January 18 , 2005

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Draining, dredging, building dikes, dumping pollutants, mining for sand and gravel, ditching, roading…These are just a few of the many direct ways that we damage or destroy wetlands. Add the indirect methods — the wakes of our motorboats, the salt on winter roads, global climate change — and it's a wonder we have any wetlands left.

For hundreds of years, agriculture has been the chief destroyer of wetlands among our myriad activities. If a field was too wet in the spring, farmers would dig a ditch to drain off the water. When the country and the world demanded more grain, the federal government paid people to fill wetlands. And now, when family farmers struggle to make their mortgage each month, it's hard to ask them not to plow every square inch of ground.

Urban expansion gobbles up more large chunks of wetlands. Vast acres of marshes in the San Francisco Bay, Chesapeake Bay, New York Harbor and other coastal areas were dredged or filled in the twentieth century to make way for freeways, airports, industrial sites, business buildings, and thousands of homes. Those are the obvious losses.

Most people barely notice the millions of small wetlands lost to bulldozers. These small wetlands, which often last only a few months each year, are vital purifiers of surface water, rechargers of groundwater, and providers of habitat for wildlife. Unfortunately, few laws protect them. Learn about the threats to Idaho Wetlands

Other wetlands at risk from unrestricted development include peatlands of the northeastern United States and bottomland hardwood forests of the southeast. In the western United States, riverine wetlands (riparian areas) face continued destruction from several sources.

According to some researchers, hundreds of thousands of acres of riverine wetlands have been damaged by livestock grazing. Livestock not only consume the vegetation, but they also tend to remain in the same area for an extended period of time. Their movements to and from riversides can create gullies and otherwise undermine the banks.

Our construction efforts, whether building roads and bridges or homes and businesses, also can impact streamside habitats by compacting the soil, ripping up vegetation, and accidentally carrying in seeds of non-native or noxious plants such as knapweed.

Learn More About What Has Happened to Wetlands...

Why Wetlands Disappear

Recreation and Wetlands

What Happens When Wetlands Disappear?

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