Remedial agriculture: Reconciling ecological restoration and agriculture in the design of a wetland complex
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Reconciling human landscapes with wildlife needs can demand innovative solutions. Enhancing wildlife conservation in agricultural landscapes requires habitat restoration; returning marginal farmlands to wetlands in a way that remains productive for farmers can aid existing strategies. This study develops and explores the feasibility of an ecological design to rehabilitate wet, poor quality farmland into a wetland that can serve as wildlife habitat while producing a crop. Research targets methods of biophysical site restoration that are feasible for farmers to initiate; identification of temperate wetland crops with potential to meet economic and ecological criteria; and parameters for meeting farmers' needs in terms of management and desirability. Scientific literature on wetland and restoration ecology is examined and integrated with agricultural studies and interview responses from landowners involved in alternative food production. Primary data collection for design development centers on coastal British Columbia, where competing land uses have degraded many former wetlands while the region's fertile soils support prolific, diversified farming. Qualitative, semi-structured interviews with key informants involved in local food production were conducted as part of a participative research process in order to get input and feedback throughout design development. A case study site was chosen in a seasonally flooded agricultural watershed outside of Duncan, B. C. A design is proposed that combines five habitat types with a naturalized cropping system. Major findings include the potential use of many wild and native plants as crops, as a way to provide sufficient economic returns and maintain ecological sustainability. Current opportunities for wetland agriculture include niche marketing, added value products, agrotourism, and increasing sales through farm reputation. Possible deterrents include product marketing, and the unfamiliarity of the plants from a farming perspective, where levels of acceptable damage imposed by fluctuating water conditions, weed competition, and herbivory are undetermined. Participant response was positive overall with regards to the design and preliminary results indicate that such a system could be feasible. Public interest and technical ability to create an agricultural wetland exist; developing creative marketing for such products in North America appears to be the primary challenge. The design is thus proposed as a long-term study to minimize risk for interested landowners. Redesigning human landscapes to include wild species is an important step towards a more sustainable society.