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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Losses in the United States

1780's to 1980's


Throughout the United States, a wide variety of wetland types exist ranging from permafrost underlain wetlands in Alaska to tropical rain forests in Hawaii to riparian wetlands in the arid southwest. Although wetlands occur in every state in the Nation, they vary in size, shape, and type because of differing climate, vegetation, soils, and hydrologic conditions.

Since the time of Colonial America, wetlands have been regarded as a hindrance to productive land use. Swamp lands, bogs, sloughs, and other wetland areas were considered wastelands to be drained, filled, or manipulated to "produce" other than natural services or commodities. Recently we have begun to recognize that wetlands are vital areas that constitute a productive and invaluable public resource. Wetlands are important for providing fish and wildlife habitats; for maintaining ground water supplies and water quality; for protecting shorelines from erosion; for storing flood waters and trapping sediments that can pollute waterways; and for modifying climatic changes.

Because the values of wetlands and their overall environmental importance have been only recently recognized, the United States has a 200-year history of wetland conversion. Collectively, wetland losses have diminished the quality of our natural resource base to the point where we must carefully balance our economic, social, and environmental goals. The issue of how much wetland acreage has been lost in the United States has led to heated debates about limiting alteration of natural resources. Overstatements or misrepresentations of the remaining wetland acreage are usually the result of emotional arguments rather than factual data. This report and other forthcoming reports prepared by the Department of the Interior will provide the needed information on the acreage status of our Nation's wetlands.

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