Wetlands protect people and property from flooding.
Wetlands filter pollution from our drinking water.
Because of their location between water and land, wetlands provide a buffer zone to intercept polluted runoff before it contaminates our lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. Wetlands act as natural water filters, absorbing pollutants, pesticides, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants before they infiltrate our drinking water.(6) They also reduce the movement of silt and sediment into our rivers and streams. By serving as a natural filtration system, wetlands help ensure we have clean water for consumption and recreational use.(7)
Wetlands provide habitat.
Wetlands are important to those who fish.
Wetlands are essential spawning areas for fish, allowing them to procreate and replenish. Wetlands also provide the smaller insect and fish that serve as food to many larger game fish. The loss of wetlands threatens the $45 billion commercial fishing industry. A study by William Kier Associates found that “three-quarters of the nation’s fish production depends on estuaries, marshes, and other wetlands.”(13) Over 49 million Americans spend $24 billion a year on sport fishing for striped bass, flounder, trout, and other species.(14) Without wetlands, fish will not have the habitat they need to reproduce and grow.
Wetlands promote tourism and recreation.
We are losing our wetlands.
Since 1780, the United States has lost more than half of its wetlands.(16) The rate of loss has slowed over the last decade, but we are far behind our goals to protect wetlands. Various studies show that 58,000 to 109,000 acres are still lost nationally each year, and a 1997 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that roughly 120,000 acres of wetlands are being destroyed annually.(4) The United States is far behind its “no net loss” goal to protect wetlands from loss and deterioration.(17) Just a few years ago, the Clinton administration called for an annual increase of 100,000 wetland acres.(18)
There is no tracking mechanism for wetlands.
The National Academy of Sciences found that no federal agencies are accurately tracking the nation’s wetlands to see if the losses to development each year are adequately compensated. Because of that, a panel of academic and government experts found there is no way to assess whether the nation’s goal of “no net loss” of wetlands, in terms of both acreage and functions, is being met. Between 1993 and 2000, developers were required to replace every acre of wetlands destroyed or damaged with an average of 1.78 acres of similar habitat.(19) Since the Supreme Court SWANCC Decision on January 9, 2001, isolated wetlands are no longer regulated.(20)
Isolated wetlands lost federal protection.
In a closely divided 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that the federal government no longer has jurisdiction over those who want to fill in isolated wetlands.(20) Furthermore, there is no federal law that specifically protects isolated wetlands.(21) Existing protections are provided only under the “nation’s waters” provision in the Clean Water Act of 1972. The current administration’s new policy removes Clean Water Act protections from many of the nation’s “isolated” waters including small streams, ponds, and wetlands. According to the EPA, 20 percent of the United States’ remaining wetlands, some 20 million acres, may now be excluded from the Clean Water Act.(22)
Wetlands restoration is often not effective.
Recent studies have shown that attempts to restore or create new wetlands are often not successful.(23) Generally, restored and created wetlands do not provide the full range of benefits as existing wetlands. Programs requiring wetland replacement are not well monitored: “The National Academy of Sciences found that no federal agencies are accurately tracking the nation’s marshes, swamps, and bogs to see if the losses to development each year are adequately compensated.”(19)
State legislation addresses the problem.
In May of 2001, Wisconsin became the first state to plug this legal loophole with state legislation, 2001 Wisconsin Act 6, that passed unanimously through the Democratic controlled Senate and Republican controlled Assembly. The bipartisan bill passed in the split legislature because it was backed by a broad coalition of sportsmen, builders, and environmentalists.(24) It is up to state legislators to act on this issue before we lose any more valuable wetlands.
|This package was last updated on July 16, 2003.|
State Environmental Resource Center
106 East Doty Street, Suite 200 § Madison, Wisconsin 53703
Phone: 608-252-9800 § Fax: 608-252-9828