Sunday, April 25, 2004
President's Initiative Pleases Protectors of Wetlands
I never met a wetland I didn't like.
Wetlands are among nature's most productive ecosystems. More than 900 wildlife species depend on wetlands during a portion of their life cycle. Wetlands are also vitally important to people. They serve as natural filters, removing pollutants from our water sources. By recharging ground water supplies, wetlands are critical to maintaining our supply of clean drinking water. Wetlands also store runoff water, helping to stem the devastating effects of floods. And wetlands are recreation areas for millions of Americans.
As the nation celebrated Earth Day last Thursday, officials from Ducks Unlimited are calling President George W. Bush's proposed new wetlands initiatives "good news" for North America's waterfowl, other wildlife, and people.
The president outlined new strategies and policies for conserving wetlands in a speech during Earth Day celebrations in Wells, Maine.
The President's new wetlands initiative includes an ambitious shift in policy from "no net loss" to a policy of "overall increase" of wetlands in America each year. To help achieve this goal, the president committed to restore, improve, and protect 3 million acres of wetlands over the next five years. He also plans to improve tracking and gathering on wetlands and conservation programs, and to enhance collaborative efforts with landowners to conserve wetlands.
Today, according to DU, there are approximately 105.5 million acres of wetlands in the lower 48 states, less than half of the 221 million acres estimated to have existed at the time of European settlement. Most have been lost to urban development and agriculture. The Prairie Pothole Region of the northern U.S. and Canada - the most important area in North America for ducks and many other migratory birds - has lost two-thirds of its original wetlands. On the gulf coast of Louisiana, about 57 acres of critical coastal wetlands are lost every day.
"Ducks Unlimited is committed to restoring many of the wetlands we have lost, and to protecting those that remain," said Don Young, Executive Vice President of Ducks Unlimited. "With the help of our partners we have restored and protected more than 11 million acres of wetlands and other habitats in North America. But we're fighting an uphill battle in the U.S., and we continue to lose more than we're able to put back."
Ducks Unlimited has been working with the administration and congress for some time on various conservation issues. In several key meetings, DU officials have had the opportunity to meet face to face with the president and his staff to discuss conservation policy.
"We saw many of our priorities addressed in President Bush's remarks (Thursday)," said John Tomke, President of Ducks Unlimited. "We look forward to continuing our work with the administration and congress toward achieving these goals and providing wetlands and other habitats for wildlife, sportsmen, and society as a whole for generations to come. It's also great to see specific measurable goals and annual monitoring to ensure wetlands conservation objectives are met."
Closer to home, hundreds of landowners across the north country have taken advantage of a wetlands restoration program, which began in New York in 1990. On a steady pace of growth ever since, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service "Partners for Fish and Wildlife" program has focused on restoring several types of habitat that were once in a degraded state. Activities like wetland and grassland restoration, riparian fencing, bioengineering, in-stream restoration and others all provide important cover, food, water and breeding areas for many species.
Since its inception, more than 13,000 acres in upstate New York have been restored. According to Carl Schwartz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cortland, Partners for Fish and Wildlife is an extremely cost effective program and even though the program is 14 years old, Schwartz said the Service would continue to recruit additional projects. In fact, one of the only increases in funding for Service programs in 2004 is the Partners for Fish and Wildlife.
Since settlement over 400 years ago, the Empire State's vast forests, wetlands, streams, and grasslands have fueled the state's growth and development. Many of New York's natural resources were greatly diminished or degraded as the landscape was changed to provide for agriculture and urban development. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, during this period, 60 percent of the wetlands were drained or filled, 99.9 percent of native grasslands were converted to other uses, more than 5,000 dams were constructed that blocked fish movement, and miles of stream were channelized. In addition, the extensive northern hardwood and spruce-fir forests were cut and cleared.
As these habitats changed, so did the fish and wildlife populations that relied on them, leading to declines in waterfowl, grassland nesting birds, anadromous fish, and many forest dependent species.
Wetlands restoration projects have focused in the Lake Plain, along Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River Valley. According to the Service, this area contains the densest breeding populations of waterfowl in the Northeast as well as having three components of the National Wildlife Refuge System operating in that ecosystem.
For more information on Partners for Fish & Wildlife, email Carl Schwartz at Carl_Schwartz@fws.gov or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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