Wetlands Update--Has Preservation Had an Impact?
Dear EarthTalk: What is the status of wetlands in North America? Years ago I remember that wetlands loss, due to development and sprawl, was accelerating fast, but I haven’t heard much on the topic of late.
-- John Mossbarger, La Jolla, CA
Wetlands serve as primary habitat for thousands of wildlife species—from ducks to beavers to insects—and form an important ecosystem link between land and water. They also play a key role in maintaining water quality, as they filter out agricultural nutrients and absorb sediments so that municipal water supplies don’t have to. On and near shorelines, wetlands provide a natural buffer against storm surges and rising floodwaters, helping to disperse and absorb excess water before it can damage life and property.
The eradication of wetlands in the so-called New World began when white settlers, intent on taming the land, started developing homesteads and town sites throughout what was to become the United States and Canada. Researchers estimate that at the time of European settlement in the early 1600s, the land that was to become the lower 48 U.S. states had 221 million acres of wetlands. By the mid-1980s, following another great period of loss after World War II when army engineers drained huge swaths of formerly impenetrable marshes and swamps, the continental U.S. had only 103 million wetland acres remaining.