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Losses in the United States

1780's to 1980's

National Status Summary

The national decline in wetlands from the 1780's to the 1980's is dramatic. Losses in particular regions of the country are even more startling. For example, the mid-western farm belt states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin account for over 36 million acres of wetlands lost since the country was settled. This amounts to roughly one third of all wetlands lost in the history of our Nation. Alaska stands alone as the only state where wetland resources have not been substantially reduced.

Incomplete baseline data on the wetlands in the Nation prevent an accurate appraisal of the "health" of these remaining resources. However, population growth and distribution and agricultural development greatly affect land use patterns that impact wetlands. As evidenced by the data presented in this report, hundreds of thousands of acres have been drained annually, despite increased efforts to conserve wetlands through state and Federal legislation.

Our Nation continually faces the challenge of identifying and reconciling physical and environmental limits with the development of its natural resources. To meet the demand for resource development, the United States develops laws, regulations, and policies to increase the benefits of development while attempting to protect fish and wildlife, environmental quality, and socioeconomic resource values. The stimulus for development of such protective measures is provided by insights regarding environmental trends. While some trends are very subtle, these data on the Nation's wetlands loss provide a clear indication that continued loss will jeopardize a valuable resource. Over a 200-year timespan, wetland acreage has diminished to the point where environmental and even socio-economic benefits (i.e., ground water supply and water quality, shoreline erosion, floodwater storage and trapping of sediments, and climatic changes) are now seriously threatened.

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