WASHINGTON — America’s wetlands declined slightly from 2004-09, underscoring the need for continued conservation and restoration efforts, according to a report issued by the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The findings are consistent with reports from previous decades that reflect a continuous but diminishing decline in wetlands habitat over time.
The report, which represents the most up-to-date, comprehensive assessment of wetland habitats in the United States, documents substantial losses in forested wetlands and coastal wetlands that serve as storm buffers — absorbing pollution that otherwise would find its way into the nation’s drinking water — and provide vital habitat for fish, wildlife and plants.
“Wetlands are at a tipping point,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. “While we have made great strides in conserving and restoring wetlands since the 1950s when we were losing an area equal to half the size of Rhode Island each year, we remain on a downward trend that is alarming. This report, and the threats to places like the Mississippi River Delta, should serve as a call to action to renew our focus on conservation and restoration efforts hand in hand with states, tribes and other partners.”
“This report offers us a road map for stemming and reversing the decline,” Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said. “It documents a number of successes in wetlands conservation, protection and re-establishment and will be used to help channel our resources to protect wetlands where they are most threatened and reduce further wetland losses.”
The net wetland loss was estimated to be 62,300 acres between 2004-09, bringing the nation’s total wetlands acreage to more than 110 million acres in the continental United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii.
The rate of gains from re-establishment of wetlands increased by 17 percent from the previous study period (1998-2004), but the wetland loss rate increased 140 percent during the same time period. As a consequence, national wetland losses have outpaced gains.
The net loss includes a combination of gains in certain types of wetlands and losses in other types, especially forested wetlands.
“In a five year period, we lost over 630,000 acres of forested wetlands, mostly in the Southeast — an area equal to half a million football fields each year,” Ashe said. “We should all be concerned about the substantial loss of this diminishing resource, which helps ensure good water quality for local communities and provides vital habitat for a diversity of important wildlife species.”
The southeast United States, primarily freshwater wetlands of the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plain, and the Lower Mississippi River experienced the greatest losses.