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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Imagine a world without any plants...

by Carol Mack

There would be no oxygen to breathe. No sheltering branches. No solar-powered chlorophyll factories to feed us… Our life as we know it depends entirely on green. But green plants are just as fundamental in the under-water world of our rivers, lakes and streams as they are on dry land.

Aquatic plants provide food and shelter for the smallest animals such as aquatic insects, snails, and crustaceans. These, in turn, are the cuisine of fish and waterfowl. Geese and ducks including mallards, widgeons, shovelers, ring-necked ducks,
canvasbacks, and redheads, feast on the seeds, leafy parts, and tubers of water plants that grow in the Pend Oreille River. Mergansers, goldeneye, bufflehead, harlequins and scaups supplement that vegetarian diet with invertebrates and fish. Even moose, beaver, muskrat, turtles and otters snack on aquatic vegetation.

Aquatic plants protect our shorelines from erosion and help stabilize the sediment, increasing water clarity. They also help keep water clear by taking up nutrients that would otherwise stimulate algae growth. And, aquatic plants form a vital part of the complex system of chemical cycling in a waterbody, and influence the supply of oxygen in the water.

But from a human recreational perspective, aquatic plant growth is often a nuisance—especially when dense mats of
introduced plants like Eurasian watermilfoil clog shorelines and waterways. As we battle weeds in our waters, it is important to remember that we are trying for a diverse, healthy native plant community—not a plant-free bathtub.

Make an effort to become acquainted with the cast of native aquatics that make underwater life possible, especially if you are trying to manage milfoil on your shoreline. Nature abhors a vacuum even if we don’t, and will quickly fill any we create—often with other invasives. Just as on land, we find that protecting and encouraging native plant growth both discourages weeds and provides bountiful habitat for creatures great and small.

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