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Two New Reports Indicate Dramatic Slowdown in Loss of U.S. Wetlands


January 10, 2001

Joan Moody 202/208-3280,
Cindy Hoffman 202/208-3008, or
Tom MacKenzie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (404) 679-7291

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman have jointly released two new reports that both indicate there has been a dramatic slowdown in the loss of wetlands over the past decade.

"This is the greatest overall decline in the rate of wetlands loss since records have been compiled by the federal government," Glickman said at a press conference at the Interior Department. "While we celebrate this tremendous progress, we have not yet met our goal of no net loss, so we need to be sure that we continue our efforts to protect the environment and be careful not to move backward."

"The Interior report shows that the rate of wetlands loss has dropped dramatically in a decade -- by 80 percent," said Secretary Babbitt. "This is very good news. Federal programs and policies encouraging wetlands conservation and restoration should be directly credited. At one time wetlands were considered wastelands but attitudes have changed. Today we know wetlands are beneficial for both people and wildlife because they protect drinking water, habitat, beaches, recreation areas, and much more."

The new report by the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 1986 to 1997, shows the rate of wetland loss in the United States has decreased down to an estimated annual loss of 58,500 acres, an 80 percent reduction compared to the previous decade. The national goal of no net wetlands losses still has not been met, however. The study shows that between 1986 and 1997, forested wetlands and freshwater emergent wetlands continued to show the most losses. Open water ponds have been increasing, yet there is concern that the long- term trend in the loss of vegetated wetlands may result in long-term adverse consequences.

USDA's National Resources Inventory, a report on the health of America's private lands, also shows significant reduction in wetland losses. Prepared by the Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the report found an average annual net loss from all sources of 32,600 acres of wetlands from 1992 to 1997.

The western half of the United States is nearing no net loss while the eastern part saw the largest wetlands loss.

Wetlands are biologically diverse and dynamic ecosystems. Found in every state, wetlands support diverse populations of fish, wildlife and plants, providing habitat for more than forty percent of the nations endangered and threatened species. Often called "nature's sponges," they also help protect water quality by filtering out pollutants, provide natural flood control by absorbing excess water, buffer coastal areas from erosion, and offer aesthetic and recreational opportunities.

The findings of the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture reports reflect the culmination of more than a decade of progressive work and accomplishments in wetland conservation. Since 1993, federal agencies have adopted policies accentuating fair, flexible approaches to wetlands conservation and stewardship, placing strong emphasis on educating the public about wetland values, benefits, and the sustainable use of wetland resources. The data in the new reports indicate that policies and programs in the 1990s have helped slowdown wetland resource losses while increasing wetland restoration, creation, and enhancement.

The DOI Status and Trends report is available on the web at http://wetlands.fws.gov/bha/SandT/SandTReport.html; and the USDA National Resources Inventory is available at http://www.nhq.nrcs.usda.gov/NRI.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million- acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of 531 refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores Nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State wildlife agencies.

NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http:/southeast.fws.gov. Our national home page is at: http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases/.

Atlanta, GA 30345

Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286

2001 News Releases

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