By Joel Beauvais
May is American Wetlands Month and a time to celebrate the importance of our nation’s wetlands. Healthy wetlands reduce water pollution, buffer communities from severe and costly impacts from floods, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. Our economy also benefits from many recreational opportunities that wetlands offer along with goods that come from wetlands.
Earlier this month, we released the country’s first-ever national assessment of the ecological health of our nation’s wetlands. With support from our state, tribal, and federal partners, we were able to send over 50 field crews to survey 1,138 wetlands across the nation to collect data on plants, soil, water chemistry, and algae.
The report found that about half of our wetlands are in good condition, with 32 percent in poor condition. Nationally, the top sources of stress for wetlands come from vegetation removal through actions like mowing and forest clearing, soil compaction for paths and roads, and intrusion of non-native plants.
The report’s state-of-the-art, high-quality wetland science has advanced our understanding of these dynamic and extremely important ecosystems that were once actively removed throughout much of the U.S. With new insight, we are in a better position to work with our state partners to more effectively manage, protect, and restore some of those wetlands that have been lost.
It’s exciting to see that others are finding this environmental data useful, too. The Association of State Wetland Managers is using the report’s monitoring methods to evaluate wetland restoration projects in North Carolina and Ohio. EPA’s Office of Air is using the collected soil carbon data to better estimate carbon sequestration in coastal wetlands and marshes. And, states and tribes are reaching out to us to develop complementary monitoring tools, analytical approaches, and data management technology to further their wetland protection and restoration programs.
The sampling work for the next report is already underway. It will be interesting to see new trends emerge that show that progress we are making to improve the condition of our nations’ wetlands.
EPA is also launching the National Wetland Condition Assessment Campus Research Challenge to encourage graduate students to identify and use the data to address one or more key and innovative questions and hypotheses on water quality, wetland health, or wetland ecology.
In addition to advancing the science, EPA is working with partners to address wetland protection and restoration in the U.S. Some of the ways include:
- Overseeing dredge and fill permit decisions to ensure permits are based on science and policy, as well as developing tools for improving the management of aquatic resource protections.
- Working with states and tribes directly and through the Association of State Wetland Mangers to bolster the ability of states and tribes to manage, regulate and protect wetlands within their state and tribal lands.
- Working with other federal agencies on national programs to map, assess, manage and restore wetland resources on federal lands and to help private landowners be informed stewards of their wetland resources.
- Continuing to lead the Interagency Coastal Wetlands Workgroup on new tools, strategies, and information for protecting and restoring wetlands in coastal watersheds.
I hope you all take some time during American Wetlands Month to read our assessment and then get out to experience a wetland first-hand.