|Wetlands In Danger! |
Historically wetlands have been thought of as useless wastelands -- muck-filled breeding grounds for pests and dangerous disease. In movies and on TV, swamps are dirty, murky places full of hidden danger. Through years of "progress" we have turned over half our wetlands into land. All along we thought we were doing good. Could we have been wrong?
As it turns out, wetlands are far more important than we would have believed. We now realize that they are a very important ecosystem. We know why wetlands are important, but what are we doing to protect them?
Wetlands are disappearing rapidly, at about the rate of 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) annually in the U.S. alone. Some legislators have tried to introduce a "no-net-loss" plan for wetlands. This states that for every acre of natural wetlands lost, a new acre of "wetlands" should be created. Creating artificial bodies of water that act, in some ways, like wetlands is becoming a popular way to deal with loss of original wetlands. However, man-made wetlands are usually not successful and lack the functionality of natural wetlands.
Ralph Tiner, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife service scientist, said, "Trying to create a wetland is like taking a vein in your arm and moving it where there is no vein. It may look like a vein, but it does not function like one."
Adding to this confusion is the difficulty of defining a wetland. Wetlands, like few other ecosystems, are dynamic areas that are always in a state of transition. Sometimes, they are land, sometimes they are water, sometimes they are both.
There are some laws, such as Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which control wetland development. However, these laws are weak and have many loopholes. There is no true national wetland protection law. Additionally, few states have wetlands programs of their own.
Restoration programs offer a degree of success in restoring wetlands. Right now there is an attempt to rejuvenate Florida's Everglades. These programs improve the situation, but do not restore the ecosystem to their original state and level of function.
Wetlands destruction, like many environmental problems, is one of sustainability. We have to learn to balance today's needs with future environmental needs.