Wetlands Policy Proposal
Every year our nations wetlands have an estimated loss of 117,000 acres. This means every five minutes an area the size of a football field is lost. What people do not understand is that we need wetlands for many beneficial reasons. Most people do not even know what wetlands consist of. There are four major types of wetlands which are: isolated wetlands, bogs of the Northeast, bottomland hardwood forest wetlands, and playa lakes.
Isolated wetlands consist of small, seasonal ponds filled with water for only a few weeks a year. They are not connected by surface water to river, lakes, or streams. The bogs of the Northeast provide homes for unusual carnivorous plants and other wildlife. The bottom land hardwood forest wetlands help maintain the river’s cycle by providing a natural sink for flooding waters and also filter pollutants. The last type of wetlands is called playa lakes. They are located in the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma, and are used as habitats by migratory birds and wildlife. Almost half of the fresh water wetlands in the U.S, and over three-quarters of the estuarine wetlands are found in the Southeast. These wetlands represent 47% of the total wetlands of our nation. Between the seventies and eighties 89% of this area were lost, mainly due to agricultural, industrial, and urban expansion.
Wetlands are a vital natural resource that provide flood protection and enhance water quality, wildlife habitat, and air quality. The 1997 NRI indicates that an annual average of 54,000 acres of wetlands was lost from 1992-1997 on cropland, pastureland, and land enrolled in the CRP,
while an average of 30,000 acres was gained. Nearly two-thirds of the lost wetland acres was due to agricultural production, the rest to non-agricultural activities such as development. The net loss of wetlands has decreased from a level of 27,000 acres lost each year from 1982 to 1992 to 24,000 acres from 1992 to 1997. This improvement is the result of programs designed to restore or enhance wetlands, such as the Wetlands Reserve Program as well as state, local, and private initiatives.
Not only wildlife ecosystems but also our society need our wetlands as well, yet they are threatened by us alone. Wetlands are very fragile and many factors contribute to their destruction, such as urban sprawl, the building of highways and roads, mining, stream channelization, and logging. Since all of these are immediate threats to our natural wetlands the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a Clean Water Act in 1972.
The Clean Water Act was enacted “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s Waters.” As of now only 66% of our nations waters are safe for fishing and swimming. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act is responsible for protecting our remaining wetland resources. Under this act annual net loss have been cut by 60%. The only problem with the CWA is it allows for the Corps to administer “general permits” that speed approval of projects by eliminating environmental review by the EPA and public comment on any projects. Revision of these permits is constantly on going. However, the only way to preserve our nation wetlands is to stop destroying them. Reconstruction does not provide all of the benefits of untouched wetlands.