Dec 2, 2009
This salt marsh at Seabrook, New Hampshire, is now the backyard of a nuclear power plant. When this area was first settled, the marsh was the town hayfield, cut over every August or September for animal bedding, mulch, banks of insulation against the sides of houses, and packing material for shipping fruit, pottery, and other fragile items, back before foam peanuts and poppable plastic. After cutting, the grass was left in the marsh till wintertime, when the frozen mud would support the weight of horses to haul it out. If hay was needed before winter, horses could be driven in on unfrozen marshland by equipping them with huge wooden shoes that spread their weight.
But in the twentieth century, when marsh grass began to lose its value as a cash crop, the marsh was regarded as a nuisance. Drainage projects were expensive, but they were often justified on public health grounds, as mosquito-control measures. The Seabrook marsh, like many, was "ditched" with narrow little canals to dry up mosquito habitat. The project failed because the ditching destroyed habitat for important species of mosquito-larvae-eating fish.
Nowadays, we are beginning to understand the critical importance of marshes and other wetlands, for wildlife, storm-buffering, and many other functions. A handful ofl New England marshes have been restored to something approaching their pristine condition. And many others, including Seabrook, are slowly recovering thanks to protective legislation.
The mosquitoes are not an endangered species.