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Why Restoring and Protecting Wetlands Matters?

Updated on December 3, 2011
Common wetland animals are birds. Wetlands provide habitat for 75% of the species in the Midwest. Showing a bird's nest at Barnevel Prairie, Wisconsin
Common wetland animals are birds. Wetlands provide habitat for 75% of the species in the Midwest. Showing a bird's nest at Barnevel Prairie, Wisconsin | Source
Saturated soils in buffer freshwater wetland support particular wetland ecosystems vegetation.
Saturated soils in buffer freshwater wetland support particular wetland ecosystems vegetation. | Source

Mirna Santana

Freshwater wetlands are a type of ecosystem that occupy a small proportion of the earth environments. Wetlands are places where the soil remains saturated enough to support a vegetation adapted to wet/saturated soils.

These ecosystems though proportionally small in comparison to forest or other ecosystems are relevant in terms of ecosystem services such as water filtration, prevention of floods, habitat for wildlife, greenhouse gases regulation (both sink and release), and other biochemical processes. In economic terms, some of the oldest wetland sediments are now exploited for fuel.

Because we are dependent on water for survival--and because wetlands play a prevalent role in the water cycles (reservoirs) and filtration, at least in the US, wetlands have been protected under the Clean Water Act.

In the Midwest, the state of Wisconsin to give an example, has lost about half of its wetlands in the last century. Each year 100-400 acres of wetlands are lost. Most of these losses are the result of highway constructions says Tom Bernthal, a wetland expert working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). Human demands for agricultural land and for development continue to impose strong pressures in wetland ecosystems. And this happens even though the laws suppose to protect them.

Urban sprawl also increases runoff and invasive species on wetlands.The modification of wetland habitats affects fisheries, filtration processes, and wildlife.

Pipelines have caused some of the greatest disturbances to wetlands. Only in Wisconsin, about a 1000 acres of wetlands had been affected in recent years. The Endbridge Pipeline route, which delivers crude oil from Alberta-Canada to Chicago has cause very large impacts. In addition, The Guardian Pipeline, which distributes gas to portions of south and central Wisconsin, also caused major impacts to wetlands. The Wisconsin Wetland Association (WWA) has been actively denouncing and promoting accountability of Pipelines enterprises, mostly seeking to reduce the impact of pipelines on waterways.

In the past, many wetlands were drained for agriculture and some were filled for developments. Today, most of the permits are for developments of big boxes and fast food says Laurie Taylor, writer and member of WWA. But WDNR officials say that only permits for ‘low quality wetlands’ are likely to be approved.

To protect wetlands both federal and state laws are in place. Wisconsin is a leading state in Wetland protection because its regulation includes isolated wetlands. A law that protects about one million acres of isolated wetlands passed in 2003. In 2007, however, a handful of Wisconsin senators try to made wetlands regulations more ‘business friendly’. They seek to make regulations more similar to those of Minnesota or Illinois. Opponents consider that a modification of the law will increase wetland losses and negative impacts.

Besides government officials, WWA is the most active player ensuring that regulations are applied, and that the least damage to wetlands is made during active developments. Its members also campaign and oversight projects and mitigations. This is because, violations to wetlands laws are common. Only in last 18 months WDNR officials found 325 violations including unauthorized fillings, permit violations and inappropriate mitigations.

Though I concentrate here mostly in Wisconsin wetlands, if you need to know about the state of global wetlands please contact Ramsar. For your local wetlands you may contact the Wetland Association--an ONG that lobby for wetland protection and regulation--and whose members enjoy the beauty of these habitats. Besides that within the US, the state (s) Department of Natural Resources--and at the EPA are involved in regulations related to wetlands.


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    • MSantana profile image

      MSantana 7 years ago from Madison Wisconsin

      I thank Steve Ritcher, Teri Balser, Bob Hansen, and Tom Bernthal for accepting to be interviewed for this article. Mirna Santana

    • Les Trois Chenes profile image

      Les Trois Chenes 6 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      It's so important to preserve all our varieties of wild-life and species rich habitats. Can't say it too often of too strongly.

    • MSantana profile image

      MSantana 6 years ago from Madison Wisconsin

      Thank you Les Trois Chenes--I enjoyed visiting your page. Thanks for inspiring us to keep writing!

      We humans have modified a lot of the landscape and could bring back a share for the other critters. It is always best to conserve existing habitats because restoration is expensive and requires a lot of effort. Yet it is totally worth!

    • AkbarFS profile image

      AkbarFS 5 years ago from Worcester, UK

      The degradation and loss of Wetland areas in the UK contributed to the extinction or near extinction of a great many species of wildlife over the last few hundred years. Restoration of habitat and reintroduction of imported birds and animals such as otters, beavers and cranes is a huge ongoing project. As you say, far better to conserve in the first place. Great hub :-)

    • MSantana profile image

      MSantana 5 years ago from Madison Wisconsin

      AkbarFS: thank you for your insights.

      With many floods happening all around people need to consider to include more pervious surfaces in community/private property planning to allow water drainage.

    • Mike Outdoors profile image

      Mike Outdoors 5 years ago from Somewhere in Canada

      Very interesting.

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