January 18 , 2005

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Where are all the Wetlands?

When you understand how riverine wetlands protect us from flooding, and you know that we've lost so much of this vital habitat, you'd think that no one would buy a house next to a big river.

But people do it every day in every state of the country. We can't seem to help ourselves. We love water, we love vegetation, we love the birds and the mammals and the fish.

But our love of this riverside land could be our undoing, as the woman above is discovering. Such a revelation is ironic when you consider that wetland destruction historically has been caused by our hatred of these same habitats.

After all, they bred mosquitoes, were impossible to build upon or plow, so why not get rid of them? We have destroyed millions upon millions of acres of wetlands from Maine to Florida and back again. We continue to lose wetlands today, but at least not as quickly as in the past. This chapter provides an introduction to the problem of wetlands loss and how their disappearance impacts our environment.


In a few hundred years of settlement, the United States has lost more than half of its original wetlandsfrom an estimate of 220 million acres in the contiguous states to less than 110 million acres. Some states, such as California and Kentucky, have lost at least eighty percent of their wetlands.

At one time, wetlands covered almost one-quarter of Illinois; today less than three percent of the state retains this rich habitat. Idaho has lost more than half of its wetlands; Iowa lost even more-95 percent. The vast wetlands ecosystem of the Everglades may have been irreparably harmed when it was reduced by more than sixty percent-a loss of 3,600 square miles.

Currently, the United States loses more than 70,000 acres of wetlands every year, and this pace probably won't slow. Within the next few decades, more than half the population of this country will live within fifty miles of our coasts. Urban development in this region has already accounted for almost half of the coastal wetlands destruction in the last decade of the twentieth century. If we keep moving to and building in this region, how much longer will the remaining wetlands survive? It's the same conundrum that faces homeowners of the Intermountain West: Can we keep from loving our favorite places to death?

Learn More About What Has Happened to Wetlands...

Why Wetlands Disappear

Recreation and Wetlands

What Happens When Wetlands Disappear?



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