Nov 27, 2019

Massachusetts Turning Cranberry Bogs Into Wetlands

A state program dedicated to turning cranberry bogs back into wetlands is underway in Massachusetts. 

A state program dedicated to turning cranberry bogs back into wetlands is underway in Massachusetts. 

Alex Hackman, a restoration ecologist with the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, is running a state program dedicated to turning cranberry bogs back into wetlands.

Though many cranberry bogs are built in low-lying, swampy areas, they tend to be dry, reported WBUR. Farmers add a layer of sand to bogs every few years, which helps cranberries grow, but leaves a lot of sand to accumulate overtime. 

"The thing that’s different about this soil than the native wetland soil is that this will not hold water well," said Hackman. "This is sand, and water will move through this and go underground. Wetlands need to hold water to be a wetland."

The wetlands can absorb water and pollutants, prevent flooding, store carbon and provide homes for fish and wildlife.

The program partners with the UDSA's Wetland Reserve Easement Program. One of the biggest challenges the program faces is finding enough money to meet the demand, according to WBUR.

"As the price of cranberries has been down, a lot of growers have been turning to that [program] as a possibility," said Brian Wick, executive director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association. "This is a good option for the growers, because short of that it’s selling off house lots that surround the bogs. So you’re left with very limited options of what you can do with that property."

The bogs are also dry because of the plumbing that farmers install on the surface, which use ditches and dams to steer water where they need it. The ditches are useful for farming but disrupt the wetland's natural ability to hold water, according to WBUR.

"One of our challenges is determining where we need to do active intervention to restore wetlands," said Hackman, "And where we can just walk away and let these lands self-heal."

Given the water pollution problems in southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod, many households in these areas use septic systems, which then leach nitrogen into groundwater. These excess nutrients pollute ponds and estuaries, causing harmful algae blooms to form.

"So maybe by building 30 or 40 acres of restored wetlands, we can build less sewers and run pipes to fewer houses, and get the same nitrogen removal,” said ecologist Chris Neill. “That would save the town lots and lots of money, into the millions and even tens of millions of dollars."

The going rate for the program is $13,600 an acre, according to WBUR. The cost also includes payments to farmers for their land. 

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