And the fount of biodiversity is wilderness. Today, American forest wilderness exists, when at all, in patches, “museum cases” of public lands, which give only pallid ideas of the large biodiversity our ancestors blithely relinquished.
Wetland wilderness, however has not fallen quite so far…. Although many surviving wetlands have indeed suffered irreversible changes… it is remarkable how many of them remain relatively pristine. Most American wetlands have existed as such since the retreat of Pleistocene glaciers. Some of their plant populations may, in many cases, be directly descended from the original wetland species of their locales. The pleasure and adventure of experiencing a bog or marsh of native vegetation may bring us as close to experiencing true American wilderness as most of us may ever come.
John Andrew Eastman was an American naturalist and writer and a Kalamazoo resident. Of many publications, probably his most influential were three books, The Book of Forest and Thicket, The Book of Swamp and Bog, and The Book of Field and Roadside. They are field guides of a special, ecological sort. Arranged by species of plant, they deal with the interactions of each species with its associates–consumers, parasites, competitors, mutualists–and with the physical features of its habitat.
The quotation is from the Introduction to the Swamp and Bog book and makes a point about many existing wetlands of North America that no one else has stated as directly: Unlike most upland sites, wetland sites, if not destroyed, often preserve conditions and ecosystems with direct genetic connections to the landscapes encountered by the earliest European settlers–and, of course, by American Indians before them.
Many wetlands have another conservation connection: Pollen and other remains of plants and animals preserved in their sediments are the main evidence for reconstructing the vegetational and climatic history of the region surrounding the wetland basin. Not mentioned in the Introduction, this important role is alluded to in the book’s entry on Mosses, Sphagnum (p.130).