?  Which one is closest to your home/meeting place?  Where are most of the wetlands in Louisiana found?
  2. Visit a wetland area. Most cities in Louisiana have nature centers or parks that feature wetlands. A partial list of them include:
  • Alexandria - CENLA Pride STAR Center
  • Baton Rouge - Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center
  • Hammond - Southeast Louisiana University Outdoor Learning Center
  • Lafayette - Acadiana Park Nature Station
  • Mandeville - Northlake Nature Center
  • New Orleans - Audubon Louisiana Nature Center
  • Shreveport - Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park
  • Villa Platte - Louisiana State Arboretum

Pick a spot, about 30 or 40 feet square, where you are able to sit quietly, comfortably, and safely.  Observe and note: how many and what kinds of animals you see, how many and what kinds of plants you see, what the soil looks like, and the amount and location of water.  Record these observations in your America’s WETLAND journal.

  1. Look for information on wetlands in your America’s WETLAND Resource Center, local library, nature center, aquarium, or museum.  Learn about and write a description of three different types of wetlands in your area.  Where is each located?  What plants and animals live there?  How is each different from other types of wetlands?
  2. Wetlands occur around the world.  Find out about wetlands that occur in different countries.  Choose one and describe it in your own words and/or pictures.  Where is it?  What other kinds of wetlands are there?  What kinds of plants and animals live there?  How have people that live around the wetland interacted with it in the past and present?  What are the threats facing the area?  Can you compare the size of these areas on a map with the broad expanse of coastal wetlands in Louisiana?
       

5.   Visit two different wetlands in your area and compare them.  What kind is each? How are they similar? How different?  Describe them in your own words, with drawings and/or pictures.   It may help to use the findings in Activity 1 in this category to guide observations of the two wetlands. Compare and contrast the types of wetlands in your area with wetlands outside your area.

  1. Using what you’ve learned about what defines wetlands, describe how they are different from other water bodies, list and/or describe the similarities and differences between wetlands and these other bodies of water.  You may use both words and pictures to reate a booklet or set of posters, then share them with your school, library, nature center or at some other community location.

 Patch Activities:  What is happening in America’s WETLAND? 

 America’s WETLAND is being lost at an alarming rate.  The causes are both natural and from human activity.  None of the human causes were intentional (we built levees to protect ourselves from floods, but they cut off the natural overflows that replaced subsided soils in the marshes; we got oil from the wetlands, but the canals that were built allowed salt water to kill vegetation), but they have increased  the loss of our valuable America’s WETLAND.

 To learn about this loss, go to http://www.loyno.edu/~awresctr/newsite/background_facts/detailedstory/causes.html

 Patch Activities: Wetlands Functions

 Wetlands are important because they’re wet!  They hold water that could otherwise cause floods, they protect coastal cities from hurricane damage, they provide a home for animals and plants that live in wetlands, and they serve as an important source of food and shelter for animals that graze, hunt, or hide in wetlands.
 

1.   Learn about foods that people grow in wetlands.  Help prepare and eat a wetlands feast with foods from wetlands such as seafood, wild game, wild rice, etc. for your group or family.  Explain to your guests how each food originates in wetlands.

2.     Learn about migratory birds and the importance of wetlands to these animals.  Choose one migratory bird which uses wetlands and describe: the bird, its migratory path, how it uses wetlands along the way and any other interesting facts that you learn. Coastal marshes and wetland forests in Louisiana are vital habitats for migratory songbirds and waterfowl – what are the important migration routes that cross our state? You may use words and pictures. 
 

3.   Learn about the functions that wetlands serve by reading a book from the library, visiting a wetlands or nature center, and/or searching the internet.  Using words and pictures, describe how wetlands function like each of the following: a sponge, a coffee filter, a bird house, a grocery store, a hotel, a bag of rice, a small pillow, a strainer.

4.     Visit a local wetlands area and carry out the following activities:

Note which plants and animals you see.  Draw / illustrate the food web for that wetlands  You may have to use your imagination and do a little research - many animals which are important food web components are  present but not often seen.

Look closely at the wetland for the four components of good habitat (food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young) that are important for many different kinds of animals.  Make a list of each component of habitat that you observe and note which animals will use that component. (Example: standing dead trees are shelter and food for woodpeckers; duckweed is food for ducks). Try to record at least ten components.

From what you can observe, what functions does the wetland serve?  What value do these functions have to your community?   Make a list of functions, your observations that support those functions, and how each function is valued by your community.  Share your findings with your troop or other community group in your area.

5.  When you turn your faucet on, water comes out. But where does it come from and where does it go? Draw a picture illustrating the source of your water, including all the areas it flows through to reach you, and where it goes once it leaves your sink. Does it flow through a wetlands along it’s journey? If so, what do you think the wetlands does to that water? A call to your local water authority may be very helpful for this activity.

Patch Activities: Wetlands & People

Wetlands are important to people, but in many places the understanding of this important connection has been lost. By talking to people who work with wetlands as part of their job, and to other people who may not have any experience with wetlands, you can start to understand the different ways that we view wetlands in our society.

1.   Interview a wetlands professional or local official who works with wetlands. These could be scientists at universities, the staff of state or federal agencies such as the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, land managers, park rangers, instructors at nature centers, captains of swamp tour boats, or coastal zone management staff in the local governments of coastal parishes.  Find out about careers concerning wetlands, threats facing wetlands, and laws protecting wetlands.  Ask other questions that interest you and that you think will have meaningful answers. 
 

2.   Read the local newspaper for two weeks.  Collect clippings of articles concerning wetlands and organize them in your journal.  How many articles appear?  How often? What seem to be the biggest issues in your community?  Is the need to save Louisiana’s coastal wetlands the topic of many articles? If you need more articles, include clippings from a national newspaper, a magazine, or the internet.
 

3.   Conduct a mock debate with your troop, den, or club concerning wetlands issues.  Half the troop should argue for preservation of wetlands while the other half should argue that wetlands be developed for more homes, farms, and stores.  Why do you think many people have strong feelings on both sides of wetlands issues?  What kinds of agreements could your troop come to or what compromises could you think of? 
 

4.   Conduct a survey of at least five people who live in your neighborhood.  Ask questions such as:  How many people have heard of wetlands, and know what wetlands are?  How many people have visited wetlands?  Are they aware that Louisiana is losing its coastal wetlands?  How many people can name one wetland area in Louisiana?  How many know what plants and animals live in wetlands?  How many people can name an endangered plant or animal that depends on wetlands?  What do people think of wetlands?  Do people favor preservation or development of wetlands?  How many know that wetlands are threatened?  How many know what laws protect wetlands?  Ask other questions you think will have interesting and meaningful answers.

        Louisiana’s coastal wetlands provide us with many benefits:

  • Rich coastal fisheries, including nurseries for Gulf fish and shrimp;
  • Important habitat for waterfowl (ducks and geese) and migratory songbirds;
  • Protection buffers against hurricanes and storm waves from the Gulf.

        Present your findings to your troop or to another citizen, church or community group.  Tell what you discovered and also what surprised you or didn’t surprise you about your findings.
 

5.   Using your imagination, design a campaign to educate the public about the importance of wetlands.  Create a slogan and logo.  Find ways to use your slogan and logo to get your message out to the public such as t-shirts, bumper stickers, flyers and public service announcements. 
 

6.   Find out about an earlier culture that depended on wetlands, such as the native peoples in southern Louisiana.  Describe your findings with words and pictures.  Where and when did this culture exist?  How did they use wetlands? What sort of houses did they have?  What food did they eat?  How did they get around in wetlands?
 

7.   Make three lists: words for wetlands; phrases that use wetlands words; and movies, books, and other popular media that take place in wetlands or use wetlands words. (Examples: bog, swamp; “bogged down" with work; Return of the Swampthing.)   Are most of these phrases and titles positive or negative?  Do you think wetlands have been given a good or bad image in popular culture?  Do you think that image is accurate?

8.  Select one wetlands area for which you can find the history of the area. How have the wetlands changed or been affected over the years? Imagine what the wetlands were like 100 years or more ago and what the area will be like 100 years from now. Describe your ideas with words and pictures.

9.  Research a wetlands issue in your community and write a letter expressing your ideas and opinions to a government official.  This may be a parish official, your state representative or senator, your federal representative or senator, state governor, or the U.S. president.

Qualifying for your America’s WETLAND Patch

For Leaders: The following questions should be answered verbally by youth when they present their wetland journal to the Leader for evaluation.

What are wetlands?

Name 3 reasons wetlands are important to people?

What are 3 reasons that make America’s Wetland – coastal Louisiana – so important to our state and nation?

What is the most important thing you learned studying America’s WETLAND?

Acknowledgments:  AW thanks Lee Scioneaux for his work designing this patch program.  His first draft was edited by Doug Daigle and Robert A. Thomas.