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Crisis for Americas Wetlands

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Our nation’s wetlands face their greatest risk in 35 years, and federal legislation that would protect them needs your support

By Scott Yaich, Ph.D.

In late January, the president of the United States will summarize his views of how the nation is doing in his annual State of the Union address. He’ll also present some ideas for actions that he thinks could improve things. But he won’t be covering everything that’s important to everyone in one short speech. So, Ducks Unlimited thought it would be useful to the nation’s duck hunters and others interested in wetland conservation to provide a short “State of the Wetlands” report.

In summary, the good news is that, at least until recently, the overall state of the nation’s wetlands had been improving. The bad news, however, is that every year we are still losing more than 80,000 acres of wetlands that are important to waterfowl and wildlife. The really bad news is that wetland loss has likely accelerated, and we are on the verge of having to watch wetlands disappear from the landscape much more rapidly unless we act now. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on with the nation’s wetlands.

The State of America's Wetlands

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has published four periodic reports covering the status and trends of wetlands in the United States over the last 50 years. When small, mostly artificial ponds are discounted, these reports document ongoing and sometimes alarming wetland loss. Between the 1950s and 1970s, for example, more than a half-million acres of wetlands were being lost every year. By the mid-1980s, the nation had lost over half its original wetlands.

Fortunately for ducks, the rate of net wetland loss across the nation slowed significantly over the last 30 years. Important factors in reducing wetland losses included passage of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972, voluntary conservation programs such as the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and other Farm Bill conservation programs since 1985, and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) in 1989. The 1970s also heralded a greater awareness of the importance of conservation to everyone’s day-to-day interests, helping DU and other conservation organizations grow and conserve wetlands at a faster rate.

The most recent USFWS report covering 1998 to 2004 showed that wetland loss had slowed, but the nation was still losing over 80,000 acres annually. This is equivalent to losing a football field of wetlands every nine minutes. In total, the United States has lost approximately 16.8 million acres of wetlands since the mid-1950s and more than 2 million acres of vegetated wetlands just since 1986.

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