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Restoring the Wetlands

Updated: Mar 15

A four-point plan to restore wetlands to prevent environmental damage and economic risks.


Big Picture


Wetlands are natural spaces where water covers most of the ground. The widespread presence of water on the ground makes for unique ecosystems that host very specialized animal communities. Additionally, wetlands are unique because they can only be found in select geographical areas. In the United States, wetlands cover 5.5 percent of the land and can be located in almost every county. Despite covering a small area, wetlands harbor over 30 percent of the plant species in the United States. However, they are concentrated in greater numbers around the Eastern Seaboard, California and the Midwest. The wetlands provide many direct, indirect, option and non-use values.


Operative Definitions


  1. Wetlands: Natural spaces where water covers most of the ground. They usually harbor large amounts of biodiversity and provide many ecosystem services.

  2. Ecosystem Services: Natural features from different environments that provide benefits to human livelihood. For example, trees remove CO2 from the air with their leaves and help prevent landslides with their roots.

  3. Economic Value: The value of a good or service provided by something or someone, measured in units of currency.

  4. Invasive Species: Living organisms that are not native to an ecosystem and cause harm to their new living area, usually by out-competing native species to the point of extinction. 


Important Facts and Statistics


  1. In the U.S., wetlands support the life cycles of over 75 percent of fish for commercial use and 90 percent of fish for recreational use.

  2. Globally, wetlands have a yearly economic value of $70 billion.


Four-Point Plan


(1) Increase awareness of the importance of wetlands.

This can take place through education programs in schools and information boards in national parks or wetland areas. These programs are cost-effective ways of raising awareness of the importance and value of wetlands within the already existing infrastructure. Increasing awareness will lead to better practices from individuals and more responsible use of these spaces. 


(2) Involve wetland recreators and local communities in the protection process.

The wetlands would benefit greatly from stewardship from both the local communities that gain from the ecosystem services that the wetlands provide and the recreators that enjoy them. Similar to the information campaign in Point 1, having stewards and leadership can lead to the spread of best practices for the healthy and safe recreational use of wetlands, such as reminding everyone to pack up their trash, providing local volunteer opportunities and more.


(3) Increase federal protection of wetlands.

Declaring more wetlands as protected areas will remove the threat of their destruction. As protected areas, the spaces will not be able to be used for construction, housing or other infrastructure, resulting in their protection and the conservation of the many benefits they provide. 


(4) Increase the U.S. budget dedicated to wetland protection. 

Whether funding school education on wetlands or declaring them protected areas, a slight budget increase will be needed. Additionally, wetlands would benefit greatly from additional resources to replant native species, maintain the ecosystem’s health and remove any invasive species, among others. Local parks departments would be best suited to manage all of this, as many already do.


Why This Initiative Is Important


The destruction of the wetlands in the United States would have disastrous consequences. It would lead to increased flood and drought damage, water pollution and a decline in wildlife populations. This, in turn, incurs high economic risks such as flood and drought mitigation strategies, water cleaning processes, loss of agricultural capacities and, therefore, food, and loss of recreation spaces, among many others. Preserving the wetlands will be less costly than mitigating the effects of their devastation and making up for the services they naturally (and freely) provide.  


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Sources


de Groot Dolf, et al. “Wetland Ecosystem Services.” The Wetland Book. Springer, Dordrecht, 2016, pp. 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6172-8_66-1.


Emerton, Lucy, and Iddi Mfunda. Making wildlife economically viable for communities living around the Western Serengeti, Tanzania. International Institute for Environment and Development, Biodiversity and Livelihoods Group, 1999. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/241633423_Making_Wildlife_Economically_Viable_for_Communities_Living_Around_the_Western_Serengeti_Tanzania.


“Wetlands Factsheet Series.” EPA, 2022. https://www.epa.gov/wetlands/wetlands-factsheet-series.


Ramachandra, T.V., R. Rajinikanth, and V. G. Ranjini. “Economic valuation of wetlands.” Journal of Environmental Biology, vol. 26, no. 2, 2005, pp. 439-47. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16334281/.

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