• Wetlands recharge groundwater supplies.
Water that collects in wetland basins percolates through the soil into the underlying aquifer, which in many areas is an essential source of drinking and irrigation water. During periods of drought, the slow discharge of groundwater into rivers, lakes, and wetlands helps maintain water levels and sustain aquatic life. The many intricate connections between groundwater, stream flows, and lake and reservoir levels make wetlands an essential part of the hydrologic cycle. In effect, there is no such thing as an "isolated wetland," as all wetlands are connected via the water cycle, which functions both above and below ground.
• Wetlands need your help!
The United States has lost more than half of its historical wetlands, and in many high-priority waterfowl conservation areas the losses have been even greater. Iowa, which once had 4 million to 6 million acres of prairie potholes, shallow lakes, and other highly productive wetlands, has lost more than 90 percent of its original wetland habitat. Similar losses have occurred in other midwestern states and California. As a result, breeding waterfowl populations in these areas have been significantly reduced from historical levels.
With high commodity prices, inexpensive new drainage equipment and techniques, and hardier crop varieties, wetlands in the heart of the Prairie Pothole Region and in other key waterfowl-producing areas are in grave peril. It is crucial that Ducks Unlimited members and other supporters inform and educate their elected officials of the importance of wetlands conservation. Nature has provided us with a valuable multi-tool that serves people and wildlife in so many ways. Let's continue working together to ensure that wetlands—and the many benefits they provide—remain abundant today, tomorrow, and forever.
Gildo Tori is director of public policy at DU's Great Lakes/Atlantic Regional Office in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Big Value in Wetlands After centuries of being taken for granted, the economic value of wetlands is finally being recognized. For example, we know that the loss of wetlands comes at a real cost to society. Fish and wildlife populations decline, reducing commercial and sport harvests and income generated by hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-associated recreation. Water quality is degraded, increasing water-treatment costs for local municipalities. In coastal areas and river floodplains, insurance premiums rise because of more frequent flooding and storm damage. And the depletion of aquifers increases the cost of irrigating crops.
Researchers have recently examined the ecological goods and services provided by wetlands in specific areas and attempted to place a monetary value on them. A recent study on Michigan's Saginaw Bay estimated that the area's coastal wetlands and the ecological goods and services that they provide have a value of $10,573 per acre. Another, broader study estimated the value of these same habitats at $6,100 per acre. Any way you look at it, wetlands provide a host of ecological goods and services that have real economic value. Best of all, these wetland benefits can be enjoyed at little or no cost. These days, that's quite a bargain.