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Wetland Threats and Loss

Wetland Losses in the United States: 1780's to 1980's

summarized from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publication by the same name

"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." --Wetlands Losses in the United States: 1780s to 1980s

In the last 200 years, the continental United States has lost 53% of its wetland acreage.

According to Secretary of the Interior records, in 1780, an estimated 392 acres of wetland covered the area that now makes up the United States. Two hundred twenty-one million acres were located in the landlocked, or conterminous states, 170 million in Alaska and 59,000 in Hawaii.

Over the next 200 years, the conterminous states lost 104 million acres -- the equivalent of more than 60 acres of wetland each hour.

(Often wetland status and trends are reported using only the 48 conterminous because including Alaska changes the national numbers altogether. Including Alaska in U.S wetland surveys more than doubles total U.S. wetland area.)

State wetland losses:

  • Florida has lost the most acreage cover -- 9.3 million acres.
  • California has lost the largest percentage of original wetlands in the state -- 91%.
  • Twenty-two states have lost more than 50% of their original wetlands.
  • Only Alaska, Hawaii and New Hampshire have retained more than 80% of their wetlands since 1780.

Percentage of Wetlands Acreage Loss. Source: Mitch and Gosselink. Wetlands. 2nd Edition. Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993.

The current status of wetlands is constantly changing. Since the wetland management plans of the 1980s, wetland restoration appears to be on the rise. Still, despite efforts to conserve the land, hundreds of thousands of wetland acres are being drained each year. Wetland losses in the southeastern states, including Florida accounted for 89 percent of the national conterminous wetlands losses from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s.

What about now? Are our wetlands still in danger?

Read about the Status and Trends of Wetlands from 1986 to 1997.


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